Tuesday, May 17, 2011
Court of Appeal Upholds Conviction for Hacking School Computers
By a MetNews Staff Writer
An Internet user has no expectation of privacy with respect to identifying information he gives to the Internet Service Provider and lacks standing to challenge the provider’s compliance with a search warrant seeking the information, the Court of Appeal for this district ruled yesterday.
Div. Six affirmed Vincent Stipo’s convictions for wiretapping and unlawfully accessing computer information. Stipo pled no contest, reserving the right to appeal based on the denial of his motion to suppress, after prosecutors accused him of hacking into the Hacienda La Puente High School District’s computer network and obtaining confidential data.
Police obtained a search warrant in January 2008 after the district’s computer expert determined the hacker’s Internet Protocol address and told them it was within the Time Warner Roadrunner network. In May of that year, Time Warner provided Stipo’s name and address in response to the warrant and confirmed that the account was active.
In July, police obtained a warrant to search Stipo’s home, where they found a diagram linking him to the hacking of the district’s network, as well as digital evidence on his computer. After his motion to quash both warrants and suppress all of the evidence obtained under them was denied by Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Thomas C. Falls, he agreed to plead no contest.
Presiding Justice Arthur Gilbert, writing for the appellate panel, said the trial judge was correct. Every federal court to consider the issue, he noted, has held that there is no reasonable expectation of privacy in ISP subscriber information.
Gilbert cited Smith v. Maryland (1979) 442 U.S. 735, which held that a telephone subscriber had no reasonable expectation of privacy with respect to information that was voluntarily given to a telephone company. Information provided to an ISP should not be treated any differently, the presiding justice concluded.
Gilbert went on to reject the argument that the six-month delay between the time the police obtained the information and the execution of the second warrant rendered the information stale and required the suppression of all evidence obtained in the search of Stipo’s residence.
The police had reason to believe that the information was still valid and that the evidence would still be at the residence, the presiding justice explained.
“Equipment is essential to a computer hacker. Stipo has not shown that he would have any reason to dispose of his computer equipment. [The officer who applied for the warrant] took steps to keep the investigation confidential, and Time Warner did not notify Stipo about the warrant. Because Stipo was not aware of Mesta’s investigation, he had no reason to destroy evidence. Stipo’s computer hard drive records the history of his computer activity....A reasonable inference is that traces of the network intrusion would be present because they are automatically entered and very difficult to remove....As the trial court noted, the intercepted District information was also a continual resource for identity theft. There was sufficient probable cause to believe that relevant evidence would be present.”
The jurist also agreed with prosecutors that any deficiency in the warrants would not require suppression because the police relied on them in good faith.
The case is People v. Stipo, 11 S.O.S. 2549.
Copyright 2011, Metropolitan News Company