Cyber Saturday—Julian Assange Arrest, FBI Data Leak, Mar-a-Lago Intruder Seeks Bail

The Ecuadorian embassy in London has finally given Julian Assange the boot.

After seven years providing sanctuary to the co-creator of WikiLeaks, the notorious secret-leaking website, the government of Ecuador–and its tortured embassy staffers–gave him up. They allowed British police to remove Assange, forcibly, on Thursday morning. Now, in the custody of the UK, the polarizing malcontent awaits his fate.

There are two likely outcomes. Assange could face extradition to Sweden where prosecutors may reopen an investigation into rape allegations made against him. (Assange originally sought asylum in the embassy to avoid a transfer to Sweden, which he claimed might send him to the U.S.; once there, he feared he might be put on trial for leaking state secrets.) Thence option two: Assange is sent to the United States to face justice.

With Assange’s fate hanging in the balance, supporters and critics are at loggerheads. Assange’s proponents have painted him as a free speech hero. They have cast his persecution as an affront to the First Amendment. They have even questioned whether his potential prosecution spells trouble for journalism. Ben Wizner, a director at the American Civil Liberties Union, said trying Assange “would be unprecedented and unconstitutional and would open the door to criminal investigations of other news organizations.”

Assange’s arrest has little to do with the First Amendment. He has been charged with conspiracy to hack computers under the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act. That law, while certainly not perfect, is law, and Assange’s alleged actions, as described in an indictment, are in clear breach of that rule.

What separates Assange from a journalist or publisher is specific. Assange allegedly attempted to crack a “hashed” password which protected a classified Defense Department network. According to the court filing, Assange encouraged his source, Chelsea Manning, then an intelligence analyst with the U.S. Army, to steal classified information, and then he actively participated in attempts to hack deeper into U.S. systems. That is not journalism; it is criminality.

Whether one agrees with the law or not, if extradited and found guilty, Assange had better be prepared to do the time. Given his years-long elective confinement in that embassy, surely he has prepared well.

Robert Hackett


Welcome to the Cyber Saturday edition of Data Sheet, Fortune’s daily tech newsletter. Fortune reporter Robert Hackett here. You may reach Robert Hackett via Twitter, Cryptocat, Jabber (see OTR fingerprint on my, PGP encrypted email (see public key on my, Wickr, Signal, or however you (securely) prefer. Feedback welcome.


(Winter) White (House) Walker. Yujing Zhang, the Chinese woman who was arrested for allegedly attempting to break into President Donald Trump’s Mar-a-Lago resort in southern Florida, appeared in court Monday for a bail hearing. The judge delayed his ruling, and Zhang will be arraigned again at the start of the week. In addition to the four cellphones and malware-laden USB drive Zhang carried on her person, the Chinese national allegedly stashed more suspicious electronics in her hotel room: five SIM cards, nine USB drives, another cell phone, and a signal detector for locating hidden cameras. Supposedly unrelated yet highly coincidental, Randolph “Tex” Alles, director of the Secret Service, the agency responsible for protecting the president, is being replaced

Bow to the Many-Faced God. Amazon hires thousands of employees to listen to recordings from its Echo smart speakers in an effort to better train Alexa, the company’s virtual voice assistant, Bloomberg reports. There is no way to opt out of the eavesdropping. In response to a string of package thefts, Amazon has partnered with police officers on sting operations that involve rigging shipments with GPS device trackers, reports Motherboard. Also, Jeff Bezos, Amazon’s chairman, CEO, and president, is meeting with federal prosecutors in New York as attorneys look into allegations that Saudi Arabia gained unauthorized access to his personal electronic devices, reports CNN.

Unmasking the Kingsguard. Unique records for 4,000 federal agents and law enforcement officers have reportedly leaked online. The cache includes sensitive information such as names, titles, personal and government email addresses, phone numbers and postal addresses. A hacker who is allegedly involved in the leak told TechCrunch that a team of more than ten hackers obtained the data–and much more–by exploiting known vulnerabilities on “more than 1,000 sites.”

Valar morghulis. The founder of Silk Road 2, a dark web marketplace that promptly sprouted up after law enforcement took down the first Silk Road in 2013, has been sentenced to five years and four months in prison. The culprit, one Thomas White, a privacy activist and technologist who masqueraded as Dread Pirate Roberts 2 (before handing the reins to another administrator), pleaded guilty to charges related to drug trafficking, money laundering, and child pornography, reports Motherboard. White, better known by his since-deleted Twitter handle @ChtuluSec, was arrested in November 2014, but his case had remained under wraps until this week due to special restrictions.

How’s that content moderation going, Facebook?

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Stuffing the ballot box. Two mischievous high school students in California attempted to rig a student government election in their favor, reports Berkeleyside, a local news outlet based in the East Bay. To tilt the vote, the two pupils submitted fraudulent electronic ballots under the names of their classmates. What gave them away: highly irregular voter behavior.

Large-scale voting fraud in a Berkeley High student government election has gotten two candidates disqualified and revealed a vulnerability in the district’s technology system.

No software hacking or Russian meddling was required.

A candidate simply logged into his classmates’ email accounts and cast hundreds of online votes for himself, according to administrators.

John Villavicencio, BHS director of student activities, first noticed a suspicious spike in support for two of the candidates running for student-body president and vice president a couple of days after the voting period opened in mid-March. Students were casting ranked-choice ballots via a Google Form accessed through district-provided Gmail accounts, and election administrators could observe the live results. The sudden influx of votes favoring these two candidates was blatant, Villavicencio said.


Private parts. The New York Times says it is “embarking on [a] months long project” about privacy. The paper has already published a package of stories including an op-ed from the publisher, a piece analyzing the impact of A.I. technologies on insurance, and call-to-action for passing new privacy-focused legislation. And yet, as Silicon Valley critic and social bookmarking site Pinboard founder Maciej Ceg?owski pointed out on Twitter: the Times‘ “fancy new ‘Privacy Project’ homepage is stuffed to the gills with third-party tracking scripts.”

Womp, womp.

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