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Hacker Of Sarah Palin's E-Mail Found Guilty

Palin calls violating the law for political gain 'repugnant.'

Thomas Claburn

April 30, 2010

2 Min Read

David C. Kernell, the former University of Tennessee-Knoxville student linked in 2008 to the hacking of Sarah Palin's Yahoo Mail account, was found guilty on Friday afternoon of a felony and a misdemeanor.

A federal jury in Knoxville, Tenn., convicted Kernell, 22, of obstruction of justice, a felony, and unauthorized access to a computer, a misdemeanor.

The jury deadlocked on a charge of identity theft and acquitted Kernell on a charge of wire fraud.

The obstruction of justice charge carries a maximum sentence of 20 years. The misdemeanor charge carries a one year maximum sentence.

Based on federal sentencing guidelines, Kernell's sentence is likely to be less than two years.

Kernell obtained access to Palin's e-mail account when Palin was running as the Republican candidate for vice president by guessing her password, "popcorn." He then posted screenshots of his findings on an Internet forum.

Wikileaks subsequently posted some of the data that Kernell had obtained, stating that it had done so because "Governor Palin has come under criticism for using private e-mail accounts to conduct government business and in the process avoid transparency laws."

The whistle blowing site posted five screenshots of Palin's Yahoo Mail account, three text files with contact information and related data culled from the account, and two photos of Palin's family.

"The list of correspondence, together with the account name, appears to re-enforce the criticism," said Wikileaks.

The case generated intense media interest in part because Kernell is the son of Tennessee Democratic state Rep. Mike Kernell, a link that convinced many Republican supporters that the hack was politically motivated.

In a statement posted to her Facebook page, Sarah Palin expressed gratitude to the jury for its verdict and likened the account break-in to the Watergate scandal.

"Besides the obvious invasion of privacy and security concerns surrounding this issue, many of us are concerned about the integrity of our country's political elections," she wrote. "America's elections depend upon fair competition. Violating the law, or simply invading someone's privacy for political gain, has long been repugnant to Americans' sense of fair play. As Watergate taught us, we rightfully reject illegally breaking into candidates' private communications for political intrigue in an attempt to derail an election."

About the Author(s)

Thomas Claburn

Editor at Large, Enterprise Mobility

Thomas Claburn has been writing about business and technology since 1996, for publications such as New Architect, PC Computing, InformationWeek, Salon, Wired, and Ziff Davis Smart Business. Before that, he worked in film and television, having earned a not particularly useful master's degree in film production. He wrote the original treatment for 3DO's Killing Time, a short story that appeared in On Spec, and the screenplay for an independent film called The Hanged Man, which he would later direct. He's the author of a science fiction novel, Reflecting Fires, and a sadly neglected blog, Lot 49. His iPhone game, Blocfall, is available through the iTunes App Store. His wife is a talented jazz singer; he does not sing, which is for the best.

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