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Guilty Plea in AOL Engineer's Address Theft Case 219

Posted by CowboyNeal
from the doing-the-time dept.
ScentCone writes "Jason Smathers, a former AOL software engineer has pleaded guilty in his theft of 92 million in-house account screen names. He'll be paying $200-400k, and serving a year or two of federal time. Smathers used another employee's account to steal the data, and sold it to a Vegas-based online casino operator. Interestingly, one of the charges was 'interstate transportation of stolen property.'"
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Guilty Plea in AOL Engineer's Address Theft Case

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  • Doesn't seem like such a good idea now does it?
    • So... there's no conjugal visits?

      Awww crap!
    • by Anonymous Coward
      Doesn't it seem wrong that extra-judicial rape in our prison system is not only tolerated, but sort of cheered on?

      Why don't we just go to a system of corporeal punishment, like in Singapore? At least there, the amount of physical punishment you take bears some relationship to the crime you've committed, whereas in our system you're punished according to your physical strength, ability to join a gang, etc. that have nothing to with the severity of the crime you've committed.

      If you think prison rape is jus
      • by Anonymous Coward
        A prison is supposed to be a place of punishment.

        Quite frankly, I don't care what goes on in there as long as people fear getting into one. Fucking ream the shit out of the murderers and child rapists with broomsticks and they'll never rape again.

        • Fucking ream the shit out of the murderers and child rapists with broomsticks and they'll never rape again.

          Uh, who do you think is doing the raping? Nuns with dildos? It's murderers and rapists plying their trade in the big house.
        • by KillerDeathRobot (818062) on Friday February 04, 2005 @07:33PM (#11578152) Homepage
          A prison is supposed to be a place of punishment.

          Not necessarily. There are a number of philosophies regarding the reason for prisons; other than punishment, prisons can be said to be places of rehabilitation, places to simply remove the dangerous element from society, and probably other things.
        • Yes, that's why it's called the Dept. of Corrections. Not that they do much rehabilitation or corrections these days, but that is in the name.
        • A prison is supposed to be a place of punishment.

          Anyone who has taken PSYC101 will tell you that punishment only works when it is temporally near the behavior that it is trying to change.

          Prison is about control, revenge, instilling fear in others so they won't do the same thing, and the feeling that the bad guys are "off the street", but it has nothing to do with punishment.
          • Anyone who has taken PSYC101 will tell you that punishment only works when it is temporally near the behavior that it is trying to change.

            That only holds true for lab rats and freshmen. Other people are able to understand the consequences of their actions once they have been taught.

        • by timeOday (582209) on Friday February 04, 2005 @08:16PM (#11578566)
          Quite frankly, I don't care what goes on in there as long as people fear getting into one.
          That's crazy. You can go to jail for lots of things, for instance stealing email addresses. Or for that matter, you can be falsely convicted. It happens.
          • Oh I see. So it's better to not have people go to prison in the first place? Hell, if that's the case...I'm all for a night long fest of 5 finger discounts!
          • he was locked up in an unusually rough situation for his non-violent crimes. if he was on trial today i bet he would be hit with some patriot act violations and locked up as a terrorist.

            i know a million other people face the same thing, but his is a case most people here should know about.
        • But we're not even talking about a child molester or a rapist here - or even a violent criminal.

          Is it proportionate to the crime that a *non violent* criminal should be subjected to rape and the possibility of HIV infection? That's not justice, that's barbarism.

          Yes - the guy should be punished. No - he shouldn't be subjected to violent rape.
    • Such a danger (Score:1, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward
      Yes, get this man off the street before he copies anyone else's database! I know I feel a lot safer with him behind bars. The monster.
  • Interstate? (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Bongoots (795869) * on Friday February 04, 2005 @07:03PM (#11577822)
    If he was charged with 'interstate transportation of stolen property', does that mean that he printed out all 92 million screen names and took them in his car across state borders?
    • Yeah. Probably on a CD in his briefcase. I doubt he emailed the screennames and the casino operator payed him via PayPal.
    • or put them on a hard drive.
      http://www.lectlaw.com/def/i061.htm [lectlaw.com]
    • Re:Interstate? (Score:5, Insightful)

      by shark72 (702619) on Friday February 04, 2005 @07:17PM (#11577987)

      "If he was charged with 'interstate transportation of stolen property', does that mean that he printed out all 92 million screen names and took them in his car across state borders?"

