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eBay ‘hacker’ challenges PC ban

Ever-slipping trial date

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Accused eBay hacker Jerome Heckenkamp is back in federal court in California this month, but it isn't for his ever-slipping trial date. His attorneys are mounting a constitutional challenge to court-ordered pre-trial restrictions that have kept him from computers and the Internet since his indictment nearly three years ago.

Under the conditions of his release, Heckenkamp, 24, is only permitted to use a single "drone" computer at home to review the electronic evidence in his case, without a modem, and with all the connectors but the mouse, keyboard and power ports covered with police evidence tape. Last summer, a planned visit to his parent's home in Wisconsin was conditioned on his family removing all computers from their house, and allowing court Pre-Trial Services officials to inspect the home for wayward CPUs.

Once de rigeur in cybercrime prosecutions, such computer bans have become increasingly contentious in the courts as PCs and the Internet become a daily part of American life. Federal appeals courts are split on the question of whether it's permissible to ban someone from the Internet during the supervised release that follows a federal prison sentence: in separate cases, the 2nd and 3rd U.S. Circuit Courts of Appeals have both ruled against the practice, finding that the bans are too broad to serve legitimate sentencing goals. But last month the 9th Circuit, which covers California, upheld an Internet ban against convicted online child porn trafficker Chance Rearden, finding that it "does not plainly involve a greater deprivation of liberty" than is reasonably necessary.

But unlike the defendants in those cases, Heckenkamp hasn't been convicted of a crime. Under a federal law called the Bail Reform Act, pre-trial conditions must be the "least restrictive" necessary to assure that the defendant appears in court, and doesn't endanger the community. In a filing with the federal court in San Jose, Calif., Heckenkamp lawyer Benjamin Coleman argues that prohibiting the accused hacker from using the Internet goes too far, and violates Heckenkamp's right to free speech. "In this case, the overly broad computer restrictions not only violate the Bail Reform Act, but they also violate Mr. Heckenkamp's First Amendment rights," reads the filing.

Heckenkamp's lawyer is asking that the computer ban be lifted, or that the Pre-Trial Services office monitoring his release be empowered to ease the restrictions at its discretion. The matter is set for a hearing on December 16th.

A former Los Alamos National Labs network engineer, Heckenkamp is charged with hacking telecom equipment-maker Qualcomm while a gradate student in 1999, and penetrating computers belonging to Lycos, Exodus Communications, Juniper Networks and Cygnus Support Solutions. He also charged with defacing online auction site eBay under the hacker handle "MagicFX." He's steadfastly maintained his innocence, claiming that hackers used his computer to commit the crimes.

Last year, Heckenkamp was jailed at a court appearance after angering a federal judge with a series of baffling legal arguments apparently inspired by failed tax-protester tactics -- including challenging his indictment on the grounds that it spelled his name in all capital letters. He later retained an attorney, and after seven months in stir was released on bail with his pre-trial release restrictions tightened further. His trial date, which has been delayed several times, is currently set for March, 2004.

Copyright © 2003,

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