The 22 year old college student who hacked into Sarah Palin's email account during the 2008 presidential election was sentenced Friday. David Kernell was convicted of of destroying records and unlawfully accessing a computer. He was acquitted of wire fraud charges and the jury is currently deadlocked regarding his felony identity theft charge.
Kernell, who got the former Alaska governor's email address from a news story, was able to access Palin's account by guessing the answers to her Yahoo security questions. It's funny, amazing and a little alarming to think that important public figures like Palin rely on the same flimsy security measures as the rest of us.
While Kernell is the son of a Tennessee Democratic state representative, he didn't really use any of the information he got from hacking Palin's account for political ends. The now highly paid lecturer and author however was quick to seize Kernell's conviction as an opportunity to gain some political capitol, stating that, "Violating the law, or simply invading someone's privacy for political gain, has long been repugnant to American's sense of fair play." Invoking the W-word, she went on to say, "As Watergate taught us, we rightfully reject illegally breaking into candidate private communications for political intrigue in an attempt to derail an election."
While it would be tempting to say that the lady doth protest too much and what happened to her was more characteristic of a college prank than devious political intrigue, her invocation of Watergate is actually pretty insightful.
For what one once needed burglars to accomplish could now far more easily be done with computer hackers. If some college kid can access a vice presidential candidates emails by presumably guessing her mother's maiden name and what year she graduated high school, imagine the kind of shenanigans a professional hacker with an offshore bank account could get up to.
In the future there are unlikely to be any hotel break-ins at Democratic or Republican campaign headquarters. The political dirty tricks of the new millenium are most certainly going to take place in the digital world. In fact they undoubtedly already are.