      Doubtful. A sometimes common perception among Slashdotters is that the law is immutable and easily defeated by technology, but a look at how the law has changed over the past several hundred years shows that the law does eventually catch up. It's my understanding that interstate transport can now include e-mail as well as the historic methods of postal mail and, as you've mentioned, cars. And, of course, you probably already knew that that database is AOL's property whether it's printed or not.

      Other examples: it took several years after the advent of motion pictures before copyright law caught up with them. There were a few years in which films weren't copyrightable, but the law did catch up. When the first cars started being built, there were no vehicle codes (or if there were, they covered things like carriages), but the vehicle codes eventually caught up. And, for most of our history of copyright law, it was basically legal to redistribute copyrighted material without compensation; the law didn't need to cover this because it was simply impractical to print a thousand books and give them away for free. When technology began allowing somebody to put a file on an FTP site and allow widespread duplication, copyright law finally caught up several years later, in the form of the NET act.

  • Deserved it (Score:2, Interesting)

    by dhanks (588795)
    Do the crime, pay the time.

    I'm not sure how he's going to pay $200k+ though.
    • by ryanjensen (741218) on Friday February 04, 2005 @07:07PM (#11577883) Homepage Journal
      Don't worry, they have installment plans for that. Kinda like winning the Publisher's Clearing House sweepstakes, but in reverse.
      • Isn't there a law stating if the person cannot afford the fine, the fine has to be lowered or dropped? For instance how could you fine a homeless person $100 for trespassing?
        • No. But what they do if they levy a fine against someone is that they don't let them get off of probation (or off parole if they are coming out of prison) until the debt is paid off.
    • It's about half what he got for selling the list in the first place.

      The preceeding was a sarcastic comment. I do not actually know what he got for the list. Half a nice day.
    • Since he's being charged over stolen property, I'm assuming Slashdotters are okay with the concept of intellectual property in this circumstance.
      • I think people are seeing this as a spammer issue instead of an IP issue.... which it really isn't. Companies buy and sell these lists all the time, and use them for spamming all the time, and it's all perfectly legal. The only difference here is AOL is annoyed because they didn't get their cut.
  • by ShatteredDream (636520) on Friday February 04, 2005 @07:05PM (#11577850) Homepage
    Sorry, couldn't help it...
  • Stop the IT crime! Burn all copies of "Office Space"!
  • What? (Score:3, Interesting)

    by VeryApt (852702) on Friday February 04, 2005 @07:06PM (#11577862)
    Textual representations of AOL customenrs email addresses are considered AOL's property? As much as I hate spammers, that is insane.
    • There was a case in the UK where a competitor to british telecom bought and typed names and phone numbers from the phone book.

      I'm pretty sure that was deamed legal and that which BT could copyright their phone books, the information therein was (in general) in the public domain.

      I dont doubt he abused his employment contract, but this seems like a very tenuous description of stolen property.
  • by Anonymous Coward
    Smathers told the judge that he accepted $28,000 from someone who wanted to pitch an offshore gambling site to AOL customers

    That guy should have asked for much more than that... like if a casino was short on cash! Omni

  • I'd like to know (Score:5, Interesting)

    by www.sorehands.com (142825) on Friday February 04, 2005 @07:06PM (#11577865) Homepage
    I'd like to know which gambling sites that this was used to promote. I'd love to file lawsuits against some of these spamming, gambling, sites.


    Maybe, they'd learn that when spamming, the sysadmin wins.

  • Obvious (Score:1, Insightful)

    by FiReaNGeL (312636)
    He pleaded guilty cause he was.

    Can we really say anything more than 'well deserved'?

    Do we know for how much he sold the stolen list? I supe hope for him its more than 400k... but I doubt it!
    • Re:Obvious (Score:5, Informative)

      by YrWrstNtmr (564987) on Friday February 04, 2005 @07:12PM (#11577934)
      Do we know for how much he sold the stolen list?

      We who RTFA do.
      $28,000

    • Can we really say anything more than 'well deserved'?


      I hope you remember you said that when the government locks you up for violating interstate commerce laws because you downloaded some warez from the next state over. Copying and selling the information in a private database is bad, but there is no way that it is worth setting a new and dangerous legal precedent just to get this asshole a couple extra months in jail.

