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Feds file new felonies against alleged Palin hacker

Circular reasoning straightened out

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A University of Tennessee student accused of illegally breaking into the email account of Alaska governor Sarah Palin has been hit with three new felony charges in connection with the case.

David Kernell on Monday pleaded not guilty to the new charges, which include fraud, unlawful electronic transmission of material outside Tennessee and attempts to conceal records to impede an FBI investigation. Previously, he was charged with a single felony count of unauthorized access of a protected computer.

The new counts come as defense attorneys not involved in the case have roundly criticized the soundness of the the previous charge. Under US law, unauthorized access of a protected computer should be charged as a misdemeanor except when it's used to further a separate crime. Prosecutors had argued that the other crime was the unauthorized access of Palin's email account. That prompted critics to argue prosecutors were applying circular reasoning.

In September, while Palin was the Republican vice presidential candidate, Kernell used publicly available information to reset her Yahoo! email account, according to an indictment filed in the case. Prosecutors followed a string of breadcrumbs Kernell allegedly dropped, including the sloppy use of an anonymous proxy service and a first-person account left on hacker website 4chan.org.

The case drew international headlines after a handful of material from Palin's account was posted on Wikileaks.

A trial in the case has been rescheduled for October 27. It had previously been slated for May. Kernell is the son of state Representative Mike Kernell, chairman of Tennessee's House Government Operations Committee. ®

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