ID Theft Statute Applies to Hacker, Court Rules

     (CN) – A man who hacked into his boss’ email and revealed an apparent affair, prompting his boss to commit suicide, is not protected from an identity theft charge by claiming he was exercising his freedom of speech, the Wisconsin Supreme Court ruled.

     Christopher Baron, an emergency medical technician in the town of Jefferson, used the password of EMS Director Mark Fisher to access Fisher’s e-mail.
     Baron combined several emails that seemed to indicate that Fisher was having an affair. Baron sent the email, titled “What Mark’s Been Up To,” to several people in the community.
     Fisher killed himself the next day.
     Baron was charged with defamation, obstruction, computer crimes and identity theft. He moved to dismiss the identity theft charge, claiming that he has a First Amendment right to criticize a public official.
     The state Supreme Court agreed with the court of appeals that Wisconsin’s identity theft statute applied to Baron, because it regulates conduct as well as speech. The statute punishes the unauthorized use of someone’s personal information in order to harm his or her reputation.
     “This is one of those rare cases that a government regulation survives strict scrutiny,” Ziegler wrote. “The statute does not prevent Baron from revealing the reputation-harming information as long as the method chosen does not entail Baron pretending to be Fisher.
     “[T]he state has shown beyond a reasonable doubt that (the statute), as applied to Baron, is narrowly tailored to achieve a compelling government interest and does not violate Baron’s constitutional right to freedom of speech.”

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