Thanks in part to America’s ill-defined hacking laws, prosecutors have enormous discretion to determine a hacker defendant’s fate. But in one young Texan’s case in particular, the Department of Justice stretched prosecutorial overreach to a new extreme: about 440 years too far.
Last week, prosecutors in the Southern District of Texas reached a plea agreement with 28-year-old Fidel Salinas, in which the young hacker with alleged ties to members of Anonymous consented to plead guilty to a misdemeanor count of computer fraud and abuse and pay $10,000 in restitution. The U.S. attorney’s office omitted one fact from its press release about that plea, however: Just months ago, Salinas had been charged with not one, but 44 felony counts of computer fraud and cyberstalking—crimes that each carry a 10-year maximum sentence, adding up to an absurd total of nearly a half a millennium of prison time.
Virtually all of those charges have now been dismissed entirely. And Salinas’s defense attorney Tor Ekeland argues they were piled on based on a faulty reading of computer crime laws, possibly intended to intimidate the young hacker into a unfavorable plea or to damage his reputation. “The more I looked at this, the more it seemed like an archetypal example of the Department of Justice’s prosecutorial abuse when it comes to computer crime,” Ekeland said in an interview with WIRED. “It shows how aggressive they are, and how they seek to destroy your reputation in the press even when the charges are complete, fricking garbage.”