updated 03:16 pm EDT, Fri April 11, 2014
Case filed in wrong state, Appeals court says
The 3rd US Circuit Court of Appeals has unanimously tossed the conviction of Andrew Auernheimer, an Arkansas man accused of stealing the personal data of about 120,000 iPad users, says Reuters. Auernheimer was convicted of the crimes in November 2012 and sentenced to 41 months in prison. The case was filed in New Jersey however, and the appeals court has ruled that he was prosecuted in the wrong state, since his crimes weren't committed there.
Circuit Judge Michael Chagares writes that despite the Internet's "ever-increasing ubiquity," the government can't prosecute Internet crimes wherever it feels like. "Venue in criminal cases is more than a technicality; it involves matters that touch closely the fair administration of criminal justice and public confidence in it," he adds. "Cybercrimes do not happen in some metaphysical location that justifies disregarding constitutional limits on venue."
Auernheimer is currently still serving his sentence in Allenwood, Pennsylvania. A spokesman for prosecution attorney Paul Fishman says that the prosecution team is reviewing its options.
The user data in question was extracted from AT&T servers in 2010 with the help of another man, Daniel Spitler, and a group calling itself Goatse Security. It was then shared with a writer for Gawker, who exposed the names of some of the users in the list. The appeals court notes that Auernheimer was in Fayetteville, Arkansas at the time, while Spitler was in San Francisco, and the AT&T servers were in Atlanta and Dallas. The Gawker writer was likewise outside of New Jersey. Spitler pleaded guilty in June 2011 and was sentenced to three years of probation.
Through Auernheimer's actions, a number of celebrities were outed as iPad owners. Some names included movie producer Harvey Weinstein, ABC News anchorwoman Diane Sawyer, then-New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg, and White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel, now the mayor of Chicago.