DOCUMENT: Internet, Crime

Judge Lifts Twitter Ban On "Anonymous" 14

Group indicted for online PayPal attack free to tweet


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Anonymous Twitter

MARCH 19--Over objections from the Department of Justice, a judge has lifted a Twitter ban on 14 accused members of “Anonymous” now under indictment for their alleged roles in a coordinated online assault against PayPal, an attack prosecutors contend was carried out via the social networking site.

Ruling on motions filed by several defendants, Magistrate Judge Paul Grewal stated that since government lawyers did not sufficiently link “allegedly criminal activities to use of a Twitter account,” the defendants were free to use the microblogging service. Grewal’s order was filed Friday in U.S. District Court in San Jose, California.

In a January court filing, defendant Vincent Kershaw argued that bail conditions barring his use of Twitter unduly burdened his First Amendment right to engage in political discourse. Kershaw, 28, contended that the Twitter ban prohibited him from “even perusing such critical communications from our own President or engaging in the Twitter Town Halls in any manner.”

In opposing Kershaw’s motion, a prosecutor described Twitter as one of the “principle tools through which the members of the Anonymous hacking group planned and coordinated their criminal activities.”

Kershaw, pictured in the above mug shot, also sought permission to use Internet Relay Chat so that he could participate in “political debate” and “political speech” in IRC chat rooms. That motion was denied by Grewal, who ruled that Kershaw and his codefendants are allowed “substantial internet use for purposes that include political discourse.”

Kershaw, a Colorado landscaper, and his codefendants were charged last July with conspiracy and intentional damage to a protected computer for allegedly participating in an “Anonymous”-organized denial of service attack on PayPal. The felony counts carry a combined maximum of 15 years in prison and a $500,000 fine.

The December 2010 online assault--dubbed “Operation Avenge Assange”--was prompted by the suspension of WikiLeaks’s PayPal account in the wake of the publication of classified Department of State cables by the group headed by Julian Assange. (3 pages)