The U.S. Government is demanding that an alleged member of the online hacking group Anonymous be banned from using the Internet as a condition of his release, but won’t require him to run FBI monitoring software on his computers, saying the monitoring wasn’t enforceable.
In a motion filed on July 21 in U.S. District Court in Alabama, the U.S. Attorney’s Office withdrew a request to make Cooper “consent tot he installation of computer monitoring software by the FBI on all personal computers” as a condition of his release. The use of such tools, the government said wasn’t “approved nor appropriate” for use with a defendant on pretrial release. Instead the government asked for Cooper to be banned from using the Internet or Internet connected devices.
Cooper, who uses the handle “Anthrophobic” was one of 14 individuals named in a criminal indictment filed on July 13, 2011 in U.S. District Court in San Jose, California. Like the others named in the indictment, Cooper is alleged to have participated in distributed denial of service (DDoS) attacks against online payments site PayPal. The attacks, carried out in the name of Anonymous, were in retaliation for PayPal’s decision to cease processing donations to the whistle blower Web site Wikileaks following “Cablegate,” the release of hundreds of thousands of U.S. diplomatic cables.
The government initially requested that FBI monitoring software be installed on computers belonging to Cooper as a condition of release. While no reason is given for that request, the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Alabama said that the request was “passed along” from “lead prosecutors and agents in California, where pretrial procedures differ substantially from those in this district.” After making the request, the U.S. Attorney’s Office apparently concluded that it was unenforceable and withdrew it “because there is no practical method for appropriately monitoring the defendant’s computer usage.” The government instead asked for a blanked ban on access to the Internet or Internet capable devices – a more standard request.A spokesman for the office of Kenyen Brown, the U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of Alabama, said the office couldn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.
In recent years, U.S. courts have upheld bans on Internet access – even for extended periods of time – as a condition of release both before trial and after conviction and sentencing. However, requiring those accused- or convicted of computer crimes to run monitoring software on their computer is controversial. In the U.S. vs. Sales, for example, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit struck down the use of monitoring software as a condition of the release of a man convicted of using a computer and scanner to create counterfeit currency. In that case, the court found that the monitoring has to be tailored to the offense and cannot be “overbroad,” and risk violating the Constitution’s ban on unreasonable searches and seizures.
An attorney representing Mr. Cooper did not respond to a request for comment.
The spate of arrests and searches last week tied to Anonymous DDoS attacks and hacks of the FBI’s Infraguard program did little to quell the anarchic hacking group. Within hours of the arrests, Anonymous used its Twitter account to mock the federal authorities and promise retribution, suggesting that the group’s core leadership was left largely untouched by the sweeping arrests.
Instead, the law enforcement sweep appears to have netted some mid level members, and foot soldiers, rather than generals. Fourteen of the accused are alleged to have distributed a denial of service software application, dubbed LOIC – for the Low Orbit Ion Cannon – and to have used that program to attack servers belonging to Paypal. Two other defendants are linked to the theft and publication of data related to AT&T and the FBI’s Infraguard Program.
On Thursday, Anonymous and the affiliated group Lulz Security issued a statement via Twitter lambasting the FBI and “international law authorities” for statements made in the aftermath of the arrests promising further action.