Privacy experts put the hacker on trial

TORONTO — If the jury felt like the facts in the case presented to them sounded like they had been lifted from a John Grisham novel, they wouldn’t be far off base.

According to court documents, David Moon, an American citizen and member of an anti-nuclear group called Clean Energy Faction (CEF), hacked into the computer system of PowerNow, a Canadian nuclear power plant. Once inside, he defaced the company’s Web site and took a copy of a confidential report, Safety Precautions and Emergency Manual. He subsequently sold the document to a newsmagazine for US$10,000.

Moon was lured across the border under the guise of speaking at a conference on computer ethics and privacy at the University of Waterloo. There, he was arrested by the Ontario Provincial Police and had his laptop seized. At the same time of his arrest the FBI acted on a warrant to seize any computers in his home and at CEF offices in Boston.

And like a movie adaptation of a Grisham tale, the trial took about two hours. After deliberation, about 85 per cent of the jury thought Moon was guilty.

If you feel there was a miscarriage of justice, don’t worry. The cyber-trial of David Moon was staged recently as part of the second annual Privacy and Security Workshop, co-sponsored by the office of the Office of the Information and Privacy Commissioner of Ontario and the Centre for Applied Cryptographic Research, University of Waterloo.

While the case was fictional, senior prosecutor, Ontario Ministry of Attorney General and prosecutor in the Moon case Scott Hutchison said he sees Internet-related cases all the time. There are lots more to come. He added the only thing that made this case unique was it was an American citizen committing a crime in Canada; It’s much more likely to be the other way around.

The trial raised the question of whether the Internet represents anything new in the eyes of the law. Justice Joseph Kenkel of the Ontario Court of Justice, who served as judge in the case, said there is new legislation to expand the scope of offences (like mischief with data, for example). So while there are now computer-specific offences, most of the changes have been procedural. For example, the matter in which evidence is examined, and the emergance of warrants for electronic data.

“The Criminal Code, per se, could cover all of these things, but just how we come at it, how we gather evidence — that’s what changed,” Kenkel said.

While there is nothing new about cross-border crimes, the Internet is prompting countries to work together to get their laws in synch. Kenkel said Canada and the Unites States helped a European convention draft cyber-laws. “We’re trying to harmonize how we all approach this area,” he said.

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Jim Love, Chief Content Officer, IT World Canada

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