A 26-year-old farm dweller who helped expose the rape of a teenage girl is facing up to 5x more jail time than the high school football members who publicly assaulted the girl. The Steubenville rape case became a national firestorm after it was revealed that dozens of people had witnessed the assault at a party and then shared pictures and social media updates of the event mocking the girl.
Angered that a small town was turning their back on justice, several hacktivist groups got involved, including Deric Lostutter, who helped post a video on the football team’s website outing the assailants and bringing national attention to their crimes.
“If convicted of hacking-related crimes, Lostutter could face up to 10 years behind bars—far more than the one- and two-year sentences doled out to the Steubenville rapists,” reports Mother Jones, in an exclusive interview with Lostutter.
The first-time digital activist claims he never hacked the page, but was the masked man in the video. His relatively light touch reportedly didn’t stop the FBI from treating him like a world-class terrorist. “As I open the door to greet the driver, approximately 12 FBI SWAT team agents jumped out of the truck, screaming for me to ‘Get the fuck down!’ with M-16 assault rifles and full riot gear, armed, safety off, pointed directly at my head,” Lostutter recalls on his own blog.
The excessive force and even worse penalty highlights why many are calling for a reform of the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act (CFA), which treats principled hacking on par with the worst federal crimes. The CFA came to national attention last year after respected Internet prodigy, Aaron Swartz, committed suicide after harsh prosecutors threatened him with 50+ years in prison for freeing academic articles from a paywalled database.
“We should prevent what happened to Aaron from happening to other Internet users,” wrote Congresswoman Zoe Lofgren (CrunchGov Grade: A) about her (failed) “Aaron’s Law” bill.
While the hacker did violate the law, they are the newest evolution in the beloved American tradition of civil disobedience. “It was everything that I’d ever preached, and now there’s this group of people getting off the couch and doing something about it. I wanted to be part of the movement,” recalls Lostutter, of the Hacktivist mission-statement videos that inspired him to get involved.
Like many first-time activists before him, he seems like a typical American, not a thrill-seeking vigilante. “A 26-year-old corporate cybersecurity consultant, Lostutter lives on a farm with his pit bull, Thor, and hunts turkeys, goes fishing, and rides motorcycles in his free time. He considers himself to be a patriotic American; he flies an American flag and enjoys Bud Light,” writes Josh Harkinson of Mother Jones.
U.S. law needs to be to be updated to reflect the values of the free flow of information. Even though the acts were illegal, it’s hard to see what Lostutter did was wrong. It’s a shame the courts could sentence him with a punishment that treats his activism as worse than sexual assault.