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Hacker from 'Celebgate' Scandal Could Face Just Nine Months in Jail

Sep 1 2016 6:35 PM
Hacker from 'Celebgate' Scandal Could Face Just Nine Months in Jail

Image via Wikimedia Commons

Edward Majerczyk is accused of playing an integral role in the phishing scheme that stole and illegally released the personal information of celebrities like Jennifer Lawrence. A revenge porn lawyer explains why his guilty plea is actually unique.

Edward Majerczyk, the 28-year-old man whose phishing scheme allegedly led to 30 celebrity accounts being hacked in 2014 and their nude photos being posted online, is scheduled to plead guilty to felony charges.

The Chicago Tribune reports that Majerczyk has already signed a plea deal that involved his case being transferred from Los Angeles, where he was initially charged, to a federal court in Chicago. As a result of the plea, the prosecuting lawyers have also agreed to seek a nine-month sentence.

Though Majerczyk is not charged with having distributed the sensitive material that was proliferated online during "Celebgate," his scheme allegedly played an integral role in the debacle and was illegal on its own. By emailing accounts while posing as internet providers' security, Majerczyk tricked more than 300 people into giving him Apple iCloud and Gmail account information, including such celebrities as Jennifer Lawrence and Kate Upton. This allowed Majerczyk to illegally obtain data from the accounts, including the many intimate photos of celebrities, The Chicago Tribune reports.

Read more: Inside the Torturous Fight to End Revenge Porn

"We often hear the word 'hacking,' but what Mr. Majerczyk did is called 'phishing,' explains Elisa D'Amico, a litigation partner at the Miami office of K&L Gates LLP and the co-founder of the Cyber Civil Rights Legal Project, a pro bono project that provides legal services to victims of non-consensual pornography. "He scammed innocent people into giving up their usernames and/or passwords and he gained unauthorized access to their private photos and videos."

Though he is not accused of having spread the photos, Elisa says he is still culpable.

It is important to point out that anyone, celebrity or non-celebrity, male or female, old or young, can be a victim of sexual cyber-harassment, phishing, invasion of privacy, and/or revenge porn.

"I'm not sure it is possible to place more blame on Mr. Majerczyk or the other bad actors, or if that even matters. What he did was wrong. What they did also was wrong. What they did was an invasion of the sexual privacy of these innocent victims."

She also notes that though "Celebgate" involved public figures, "it is important to point out that anyone, celebrity or non-celebrity, male or female, old or young, can be a victim of sexual cyber-harassment, phishing, invasion of privacy, and/or revenge porn."

Sexual cyber-harassment is often called "revenge porn" because it most commonly involves an ex posting intimate photos or videos online after a breakup. Though prosecution of revenge porn is frequently very difficult, cases like this can be easier to prosecute because they involve hacking.

"Laws seeking to regulate sexual cyber-harassment are different from laws regulating hacking," says D'Amico. "Often, law enforcement is able to move forward on the computer fraud/abuse charges, but not the revenge porn charges. So many of the [revenge porn] cases involving unauthorized computer access, where we have forensic proof of the "hacking," are better cases to move forward with. Forensic evidence, when it exists, is extremely powerful."

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Given how frequently revenge porn cases end without a conviction, some see Majerczyk's guilty plea as a win.

"I'm glad that he's being held accountable for what he did," says D'Amica. "That being said, there is no reversing the damage that he already has done, and that is the sad part. Hopefully his punishment will be a deterrent to anyone thinking of engaging in this type of behavior."

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