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PLN editor quoted in article re federal prisoner placed in segregation for blogging

Mashable, Jan. 1, 2013.
PLN editor quoted in article re federal prisoner placed in segregation for blogging - Mashable 2013

Why Was Hacker 'Weev' Put in Solitary Confinement?

May 17, 2013

By Lorenzo Franceschi-Bicchierai13 hours ago

Infamous hacker and Internet troll Andrew Auernheimer, better known as Weev, said he wasn't afraid of going to prison. But he is now being held in "administrative segregation," which is a euphemism for solitary confinment.

His lawyer and supporters claim he's being punished for tweeting and posting messages to SoundCloud from behind bars. But, is that really why he's locked alone in a cell for 23 hours a day?

Auernheimer was recently sentenced to 41 months in prison for getting his hands on the email addresses of 114,000 AT&T iPad 3G customers — which were stored on openly accessible URLs — and later sharing this information with Gawker. After the sentencing, he was put away in a detention center in Brooklyn, N.Y., before being tranferred to a federal low-security prison in Allenwood, Pa.

During his time in prison, as Mashable has reported, Auernheimer had been able to remain online, tweeting through a friend. And he had even been able to make his voice heard by taking advantage of a PBX server set up to automatically post his calls to SoundCloud.

According to Auernheimer himself, it's for those actions that he's been put solitary confinement, since April 28. He's likely spending 23 hours a day in a cell alone, with just one hour a day for showers and exercise, which usually takes place in another room.

"They took away all my electronic comm[unication]s methods and put me in the special housing unit where I am under 24/7 lockdown," Auernheimer wrote in a letter (embedded at the bottom of this story) to his friend, fellow hacker and security researcher Shane MacDougall.

"All this for the high crime of blogging."

For more than a week, his lawyer Tor Ekeland hasn't heard from Auernheimer, nor has he been able to talk to him on the phone. And during that time he hadn't even been able to get in touch with prison officials.

So, while Ekeland can't confirm whether Auernheimer's punishment is really due to his online activities, he believes "that's a reasonable hypothesis."

Ekeland explains that Auernheimer's email access was cut off a few days after he used it to, basically, live-tweet his experience in prison. And his telephone access was cut off shortly after he used it to post three messages to his SoundCloud account.

"You've got a coincidence there, certainly," Ekeland told Mashable.

When Ekeland was finally able to talk to prison officials on Friday, they confirmed that Auernheimer is indeed in administrative segregation for "investigative purposes." But when Ekeland asked what he was being investigated for, according to Ekeland, the official simply answered: "I can't tell." To find out more about Auernheimer's situation, Ekeland is going to visit him on Sunday.

Mashable reached out to officials at the prison but a spokesperson simply replied in an email that "due to Bureau of Prisons' policy and in accordance with maintaining the inmate's privacy, we are not authorized to release the information you requested." The prison did not respond to additional requests for comment.

To further support the theory that authorities were bothered by Auernheimer's online activities, his friend Jaime Cochran, who had set up the PBX server to automatically post to Soundcloud, revealed to Mashable that around two days after his last SoundCloud message, the server received two calls. According to Cochran, the caller IDs on those two calls read: "US GOVERNMENT" and "FEDERAL BUREAU OF PRIS."

Paul Wright, editor of Prison Legal News, a magazine and website that covers all news related to inmates, isn't surprised by any of this. While Wright hasn't followed Auernheimer's case closely, he said that it doesn't seem as though he's broken any laws or regulations. Wright explained that prisoners enjoy basically the same First Amendment protections as any other citizen. That means that they can express their views and opinions, even online, through intermediaries that post them on their behalf. In fact, many are prolific writers — and even have websites.

"I was in prison for 17 years and I started the magazine Prison Legal News from there, and I published literally thousands of articles, including two books, while I was in prison," he said.

For example, Wright points to the case of Eric Rudolph, a terrorist responsible for bombing the Olympic Park in Atlanta in 1996 — killing one person and injuring 111 others — and three more anti-abortion and anti-gay attacks. He's now serving a life sentence but, even from prison, he's written regularly, publishing anti-abortion essays on a website called the Army of God.

Wright adds that there are many other examples, including that of David Lane, a white supremacist who regularly wrote for Nazi periodicals and websites while in jail. According to Wright, none of these prisoners were punished for communicating with the outside world to disseminate their views. But others are.

"The reality is that, typically, the prisoners who are retaliated against, or the government tries to silence, are those who are critical of the government, that are critical of the status quo, and complain about prison's conditions," he said.

Amy Fettig, senior staff counsel for the American Civil Liberties Union’s National Prison Project, isn't surprised at all, either. Even though she stresses that we obviously don't know all the facts, she said "this case sounds like the typical overuse of solitary confinement," which is common in the American prison system.

Solitary confinement, she explained, is used far too often to retaliate against prisoners who speak out against their prison's officials for violating their constitutional rights.

"To throw somebody into solitary confinement is a way to really, really punish them and make sure they stay quiet the next time," Fettig said.

Auernheimer's supporters and friends have no doubts. "It's silly to me, considering he's not some fucking mafioso running some crime syndicate from prison, where he needs all his communique cut off," wrote Cochran in an email. "It's pretty ridiculous."

"It seems like a vendetta by prisoners officials and nothing more," said MacDougall.

Meanwhile, Auernheimer, who now has no access to the outside world except for snail mail, wonders if he still matters online, where his shenanigans made him a household name in the hacker community.

"Has the Internet forgotten about me," he writes in the letter he sent to MacDougall, "or am I still a hot topic?"