Cyber-activist Jeremy Hammond was sentenced to 10 years in federal prison this morning by Judge Loretta A. Preska in a federal courtroom in lower Manhattan for hacking the private intelligence firm Stratfor. When released, Hammond will be placed under supervised control, the terms of which include a prohibition on encryption or attempting to anonymize his identity online.
Hammond has shown a “total lack of respect for the law,” Judge Preska said in her ruling, citing Hammond’s criminal record – which includes a felony conviction for hacking from when he was 19 – and what she called “unrepentant recidivism.” There is a “desperate need to promote respect for the law,” she said, as well as a “need for adequate public deterrence.”
As Hammond was led into the courtroom, he looked over the roughly 100 supporters who had shown up, smiled, and said, “What’s up, everybody?” Prior to the verdict, he read from a prepared statement and said it was time for him to step away from hacking as a form of activism, but recognized that tactic’s continuing importance. “Those in power do not want the truth exposed,” Hammond said from the podium, wearing black prison garb. He later stated that the injustices he has fought against “cannot be cured by reform, but by civil disobedience and direct action.” He spoke out against capitalism and a wide range of other social ills, including mass incarceration and crackdowns on protest movements.
The Stratfor hack exposed previously unknown corporate spying on activists and organizers, including PETA and the Yes Men, and was largely constructed by the FBI using an informant named Hector Monsegur, better known by his online alias Sabu. Co-defendants in the U.K. were previously sentenced to relatively lighter terms. Citing Hammond’s record, Judge Preska said “there will not be any unwarranted sentencing disparity” between her ruling and the U.K. court’s decision.
Hammond’s supporters and attorneys had previously called on Judge Preska to recuse herself following the discovery that her husband was a victim of the hack she was charged with ruling on. That motion was denied. (Full disclosure: This reporter previously spoke at a rally calling on Judge Preska to recuse herself.)
Hammond’s defense team repeatedly stressed that their client was motivated by charitable intentions, a fact they said was reflected in his off-line life as well. Hammond has previously volunteered at Chicago soup kitchens, and has tutored fellow inmates in GED training during his incarceration.
Rosemary Nidiry, speaking for the prosecution, painted a picture of a malicious criminal motivated by a desire to create “maximum mayhem,” a phrase Hammond used in a chat log to describe what he hoped would come from the Stratfor hack. Thousands of private credit card numbers were released as a result of the Stratfor hack, which the government argued served no public good.
Sarah Kunstler, a defense attorney for Hammond, takes issue with both the prosecution and judge’s emphasis on the phrase “maximum mayhem” to the exclusion of Hammond’s broader philosophy shows an incomplete picture. “Political change can be disruptive and destructive,” Kunstler says. “That those words exclude political action is inaccurate.”
Many supporters see Hammond’s case as part of a broader trend of the government seeking what they say are disproportionately long sentences for acts that are better understood as civil disobedience than rampant criminality. Aaron Swartz, who faced prosecution under the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act – the same statute used to prosecute Hammond – took his own life last year, after facing possible decades in prison for downloading academic journals from an MIT server. “The tech industry promised open access and democratization,” says Roy Singham, Swartz’s old boss and executive chairman of ThoughtWorks, a software company that advocates for social justice. “What we’ve given the world is surveillance and spying.” Singham says it’s “shameful” that “titans of the tech world” have not supported Hammond.
Following his first conviction for hacking, Hammond said, he struggled with returning to that life, but felt it was his responsibility. That decision ultimately lead to the Stratfor hack. “I had to ask myself, if Chelsea Manning fell into the abysmal nightmare of prison fighting for the truth, could I in good conscience do any less, if I was able?” he said, addressing the court. “I thought the best way to demonstrate solidarity was to continue the work of exposing and confronting corruption.”