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Philadelphia TV Anchor Accused Of Hacking Rival's E-mail

The KYW-TV journalist was reportedly motivated by jealousy and upset that his rival was making $780,000, about $100,000 more than he was.

Former Philadelphia news anchor Larry Mendte on Monday was charged with hacking into the e-mail accounts of Alycia Lane, his co-anchor at CBS affiliate KYW-TV and reported rival, hundreds of times over the course of two years.

During this time, Mendte allegedly leaked privileged legal information about Lane's personal life to the press "in an attempt to undermine his colleague's ongoing legal cases," said Acting U.S. Attorney Laurie Magid at a press conference on Monday.

The resulting revelations contributed to Lane's firing in January, according to the Associated Press.

The complaint does not specify how Mendte allegedly obtained the passwords to Lane's three e-mail accounts -- one KYW account and personal accounts at .Mac and Yahoo.

Michael L. Levy, the assistant U.S. attorney handling the case, said he couldn't comment on how Mendte obtained Lane's password.

Lane's attorney, Paul Rosen, did not respond to a request for comment.

At the press conference, Magid explained why the government was prosecuting the case and why it matters to the public. "We live in an age in which many people exchange and share personal, sensitive information by e-mail every day," she said. "When you log on to a personal password-protected e-mail account, you should be able to take for granted that the information you are sending and receiving is not being viewed by an unauthorized source."

According to the Associated Press, Rosen said Mendte was motivated by jealousy and was upset that Lane was making $780,000, about $100,000 more than he was.

"Her star was climbing, while his was not climbing," Rosen told the Associated Press. "... His conduct was designed to undermine her."

Mendte's star came crashing down on May 29 when law enforcement agents raided his home and seized his computer.

Mendte accessed Lane's e-mail without authorization approximately 537 times, from KYW and from his home, according to the government.

(For those concerned about such things, Google recently introduced a way to monitor Gmail account activity. It shows a log of recent account activity that identifies type of access -- browser, mobile, POP3 -- IP address, date, and time.)

A hearing has been scheduled for Aug. 22 at which Mendte is expected to enter a plea. He faces up to six months in prison if found guilty.

"The information filed yesterday should not come as a surprise to anyone," said Michael Schwartz, Mendte's attorney, in an e-mailed statement. "As we continually have said from day one, Larry has been cooperating fully with the investigators. He continues to cooperate and will accept full responsibility for his actions."

Frederick Lane, an attorney (no relation to Alycia Lane) and author of the forthcoming book People In Glass Houses: The Right To Privacy In The Age Of Electronic Voyeurism (Beacon, 2009), said the case underscores how little privacy people really have. It's not just criminal attempts to access information that are troubling, he said, it's the variety of ways that personal communication can be monitored in the workplace.

"It used to be that the cost of storage minimized the amount that companies could [monitor employee communication]," Lane said. "Now with storage costs going through the basement, it is so easy for companies to archive every piece of data that flows across their network."

The problem, as Lane sees it, is that data harvesting of this sort provides companies with effective ammunition any time there's a dispute with an employee. Because so many people use corporate e-mail for personal purposes, e-mail threads in violation of corporate policy become the rope used to hang the sender in the event of conflict or litigation.

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