[ISN] Criminal Charges Settled In Distributed-Computing Case

From: InfoSec News (isnat_private)
Date: Thu Jan 17 2002 - 23:16:36 PST

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    By Steven Bonisteel, Newsbytes
    17 Jan 2002, 5:05 PM CST
    A computer technician at Georgia-run college who found himself facing
    criminal charges after installing software for a volunteer
    distributed-computing effort will face probation instead of prison.
    David McOwen, once a systems administrator at DeKalb Technical
    College, faces a year of probation and a $2,100 fine for connecting a
    number of DeKalb computers to Distributed.net so that the spare
    computing cycles could assist in a communal code-breaking challenge.
    But McOwen's supporters, including the Electronic Frontier Foundation
    (EFF), said today that an agreement reached with state prosecutors was
    far better than the worst-case scenario: years in prison and hundreds
    of thousands of dollars in fines and restitution.
    "David never should have been prosecuted in the first place, but we're
    glad that the state decided to stop," said Lee Tien, a senior staff
    attorney at the EFF. "He very likely could have won if the case had
    gone to trial, but trials cost money and you never know what will
    Tien said McOwen, who was to face a criminal trial later this month,
    will also have to perform 80 hours of community service "unrelated to
    computers or technology." However McOwen will not end up with a felony
    or misdemeanor record under Georgia's First Offender Act.
    The criminal charges stunned many participants in
    distributed-computing efforts, who frequently are also denizens of
    university or college computing departments.
    In early January 2000, when the San Diego Supercomputer Center of the
    University of California was issuing press releases about its
    number-crunching prowess via Distributed.net in an RC5-64
    code-breaking challenge, DeKalb was suspending McOwen for
    participating in the same event.
    A suspension wasn't all McOwen faced. This spring, long after he had
    resigned from DeKalb in the wake of the suspension, McOwen learned
    that he was being investigated by the state attorney general's office
    as a result of his Distributed.net participation. This fall, he was
    officially charged one count of computer theft and seven counts of
    computer trespassing.
    Tien in a prepared statement said that the dispute centered on a on
    whether McOwen had fair notice that the distributed-computing software
    was prohibited at DeKalb.
    "From what I can tell, the state would have had a hard time proving
    beyond a reasonable doubt that David knew he wasn't authorized to
    install the software," Tien said. "I can't help but feel that this was
    a face-saving deal for the state."
    Originally, the state had calculated that McOwen had drained hundreds
    of thousands of dollars worth of DeKalb computing time since
    installing the software early in 1999, arriving at its figure by
    calculating that the software sapped 59 cents worth of bandwidth each
    A pro-McOwen site is at http://www.freemcowen.com
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