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Hackers, Sex Offenders, and All the Rest
By Art Bowker, Cybercrime Specialist
Published: 10/31/2011

Computer hacker Community correction officers and others often equate technological conditions, such as computer searches, monitoring, Internet restrictions, etc. with sex offender supervision. Afer all, there isn’t a day that goes by where an individual isn’t busted for a sex crime in which a computer or the Internet did not play a role. We also have the cases of registered sex offenders violating their conditions and in some cases the law, by accessing social networking sites. Accordingly, it is understandable that many equate computer restrictions/monitoring with sex offender supervision. However, computer restrictions and monitoring go back to the early hacking cases. For instance, Kevin Mitnick, a reformed hacker and now security consultant/author, had numerous conditions imposed in 1999 including the following:

"without the prior expressed written approval of the Probation Officer: 1. the defendant shall not possess or use, for any purpose, the following: (a) any computer hardware equipment; (b) any computer software programs; (c) modems; (d) any computer-related peripheral or support equipment; (e) portable laptop computers, personal information assistants, and derivatives; (f) cellular telephones; (g) televisions or other instruments of communication equipped with online, Internet, world-wide web or other computer network access; (h) any other electronic equipment, presently available or new technology that becomes available, that can be converted to or has as its function the ability to act as a computer system or to access a computer system, computer network or telecommunications network (except defendant may possess a “land line” telephone).”

But lets not equate computer restrictions/monitoring to just hackers and sex offenders. It is, however, kind of ironic that these two groups equated with such restrictions are making the news. For instance, the hacker group “Anonymous” reportedly crashed a large collection of child pornography Web sites, and published the names of its patrons. So for those keeping score, that is Hackers 1 and Sex Offenders 0, oh that is not in binary code either. My money is on the hackers winning the cyberwar against those who victimize kids. But I digress.

Computer restrictions/monitoring conditions do get imposed on non-sex offender and non-hacker cases. Recently, a convicted fraudster, Charles D. Stergios, was released to a halfway house and home confinement. He promptly set about conducting a check kiting scheme via the Internet upon his release and succeeded in getting a second fraud conviction for his efforts. He also was given the following supervision conditions:
“Subject always to review by the sentencing judge upon request by either the defendant or the government, the Defendant shall not possess or use a computer to access an online ‘computer service’ at any location, including his employment, without the supervising officer’s prior approval. This includes any Internet service provider, bulletin board system or any other public or private computer network.”
“Defendant shall participate and comply with the requirements of the Computer and Internet Monitoring Program (which may include partial or full restriction of computer(s), Internet/intranet, and/or Internet capable devices), and shall pay for services, directly to the monitoring company. The defendant shall submit to periodic unannounced examinations of his/her computer(s), storage media, and/or other electronic or Internet capable device(s) performed by the probation officer based on reasonable suspicion of contraband evidence or a violation of supervision. This may include the retrieval and copying of any prohibited data and/or the removal of such system(s) for the purpose of conducting a more thorough inspection.”

Stergios appealed these conditions, noting in part they amounted to a complete Internet/computer ban. The First Circuit rejected his argument on October 18, 2011, noting he could access the Internet and computers, “as long as he obtains his supervising officer’s approval.” Additionally, if he disagreed with the officer’s decision he could take it to the sentencing judge. The First Circuit noted:
“Stergios relied heavily on the Internet to perpetrate his frauds, including opening two checking accounts online through USAA, opening another using an email address, and conducting a number of electronic money transfers. Moreover, Stergios had a history of using the Internet to commit crimes. Stergios’s 2005 conviction involved hundreds of fraudulent Internet transactions on eBay, totaling over $421,000.00. It was therefore reasonable for the district court to find, the second time around, that restrictions on Stergios’s Internet usage were necessary to deter him from committing further crimes.”

Does this mean that we are going to see the flood gates open wide for special technology conditions being imposed in multitude of non-sex, non-hacker cases? I doubt it. However, in cases where offenders continue to misuse computers and the Internet to perperate fraud, those offenders better be prepared survive in a technologically advanced society without a computer, or at least not one that isn’t monitored. It is not an easy road to hoe. Mitnick noted upon his release from those restrictions that: “The greatest relief is that I am no longer subject to any conditions of supervised release” and … ”being prohibited from the Internet has been an impediment going forward with my own business.” But again, Mitnick was prohibited from being online for about ten years ending in 2003. That was before Facebook, Twitter, I-Pads, X-Box 360, etc. I think that the only ones in the U.S. that might not be online now are the Amish…but wait they have mobile phones. Needless to say, not a pretty picture. What does all this mean for the community corrections officers out there? Well, be prepared to see more non-sex and hacker cases with computer restrictions. On that note, where did I put my cigar at?

Art Bowker is the author of the soon to be released book The Cybercrime Handbook for Community Corrections: Managing Offender Risk in the 21st Century, publisher Charles C Thomas Pub Ltd. He has over 26 years experience in both law enforcement and corrections at the state and federal level. In 2008, Art was the International President of the High Technology Crime Investigation Association (HTCIA). This professional non-profit organization is the largest of its kind devoted to the prevention, investigation, and prosecution of crimes involving advanced technologies (htcia.org). Art is also member of the American Probation and Parole Association (APPA) and is a member of their Technology Committee, He has a Master of Corrections degree from Kent State University. Follow Art on Twitter.com at: (http://twitter.com/Computerpo)

Other articles by Bowker:


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  9. computerpo on 11/03/2011:

    Hello John. Yep I have heard of Perverted Justice... I believe the issue with some of those cases is they were considered "agents of the Govt", due no doubt to there being some kind of agreements about this activity before hand prior to its airing. But, what Anonymous did, and I am not advocating for it, is they were not working for anyone but themselves. They were not working as agents of the govt. So what they did, abit illegal...hacking a site, does not bring in what the found as "fruit of the poisonous tree doctrine"...that only applies if they were working for the Govt. There is actually a case on this point. Here it is: US v. Jarrett, 338 F. 3d 339 - Court of Appeals, 4th Circuit 2003, which can be accessed at http://scholar.google.com/scholar_case?case=7704360326371177621&q=hacker+child+porn&hl=en&as_sdt=2,36. That said, what they "found" does not likely mean any of these folks could be indicted on it alone. LE would have to follow up on these "leads"...which depending on the source might be dated anyway. They would follow up with search warrants, knock and talks, etc. I would agree that they doing this does create an issue...just not a complete barrier to a prosecution...due to the Jarrett case. I should also point out that Anonymous or anyone else could be prosecuted for the hacking activity like this...no matter the "noble" purpose. OH yeah... if someone from Anonymous was also dumb and viewed the child porn as opposed to just looking at the titles...they could also be prosecuted depending upon what they did. But I am sure Anonymous just looked for file names and didn't do anything that could be termed viewing/possessing. Of course, Anonymous has to be caught too!

  10. JohnDoeUtah on 11/03/2011:

    The one issue I have with these groups like Anonymous and Perverted Justice, is that there is no chain of custody in the evidence in many cases. Some of the "To Catch a Predator" stories have been thrown out of court due to Perverted Justice's involvement (i.e., manipulated logs, etc.) Anonymous is doing the same thing in theory, ever herd of the "fruit of the poisonous tree doctrine?" Thier being involved at the level they chose to act at renders much of the evidence inadmissable in court.

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