This morning, I sat up front in the federal court house of the Southern District of New York, to hear the sentencing of the Anonymous-LulzSec hacker Jeremy Hammond. In case you missed it, Hammond was today given the guideline sentencing of 120 months in jail for his 2011 hack of the security think tank Stratfor, with three years of supervised release following.
I arrived at the court house early enough to watch as everyone arrived. These were the independent journalists I'd come to know from the court martial case of Chelsea Manning, reporters like Alexa O'Brien and Kevin Gosztola. I eventually found myself in the large Ceremonial Courtroom on the building's ninth floor, seated behind Chris Hedges of truthdig and O'Brien. The outspoken and always-entertaining PayPal 14 lawyer Stanley Cohen was to my right.
The courtroom filled. No one was allowed to take electronics in with them; even cell phones had to be checked into cubbies provided by the court. The bulk of the crowd came in support of Hammond, but on the left side of the room sat a sizeable crowd of grey-uniformed cadets down from West Point Academy. Seconds before court started session, O'Brien walked over to verify (at the behest of Cohen) that they were, indeed, on a field trip. "They're here to learn about constitutional and military law," she reported.
"Which one is this? Military, or constitutional?" Cohen said.
A few minutes after 10, we stood up, and Chief Judge Loretta A. Preska entered the room and asked us to sit back down.
Preska then proceeded in inquiring with the prosecution and defense on which parts of the sentencing would remain redacted after it was over.
"What are they doing?" Cohen asked in a whisper of disbelief. "You don't deal with this sort of thing today."
After some back-and-forth between federal prosecutors and Hammond's counsel, an agreement to redact vulnerable pieces of personal information—including a list of countries where Jeremy had hacked the sites of governments—was finally reached. Of course, an unpublished version of Hammond's statement, which he would later be interrupted from delivering, can be read with context here.
For two hours, the court heard Hammond's counsel and federal prosecutors go back and forth, citing reasons for and against a lengthy jail term for Hammond. The defense reminded the judge of Hammond's charitable nature, his giving spirit, and what sorted him out from ordinary people. Excerpts of letters from Hammond supporters were read by Susan Kellman and Sarah Kunstler, including an excerpt of a letter from the Pentagon Papers leaker, Daniel Ellsberg.
The prosecution argued back that Hammond nevertheless committed serious crimes, caused harm, and opened vulnerabilities to thousands as a result of the Stratfor leaks. Although they didn't doubt that Hammond has done good things in his life, the government said it still won't discount the seriousness of the matters, and cited chatlogs from Hammond to argue that his motivation was "malicious, [and] in contempt for those he damaged."
The defense continuously pointed out that the government had a "one-dimensional view" of Hammond's crimes, and appealed that his actions were no more than "an act of protest against the American intelligence industry." They highlighted that Jeremy sought no personal benefit from thousands of credit card numbers he'd revealed; rather, he was making a symbolic act of civil disobedience. The defense explained that after many attempts to make a difference in the systems with which he disagreed so much, Hammond found hacktivism was the best way he knew how to make a difference.
"YES I BROKE THE LAW, BUT I BELIEVE THAT SOMETIMES LAWS MUST BE BROKEN IN ORDER TO MAKE ROOM FOR CHANGE."