Matthew Keys, a Reuters journalist who the federal government accuses of helping hackers deface a Los Angeles Times article, is at the center of a strange, strange case. A close read of a search warrant for Keys' property includes nude picture trading with hackers, and X-Files-obsessed anonymous emails criticizing business practices at his old employer. Meanwhile, legal reform advocates are pointing out Keys faces up to 30 years in prison for essentially defacing a newspaper article.
A copy of a New Jersey District Court search warrant for Keys' property (PDF) posted to archive site Scribd over the weekend contains unusual details. Apart from allegedly incriminating IRC chat logs that appear to show Keys assisting Anonymous-affiliated hackers deface an article at the Times (Keys used to work at a Fox TV affiliate owned by parent entity Tribune Company), the warrant also alleges nude pictures were sent out as well. Special Agent Gabriel Andrews of the Federal Bureau of Investigation's Cyber Crimes Squad claims Keys traded nude pictures with an Anonymous-affiliated hacker as well. Keys appears to have been caught in chat logs sending nude pictures to a hacker named “Owen” in an Anonymous IRC room. (Whether or not those were nude pics of Keys himself isn't entirely clear--Keys appears to have told the Anonymous hacker, "I has nudes! :S," then gone on to describe himself.)
Keys later fell out of favor with Anonymous for hiding the fact that he is a mainstream journalist. Owen appears to have passed on Keys' IP address information and anonymous email address to other Anonymous-affiliated hackers after Keys was accused of being a “traitor.”
Another section of the search warrant implies that Keys lost his old job as a web producer at Sacramento's Fox 40 under bizarre circumstances. Keys is identified as a potential suspect in the defacing of the television station's social media presence, the theft of the station's email mailing list, and in a series of whistleblower-y emails sent to viewers on Fox 40's mailing list. During the time that Keys was in charge of the station's social media presence, someone deleted or blocked (the warrant is unclear) nearly 6,000 Twitter followers from Fox 40's feed. In addition, for four days after Keys left Fox 40, someone repeatedly posted links to news stories from competing local television stations in the Fox 40 Twitter feed.
Emails that, as the FBI put it, “carried the same theme of disparaging remarks about Fox 40's business practices” were also sent to customers on the station's email list. While one address, “cybertroll69x at hotmail.com,” had no affiliation with conspiracyriffic '90s television show The X-Files, all the rest did. Disparaging emails about Fox 40 were sent to station employees and viewers from email addresses such as CancerMan4099 at yahoo.co.uk, fox40truthers at gmail.com, WalterSkinner5099 at yahoo.co.uk, and FoxMulder4099 at yahoo.co.uk. Emails sent included a variety of private communications such as “watch yourselves Fox 40” to station news employees and anonymous emails to viewers. According to Andrews, the address cybertroll69x at hotmail.com is registered to Keys.
Regardless of the specifics of his alleged crimes, Keys faces a long prison sentence if he's convicted for abetting in the Los Angeles Times hack. If he's found guilty for essentially helping hackers deface a single article on the Times website with self-promotional hype, Keys could spend 25 years behind bars. The Electronic Frontier Foundation is using Keys' troubles--and Aaron Swartz's legal odyssey--to cast a light on the disparity in cybercrime sentencing vs. crimes in physical space. Essentially, Keys would be facing a much shorter sentence for physical vandalism instead of Internet-based vandalism.
In an interview with Reuters and the Associated Press, Keys' lawyer Tor Ekeland said that his client maintains his innocence and is looking forward to fighting the charges in court.
Disclosure: The author is a Reuters freelancer.
[Image: Flickr user Du Tran]