      • violating interstate commerce laws because you downloaded some warez from the next state over.

        Downloading is one thing. Downloading and selling is quite another.

        • Actually, ever since FDR bitchslapped the supreme court, the commerce clause has been steadily re-interpreted to where it provides the justification for a huge number of things the federal government does that it really doesn't have the authority to. The watershed is case was 1942's Wickard v. Filburn, where the court upheld fines on a farmer who grew more wheat than his quota allowed, even though he only used it to feed animals on his own farm, because if he had not grown the wheat himself he would have h
      • "Copying and selling the information in a private database is bad, but there is no way that it is worth setting a new and dangerous legal precedent just to get this asshole a couple extra months in jail."

        Can you explain what the precedent is here? Over the past decade I've seen dozens of similar cases involving confidential and proprietary information. Before it was e-mail lists, it was snail mail lists. Typically the information is sold to, or taken to, a competitor. Here, it was sold to a spammer.

  • by j1bb3rj4bb3r (808677) on Friday February 04, 2005 @07:12PM (#11577932)
    The guy who gives the email addresses to the spammers is forced to pay restitution costs to AOL for the amount they spent on dealing with email that the spammer's sent. This is bullshit. If anyone should have to pay, it is the spammers. The guy can go to jail for theft of property (if you consider email lists property... which the government seems to... but this is another issue), but he didn't directly cost AOL any money. This is a crap example of a big company getting money from this little guy because getting the money from the spammers is nigh impossible. He plead guilty, so I think that keeps him from being able to appeal.
    • by YrWrstNtmr (564987) on Friday February 04, 2005 @07:21PM (#11578029)
      This is a crap example of a big company getting money from this little guy because getting the money from the spammers is nigh impossible.

      I know it's a chore to actually read the article, but:
      "Smathers told the judge that he accepted $28,000 from someone who wanted to pitch an offshore gambling site to AOL customers, knowing that the list of screen names might make its way to others who would send e-mail solicitations."

      It's not like he is an innocent party in this.

      "Smathers allegedly sold the list to Sean Dunaway, of Las Vegas, who used it to send unwanted gambling advertisements to subscribers of AOL, the world's largest Internet provider. Charges are pending against Dunaway."

      Say what you want about AOL, but they do appear to be going after these clowns.

  • He'll be paying $200-400k, and serving a year or two of federal time.

    This guy has 'Capital Punishment' written all over him.... he got off lite!!
  • by brian.glanz (849625) on Friday February 04, 2005 @07:18PM (#11578001) Homepage Journal

    Smathers is only paying "the amount the government estimates AOL spent as a result of the e-mails," which is that $200,000 to $400,000. Is our government unable to represent those who suffered significantly more harm than AOL, the people?

    Sufferers may primarily be AOLamers and maybe all of us here will laugh that off to some extent, but consider "The stolen list of 92 million AOL addresses included multiple addresses used by each of AOL's estimated 30 million customers. It is believed to be still circulating among spammers." AOLamers or not, these are our grandparents and grade school teachers; training-wheeled users who if anything, need more protection than we do.

    This penalty does them no good, whatsover. TFA makes it clear that a signficant number of them are still getting ruined by the crime, as_we_type. IANAL; can someone add whether "the people" can expect to be served a piece of Smathers?

    If this is it, it sure as hell isn't what I'd call "restitution." Anyone want to wager that we also get nothing out of Sean Dunaway, the guy to whom Smathers sold?

    BG

    • by mccrew (62494) on Friday February 04, 2005 @08:23PM (#11578627)
      Smathers is only paying "the amount the government estimates AOL spent as a result of the e-mails," which is that $200,000 to $400,000. Is our government unable to represent those who suffered significantly more harm than AOL, the people?

      2 quick points

      1. Yes, the regular folks who recieve spam were harmed, but it is pretty hard to come up with some number to quantify. Another slashdotter [slashdot.org] hit the nail on the head in the other story today about how spam costs $22 billion per year.

      2. The restitution does seem rather low - we all would have a self-satisfied chuckle if it had been a huge unreachable range like $200M to $400M. But it is low enough that there is a realistic chance he will actually have to pay off the whole thing off, perhaps have his wages garnished for the rest of his life. That does sound like serious consequences.
    • "the people"

      You seem to be making a common mistake, anthropomorphizing AOLers.

