October 14, 2003 · Lessig
So imagine this: An employee works for a software company. He discovers a problem with the software, tries to warn the company, but it does nothing. He quits, and then sends email to all the customers of the company, informing them of the security problem with the software. The flood of emails brings the email server down for a bit, but that admittedly does not cause significant damage. Nonetheless, the employee is criminally prosecuted for causing an “impairment to the integrity” of a computer system (by revealing its flaws) which resulted in more than $5,000 in damage (because now it was known to be flawed).
The employee is found guilty. He is sentenced and serves (yes, he actually serves) 16 months in a federal prison.
In America, you ask? Well, in fact, yes — justice in the Central District of California. But it gets better.
On appeal, the employee retains Jennifer Granick, executive director of Stanford’s Center for Internet and Society. She argued the obvious point: it can’t be “damage” to tell the truth about some company’s software — however ugly that truth might be.
Today the government agreed. In an extraordinary (and extraordinarily rare move) it confessed error. “On futher review,” the government wrote, “in light of defendent’s arguments on appeal, the government believes it was error to argue that defendant intended an ‘impairment’ to the integrity of [X's] computer system.” The government asked that the conviction be vacated.
“In light of defendant’s arguments on appeal.”
Indeed, America: Where defendants sometimes get great lawyers, and where governments let justice admit it is wrong.
I am proud, and moved, by both.