By Matt O'Connor
Tribune staff reporter
December 8, 2006
A Chicago man was sentenced to 2 years in prison Thursday for illegally
accessing the Web site of a conservative political activist group and
downloading the credit-card numbers of thousands of its members.
Jeremy Hammond plotted to use the credit cards to make donations to
humanitarian and charity groups opposed by the Protest Warrior Web site
into which he hacked, but he changed his mind, according to court
According to his lawyer, Hammond has extreme left-wing political views.
He admitted to the FBI that he was a member of hackthissite.org, which
identifies itself as "an online movement of hackers, activists and
anarchists," the court records show.
After Hammond's father had noted his son was 19 at the time and used
poor judgment, U.S. District Judge James B. Zagel picked up on the
point, but used more blunt terms.
"You were an idiot when you did it," the judge said. "At the perspective
of my age, all 19-year-olds are idiots."
Prosecutors had sought up to the maximum 5-year prison term and said
they wanted Hammond, now 21, immediately jailed for violating bail by
failing two recent drug tests and being arrested on disorderly conduct
But Zagel said that was too harsh a sentence in this case and allowed
Hammond to surrender to prison on Jan. 3.
Hammond was "more interested in countering speech he found wrong rather
than picking the pockets" of political rivals, the judge said.
In addition to imposing the 2-year prison term, Zagel ordered Hammond to
pay about $5,250 in fines and restitution and barred him from
participating with hackthissite.org or similar Internet groups for three
years after his release from prison.
"The threat of what you did is damaging to democratic discourse, your
side's as well," Zagel told Hammond.
Hammond's father, Jack, contended his son's hacking was an immature act
of revenge for a similar attack on hackthissite.org's Web site.
Though he faulted his son's judgment, the elder Hammond said his son's
"basic inner moral code is good."
But Assistant U.S. Atty. Brandon Fox said this wasn't the first time
Hammond had illegally hacked. He wrote pro-drug messages on the
anti-drug DARE Web site, hacked into a former employer's computer system
and was expelled from college for hacking, Fox said.
Fox urged a stiff prison term to punish Hammond for his disrespect for
both the law and the opposing political opinions of others.
In court papers, Hammond's lawyer, Matthew McQuaid, had compared his
client's computer skills to "a comic book character's `superpower.'"
In court Thursday, McQuaid contended Hammond was too emotionally
immature to "harness" his political opinions.
According to the court records, Hammond gained access to the credit-card
information of about 5,000 people who had bought items or donated online
on Protest Warrior's Web site.
An acquaintance of Hammond's who tipped off authorities to Hammond's
involvement was upset because Hammond allegedly had let an associate
take the fall for a previous hacking, the records show.
In comments to the judge, Hammond, who pleaded guilty in September, said
his motivation wasn't thievery but rather "political rivalry."
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