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A sys admin who installed distributed computing software on computers at an American college has been sentenced to probation.

This may seem harsh but David McOwen, the former BOFH at the state run DeKalb Technical College in Georgia, can consider himself fortunate - since the authorities brought charges against him that might have sent him to jail.

McOwen has been given a year of probation and a $2,100 fine for linking up college PCs to Distributed.net, a communal code breaking network that takes advantage of spare computing cycles to crack codes.

Since February 2000, McOwen has been the target of a "computer trespass" investigation and then prosecution. Last autumn McOwen was charged with one count of computer theft and seven counts of computer trespassing (one for each of the school offices where McOwen downloaded the distributed.net client), Newsbytes reports.

He faced a fine of $400,000 and the prospect of prison if convicted at a criminal trial, which was due to take place later this month.

Under the terms of the deal, announced yesterday, McOwen will receive one year of probation for each criminal count, to run concurrently, make restitution of $2100, and perform 80 hours of community service unrelated to computers or technology. McOwen will have no felony or misdemeanour record under Georgia's First Offender Act.

"David never should have been prosecuted in the first place, but we're glad that the state decided to stop," said senior staff attorney Lee Tien of the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF), which campaigned on his behalf.

"This is a very good result for David. He very likely could have won if the case had gone to trial, but trials cost money and you never know what will happen," Tien added.

The case, which turned on whether McOwen had fair notice that installing the
Distributed.net client software was prohibited, has taken a heavy toll on the sys admin. He resigned from his job at DeKalb soon after the school threatened him. Last August he was fired from his next job at Cingular Wireless because of the bad publicity surrounding the case.

The issue raised by McOwen's prosecution isn't an isolated one. Last year, the Tennessee Valley Authority banned the SETI@home program from its computers, declaring it a risk to computer security. ®

External links

Free McOwen campaign site

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