Can Ya Spare a Few Pennies for the PayPal 14?
Most readers will already know the history of the PayPal 14, but I’ll let the folks at ‘8,600,000 Penny Freedom from the Press Fund’ via Twitter explain it in capsule form (my bolds):
Who we are:
Eleven individuals charged with helping overwhelm PayPal’s website in 2010 have reached a plea deal with federal prosecutors that could potentially allow them to avoid a felony conviction.
Under the terms of the deal, 11 defendants in what is known as the “PayPal 14” case pleaded guilty to both felony and misdemeanor charges during their appearances in federal court in San Jose, Calif., on Thursday, but their sentencing will be pushed back for a year, according to reporter Alexa O’Brien. If they stay out of trouble with the law, federal prosecutors will seek to drop the felony charges, and the defendants will be sentenced to probation and possibly receive credit for time served.
One of the defendant’s attorneys, Stanley Cohen, who called the deal a “big win for civil disobedience,” said it also requires each defendant to pay eBay $5,600 in restitution. Two other defendants pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor charge, and likely will be sentenced to 90 days in prison. A final defendant who was indicted earlier this year on separate charges involving attacks on credit card companies and recording industry groups was not eligible for a plea deal.
The deal ends a three-year saga that started when members of the online group Anonymous launched a distributed denial of service (DDoS) attack, or a tactic of overwhelming the system by flooding it with requests, against PayPal after it cut off service to WikiLeaks. Without PayPal, it was more difficult for WikiLeaks, an organization known for publishing leaked documents, to raise money.
In terms of the number of defendants, the PayPal case is the largest brought in connection to a DDoS attack, which some activists defend as a legitimate form of protest protected by the First Amendment. While PayPal collected the IP addresses of more than 1,000 computers involved in the attack, the PayPal 14 were the only people charged. There have been several other high-profile DDoS attacks against other websites, including government sites, in the years since the PayPal attack. A DDoS attack participant in a separate federal case was sentenced to two years probation earlier this week, and forced to pay $183,000 in restitution to Koch Industries.
The 14 defendants were charged under the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act, which critics say is overly broad and exposes computer users to extremely harsh sentences for relatively innocuous computer crimes.
Federal prosecutors and defense attorneys had nearly reached a plea deal in the PayPal case this fall, but it was held up because not all the defendants agreed. Defendants in the case told The Huffington Post earlier this year that the case has had a severe financial and emotional impact.
Pierre Omidyar, the founder of PayPal’s parent company eBay, called for leniency this week, saying they should have been charged with misdemeanors, not felonies.
A spokeswoman for the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Northern District of California did not immediately respond to a request for comment.’
This is the post in which Pierre Omidyar on Dec. 3 called for leniency on his Honolulu Civil Beat tab at Huffington Post, and yes, he did call for leniency, but also said this concerning the affects of the DDoS on real people’s lives:
‘A denial of service attack is damaging and costly. Many of PayPal’s customers rely on PayPal for their livelihood. An interruption in service can have serious consequences: those customers may lose income that may cause them to become late on rent payments, medical expenses, etc. These are serious impacts that must not be ignored. An attack on PayPal’s servers hurts these vulnerable people far more than it hurts a multinational company.
People at PayPal — as in most companies — take their responsibility to protect their customers very seriously. They sleep with pagers next to them so they can be woken in the middle of the night when something goes wrong. They put in extra hours on short notice at the expense of spending time with their families. They put their customers ahead of their own interests time and time again.’
Amusingly, on Dec. 5, two days after Pierre’s post, DJ Pangburn at Death and Taxes magazine wrote: .
’Pierre Omidyar, founder of eBay, which is the parent company of PayPal, called for leniency. Ironic given that PayPal provided the Department of Justice with a list of the participants’ IP addresses, which helped the FBI locate the protesters. [snip]
While the plea deal doesn’t define DDoS as digital protest, it might be the first step in acknowledging the attack as something akin to protesters blocking a road or a business. These physical protests are typically prosecuted as misdemeanors, not felonies that can bring hefty prison terms, high restitution costs, and a lifetime designation as a felon. The PayPal 14 plea deal might also help begin the very necessary process of amending the CFAA, which allows stiff penalties for these non-violent crimes in the first place.’
The page also has photos of the PayPal 14 hacktivists. Being a major fan of irony myself, and having read complaints from folks who had suffered from PayPal’s freezing their checks, accounts, or what have you, I went DuckDuckGo-ing, and found this page of sites created strictly to call out PayPal’s business practices. Some of the site names are: PayPal sucks.com, ScrewPaypal.com, PayPalwarning.com, class action suits against the organization; well, you get the drift.
But included on the list was this news at theverge.com: ‘PayPal becomes the latest company to ban class action suits: An ‘unbelievably disastrous’ change, but the fine print holds a way out’.
In more irony, Alexa O’Brien’s piece at the Daily Beast gives some of the history of PayPal having blockaded WikiLeaks’ account involving Harold Koh, Eric Holder, and quotes some of PayPal’s own spokespeople who make it clear that Operation Payback’s actual damages to PayPal are very much in question.
Here’s Stanley Cohen, counsel to Mercedes Rene Haefer, one of the defendants speaking about the case:
According to O’Brien, Cohen also said:
‘The PayPal 14 are like civil rights fighters or the freedom riders of the 1960’s. They are saying, ‘I did what I did with open eyes, knowing that I could get prosecuted. It happened. I knew what the consequences were, and the consequences came. I stand behind what I did. I did not cooperate with the government, and I did not roll over. I did this so that others could understand how corporations control the dialogue and the debate.’
Now I might quibble a bit about his parallel to Oboma ‘flooding Congressional hotlines’, but I do understand why he said it.
And file this under: Quibble Hilarity’, but let me offer an aside first. After I’d received some damage to my brain a decade ago, I lost all sense of time and ability to do math, although I can manage simple arithmetic some of the time. The IRS does send my tax papers back every year with bad grades marked in red marker, but on the whole have been (ahem) very kind about helping me fix my errors.
That said, when I’d clicked into the ‘8,600,000 Penny Freedom from the Press Fund’ page again this morning, even my demented brain tried to make sense of the number. There had been some Tweeties saying that they’d gotten the figure wrong initially, and that it should have read: 86,000,000 million pennies, but that sho’ didn’t seem right. So rather than get up and get my trusty solar gonkulator, as I should have, I tried doing the math on paper. I swear I tried ‘5600 x 11’, and then ‘5600 x 14’ (just in case, but my answers never came out like theirs. Feel free to correct me, or if I’m right, and any of you know how to contact them, you might mention that they may need to get out their own gonkulators to come up with a closer answer…or something.
In any event, and lol, can ya spare a few pennies for the PayPal 14 to keep them out of jail? I hope so. And if you choose to cover the service charge in addition to your other contributed pennies, it’s $1.28 on twenty bucks. Remember, they were engaging in First Amendment disapproval of PayPal’s treatment of WikiLeaks. Here is the WePay page again. I reckon they might just count them as Pennies from Heaven.
WikiLeaks: ‘We Open Governments’
(cross-posted at Cafe-Babylon.net)