GA Man Face Crimal Charges For Installing Distributed Software

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This falls under the "Stranger Than Fiction" category. According to an article posted by SecurityFocus, a company which provides security intelligence products and service for businesses, a man in Georgia is facing criminal charges, which could put him behind bars for 120 years and fine him $400,000, for installing a popular distributed computing software package on PCs where he worked. The State of Georgia, which has some of the toughest computer crime laws in America, has charged David McOwen, a PC technician, with multiple counts of computer theft and trespassing for allegedly loading the distributed computing software without permission. From the article:

David McOwen was working as a PC specialist at the state-run DeKalb Technical Institute in 1998, when he learned about a project by the non-profit organization distributed.net that allowed computer users to donate their unused processing power to test the RC5 encryption algorithm. Noticing that many of the machines he maintained on the seven DeKalb campuses sat idle for long periods, McOwen installed distributed.net clients at several of those locations while performing a Y2K upgrade on the machines in 1999.

Mr. McOwen was informed of the charges in June by the Georgia Bureau of Investigation, according to the article.

... in June of 2001 McOwen was contacted by an investigator from the Georgia Bureau of Investigation who informed him that he was the subject of an 18-month computer crime investigation. In October, prosecutors from the Georgia state attorney generalis office charged McOwen with eight violations of Georgiais tough computer crime law: one count of computer theft, and seven counts of computer trespass -- one for each of the school offices where McOwen downloaded the distributed.net client.

Each felony count carries a $50,000 fine and a 15-year possible prison term, for a 120 year maximum possible sentence. The indictment also calls for restitution equal to the amount of money paid to state workers to uninstall the programs from 500 PCs.

If the Georgia laws prevail it could overshadow the IT professionalis ability to run a network for fear of government prosecution. the article goes on to say:

"Our problem with this kind of statute is that it is written in such broad terms that it can reach all sorts of behavior that doesnit constitute computer fraud, but can give the government prosecutorial discretion," says Lee Tien, a senior staff attorney with the San Francisco-based Electronic Frontier Foundation, who has followed McOwenis case.

The case goes to trial in January of 2002, and it bears close watching.

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