Andrew Auernheimer, also known as “Weev,” has been released following an appeal. The court vacated the conviction on the grounds that he shouldn’t have been tried in New Jersey.Auernheimer was sentenced to 41 months in prison and three years of supervised release in mid-March 2013 for hacking into the systems of AT&T and retrieving the details of 120,000 iPad owners.
The activist has always maintained his innocence, arguing that he was simply trying to demonstrate the existence of a vulnerability in AT&T’s systems. Shortly after the sentencing, the EFF joined Weev’s legal team. An appeal was filed in July 2013.
“Although this appeal raises a number of complex and novel issues that are of great public importance in our increasingly interconnected age, we find it necessary to reach only one that has been fundamental since our country’s founding: venue,” the Third US Circuit Court of Appeals noted.
The defense argued that Auernheimer shouldn’t have been tried in new Jersey because he wasn’t there when he allegedly committed the crime. Furthermore, the accessed servers were also not in New Jersey.
The District Court ruled that it was a proper venue for the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act (CFAA) conspiracy charge because 4,500 New Jersey residents were affected by Weev’s disclosure of email addresses. The venue was also said to be appropriate for the identity fraud count because the charges were connected.
“Because we conclude that venue did not lie in New Jersey, we will reverse the District Court’s venue determination and vacate Auernheimer’s conviction,” the court of appeals argued.
Shortly after the decision was announced, Weev revealed that his lawyer had set up a fund to help him get provisions.
While the government is reviewing its options on what to do next, Auernheimer’s attorney, Hanni Fakhoury of the EFF, has told Ars Technica that “a retrial is barred by double jeopardy.”
Provision funds will be used for food, clothing, misc., and maybe a device that will give me access to that sweet, sweet ~#.— Andrew Auernheimer (@rabite) April 11, 2014
The EFF and other civil rights organizations have always argued that Weev’s conviction sets a dangerous precedent, criticizing the CFAA for its vague language and heavy penalties.
“Weev is facing more than three years in prison because he pointed out that a company failed to protect its users' data, even though his actions didn't harm anyone. The punishments for computer crimes are seriously off-kilter, and Congress needs to fix them,” EFF Senior Staff Attorney Marcia Hofmann said when the EFF joined the case appeal.