      At least you put the term in quotes, to indicate you are using a non-traditional or alternate meaning.

      the AC
  • Bad, bad lawyer! (Score:3, Informative)

    by GeneralEmergency (240687) on Friday February 04, 2005 @07:21PM (#11578022) Journal


    'transportation of stolen property'



    More like 'transportation of copied property'.



    No such law.




    • I'm sure the terms of use of AOL's corporate networks indicate that all information contained on their computer systems are property of AOL.

      This, then, would mean that whether he had an electronic file, had written down each address, a hardcopy listing, whatever...it was property of AOL. He stole that information.

      But that's just my take on it, and i'm dumb.

      Life is simple, people make it complicated
  • Sue AOL? (Score:2, Interesting)

    by andalay (710978)
    I wonder if users can sue AOL for not taking proper precautions (obviously the assumption here is that they didnt)
    • I don't know if the actual damages you could show would be worth the attorney's fees. Even treble and compensatory damages probably wouldn't cover the cost.

      But then, you never know. You should try it and tell us how it works out.

  • "Interstellar transportation of stolen property"

    Yikes! At first glance that's what I read.

    Thinking about it though, (while not really stolen property) he could do that but it would take at least 4 years for the act to occur.
  • Punished? (Score:4, Funny)

    by ckemp.org (667117) on Friday February 04, 2005 @07:26PM (#11578079) Homepage
    Damn, man. The guy deserves a thank you. Those casino sites rock. Really.
  • 18-24 Months? (Score:3, Insightful)

    by RockClimb (235954) on Friday February 04, 2005 @07:38PM (#11578203)
    In November of 2003 I was getting about 175 spams per day. In December of 2003 I installed Spamassassin, set up ip# and domain name block lists, tweaked the rules and wrote my own, and wrote a user email/spam report system. I spent a good deal of time getting this set up and working out the bugs. My email server received over 145,000 connections in 2004, over 143,000 were spam.

    I have the ability and resources to do these things but many internet users do not. While I don't have an AOL account, I still think he should have received more hard time. Put him away for a long time, maybe his cell mate will be a disgruntled AOL user who lost it after getting "one too many spams".... make other spammers and their helpers think twice.
    • My email server received over 145,000 connections in 2004, over 143,000 were spam.

      While Spamassassin is awesome for filtering, I'm still upset at the lack of action taken by the government to address the 143,000 connections in your example; just because it was blocked doesn't mean that the spammers aren't causing "damage" in wasted bandwidth and computing cycles.
  • It should be copyright infrigement or breach of privacy, not theft. We might not mind in this case, but we don't want 12 year old girls using Kazaa to be charged with grand theft and put in jail.
    • Well, he pled guilty to a conspiracy charge, which may be correct. He did in fact conspire to steal trade secrets from AOL. What the prosecutor says to the email and the legal wording of the filing are probably very different things. At least that's what I got by reading the article and reading between the lines.
  • He sold it? (Score:4, Insightful)

    by AstroDrabb (534369) on Friday February 04, 2005 @08:47PM (#11578810)
    Smathers used another employee's account to steal the data, and sold it to a Vegas-based online casino operator.
    So this guy sold this information and is getting in trouble for it? Well that sounds fair. However, what about the Vegas company that purchased the "goods"? Are any legal proceedings taking place against them? Or is anything a corporation does "OK" with the government and the DA's office?

    I haven't heard anything against the Vegas company that purchased this information. Why is it OK for a company to carry out these acts but if a citizen does the same acts, he/she is fined a few hundred grand and sent to jail for a year or two?

    • However, what about the Vegas company that purchased the "goods"? Are any legal proceedings taking place against them?

      Well, according to TFA, "yes".
  • AOL (Score:3, Funny)

    by xmp_phrack (795665) on Friday February 04, 2005 @10:23PM (#11579543)
    so easy to abuse, no wonder it's number one!
  • LOL@FEDERAL PRISON (Score:2, Interesting)

    by ChemShadow (837153)
    I've been a felon for wire fraud since i was thirteen, nuttin happened to me other than 29 months in wales detention in wisconsin and 29 months in a group home ( www.norriscenter.org ) and 3 years probation. I'm 17 in 2 days. I paid(well, my parents) paid $201,000 in court fees and restitution. we are broke now. :(

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