The Corner

Re: Weiner’s jokes about Twitter “prank”

Andrew, I’m curious about the Congressman’s claim that “ordinary citizens” can’t take their cases to the FBI. To the contrary, the FBI, the Justice Department, and several other federal agencies take computer crime very seriously. They would take it especially seriously if the target of the “prank” were a United States congressman. After all, if, as Rep. Weiner claims, someone is targeting him and invading his internet communications, we have no way of knowing whether the only file involved is this one lewd photo, or whether the only account involved is this one Twitter account. As a member of Congress, Mr. Weiner has access to all sorts of sensitive information — I do not know if he has a security clearance for access to classified information, but I would not be surprised if he does since, without one, he probably could not participate in some closed sessions (and therefore could not represent his constituents on some significant issues).

There are various federal statutes (e.g., Sections 1029 and 1030 of the federal penal code — Title 18) that deal with hacking and other forms of computer fraud (including what they call “access device” fraud). They are serious felonies and can call for imprisonment for over ten years.

Moreover, it is rare that a hacker has only one victim. A public-spirited victim — you know, like a dedicated public servant who wouldn’t want to see a computer felon victimize the people he has gone to Washington to represent — would obviously want to report the crime and help the FBI track down the hacker. If it turns out that it was really just a prank and not worth prosecuting, the FBI and the Justice Department can figure that out a lot faster than Rep. Weiner can, even with help from the crack “internet security firm” he says he has retained. So can state and district attorneys, assisted by the police, since states also have computer crime laws and take hacking quite seriously.

Of course, the FBI or other law-enforcement types might ask him impertinent questions — like whether he has taken lewd pictures of himself, whether he took the lewd photo in question, and whether he sent it to the co-ed. And unlike the media, they probably would not be satisfied at being told he doesn’t want to be “distracted” by these sorts of inquiries. 

Anyway, as a former federal prosecutor who was involved in numerous computer crime cases based on citizen complaints, I’m happy to try to be of some help to the Congressman during this trying time. Ordinary citizens not only can report computer crimes to the Justice Department, they are encouraged to do so. DOJ has even set up a website for its “Computer Crime & Intellectual Property Section,” at the top of which it says: “Reporting Computer, Internet-Related, or Intellectual Property Crime: Internet-related crime, like any other crime, should be reported to appropriate law enforcement investigative authorities at the local, state, federal, or international levels, depending on the scope of the crime.” In fact, you don’t even have to be the victim. DOJ is so interested in computer crime, it encourages citizens to report such offenses if they are merely “aware” of them — again, because a hacker rarely victimizes only one person or confines his theft/fraud to one photo. Indeed, members of Congress, such as Rep. Weiner, give the Justice Department multi-billion dollar annual budgets, and gives the FBI additional billions, precisely so that they can do just these sorts of investigations.

Congressman Weiner is no doubt a strong supporter of Attorney General Holder’s aggressive efforts to root out computer crime. He could perform a valuable public service by doing what the government he is part of encourages all citizens to do: Report this outrage to the authorities!

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