IT worker faces jail for installing screensaver at work

15 years of porridge for taking part in distributed computing?

A US computer consultant faces up to 15 years in jail after installing screensavers on computers at work.

David McOwen, who fitted the client software while employed at a college in Georgia two years ago, is also in line to receive a damages bill of up to $415,000.

McOwen worked at DeKalb Technical College, Georgia, and installed Distributed RC5 client software onto hundreds of computers - allegedly without permission.

The 38-year-old did this as part of a contest run by Distributed.net, which started the scheme to try and crack an encryption code by using power from dormant computers worldwide.

In order to attract as many participants as possible, a $1,000 reward was offered to the person whose computer actually cracked the code.

Little did McOwen know, but under state law what he had done was considered misuse of the state's computers, classed as a felony in Georgia.

Which brings us up to date - the State of Georgia Attorney General's office is preparing to take McOwen to court for a felony indictment under the Georgia Computer Systems Protection Act.

The estimated $415,000 damages that he faces work out at a whopping 59 cents per second that the program ran.

The case has already generated publicity in the US, and there is an online petition campaigning for the charge against McOwen to be dropped. So far it has around 2,000 signatures.

There is also a Web site, FreeMcOwen.com, which tells McOwen's story and asks for advice - such as if anyone has been prosecuted for a similar incident in the past.

As well as the personal drama involving McOwen, there is a wider danger to the case.

All this could have an adverse effect on distributed computing projects in general, which are usually good and honest ways of improving the universe.

Take for example SETI (the search for extraterrestrial intelligence) and the project started earlier this year to find a cure for cancer - both of which have teams made up of Register readers, some of whom no doubt use work computers.

According to reports in the US press, people have started pulling screensavers off computers since the case against McOwen was launched.

Anyone interested can find out more or sign the petition here. ®

Related Link
FreeMcOwen site

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