A computer hacker was sentenced on Monday to three years and five months in prison for stealing the personal data of about 120,000 Apple Inc iPad users, including big-city mayors, a TV network news anchor and a Hollywood movie mogul.
Andrew Auernheimer, 27, had been convicted in November by a Newark, New Jersey, jury of one count of conspiracy to access AT&T Inc servers without permission, and one count of identity theft.
The sentence imposed by U.S. District Judge Susan Wigenton in Newark was at the high end of the 33- to 41-month range that the U.S. Department of Justice had sought.
Prosecutors had said prison time would help deter hackers from invading the privacy of innocent people on the Internet.
Among those affected by Auernheimer’s activities were ABC News anchor Diane Sawyer, New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel and Hollywood movie producer Harvey Weinstein, prosecutors said.
“When it became clear that he was in trouble, he concocted the fiction that he was trying to make the Internet more secure, and that all he did was walk in through an unlocked door,” U.S. Attorney Paul Fishman said in a statement. “The jury didn’t buy it, and neither did the court in imposing sentence.”
Auernheimer had sought probation. His lawyer had argued that no passwords were hacked, and that a long prison term was unjustified given that the government recently sought six months for a defendant in a case involving “far more intrusive facts.”
The lawyer, Tor Ekeland, said his client would appeal. He said the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act doesn’t clearly define what constitutes unauthorized access.
“If this is criminal, then tens of thousands of Americans are committing computer crimes every other day,” Ekeland said in an interview. “There really was no harm.”
Auernheimer was handcuffed at one point during the sentencing, the lawyer said. He said his client may have been “tweeting” on his phone, and the U.S. marshals took it away.
Ekeland is also a lawyer for Matthew Keys, a deputy social media editor at Thomson Reuters Corp who was suspended with pay on Friday.
Keys was indicted last week in California on federal charges of aiding the Anonymous hacking collective by giving a hacker access to Tribune Co computer systems in December 2010.
The alleged events occurred before Keys began working at the website Reuters.com. Ekeland on Friday said Keys “maintains his innocence” and “looks forward to contesting these baseless charges.