Prosecutors admit error in whistleblower conviction

Wednesday, 15 October 2003, 12:53 PM EST

Federal prosecutors in Los Angeles will ask a court to set aside the conviction of a man who served 16 months in federal prison for blowing the whistle on an ex-employer's cybersecurity holes, officials said Tuesday.

Without providing details, a spokesman for the U.S. Attorney's Office in Los Angeles confirmed that the office's appellate division will move this week to vacate Bret McDanel's felony conviction.

McDanel, 30, was convicted last year under the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act for sending 5,600 e-mail messages to customers of his former employer, the now-defunct e-mail provider Tornado Development, Inc., warning about a security hole in Tornado's service that left private messages vulnerable to unauthorized access.

After a court trial, federal judge Lourdes Baird found McDanel guilty of unauthorized access, accepting prosecutors' arguments that McDanel abused Tornado's e-mail servers to send the messages. The judge found that McDanel caused the statutorily-required $5,000 in damage in part by bogging down those servers, and in part by harming the company's reputation by disclosing the bug.

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