Weinergate is unfolding pretty quickly today, and Rep. Anthony Weiner’s initial claim that his offending tweet was sent by a hacker now looks extremely improbable.
But let’s suppose it is — everything we’ve seen today — a big hacker conspiracy. Why doesn’t Weiner go after the offenders?
Professor Phil Malone, of Harvard Law School’s Berkman Center on Internet and Society, says that such a hacking would likely fall under the “federal statute called the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act.” The relevant provision of the act for Representative Weiner would be “unauthorized access,” which would be met if a hacker (1) “obtained information that wasn’t publicly available,” and (2) had “gained access in an unauthorized manner,” such as “figuring out ways to guess the password.”
Computer law is pretty novel. But, Professor Malone says, so far the CFAA has “been interpreted pretty broadly.” The CFAA also has provisions similar to those in wire-fraud acts, such that an attempt to impersonate a politician might “constitute intent to defraud.”
The first precedent that jumps to mind, even for apolitical legal scholars? Remember when Sarah Palin’s e-mail account was hacked? The offender got 18 months in the slammer for violating the CFAA.
The point is, if Weiner’s initial story were true, he could open his accounts to a federal investigation and expect some redemption for the humiliations to which the vast right-wing conspiracy has subjected him. So why hasn’t he? We may find out shortly.