When convicted hacker Jeremy Hammond stood up in New York Federal District Court Friday and asked a judge for leniency, he was greeted by the waving arms and wide smiles of friends who had packed the courtroom. Their enthusiasm quickly dampened when Judge Loretta Preska announced the sentence: 10 years in prison, followed by three years under supervised release.
Hammond, 28, was arrested in March 2012 for releasing what he had described as a “digital equivalent of a nuclear bomb” on Statfor, a large private intelligence contractor, and then making its user information public. He and five others in the hacking collective Anonymous provided information for Wikileak’s largest leak: almost 5 million emails of 860,000 Stratfor subscribers and clients, and information from 60,000 credit cards — many of which were used to make donations to charities Hammond selected.
Hammond cast his actions as a form of public service that shined a light on the secretive firm’s surveillance work and civil libertarians championed his cause. Activists from the tech community and whistle blowers like Daniel Ellsberg signed petitions and wrote more than 250 letters to the judge to both emphasize Hammond’s charity work and the importance of his civil disobedience.
“The acts of civil disobedience and direct action that I am being sentenced for today are in line with the principles of community and equality that have guided my life,” Hammond said in a statement. “I hacked into dozens of high profile corporations and government institutions, understanding very clearly that what I was doing was against the law, and that my actions could land me back in federal prison. But I felt that I had an obligation to use my skills to expose and confront injustice—and to bring the truth to light.”
“I tried everything from voting, petitions, and peaceful protests [to expose the truth],” Hammond added. “I believe sometimes laws must be broken to exact change.”
He noted that Sabu, a notorious hacker turned FBI informant, led him towards Stratfor’s website, luring him to hack the site.
Hammond also apologized to those whose private information he exposed, noting, “I appreciate the irony of my own actions trampling these rights.”
“Jeremy lived an active, moral, offline life,” defense attorney Elizabeth Fink said in the hearing, her voice slightly strained.
She painted a portrait of Hammond as someone whose aims were noble, even if his methods could be questionable. Among the deeds she mentioned were Hammond’s work cooking meals for the homeless, but also the time he went into an Apple store and put the company’s financial information on all available screens in order to show employees how to secure their systems from potential outside threats.
But Judge Preska said that his charitable acts did not compare to his lack of charity towards those he didn’t agree with. Preska, whose husband’s email address had been leaked with the Stratfor information, noted that among the released phone numbers was that of a retired Arizona police officer, who received hundreds of threatening calls as a result.
“These are not the actions of Martin Luther King, Nelson Mandela, or even Daniel Ellsberg,” Preska said before she issued the sentence. “There’s nothing high minded or public-spirited about causing mayhem.”
Preska also cited Hammond’s long arrest record for protests, assaults against anti-gay protestors, and his hacking into the website of Protest Warrior, which targeted anti-war activists.
“What he did with that leniency was to go out and do it again,” said prosecutor Rosemary Nidiry.