Keys' indictment also follows the suicide of Aaron Swartz, a 26-year-old Internet activist who was found dead in his Brooklyn apartment Jan. 11 as a trial loomed in his future.
Family and friends say Swartz killed himself after he was hounded by federal prosecutors. Officials say he helped post millions of court documents for free online and that he illegally downloaded millions of academic articles from an online clearinghouse.
"In the wake of the Aaron Swartz case, we really thought that Justice would kind of catch their breath and maybe understand that they had erred in pushing these cases forward in such an aggressive manner for what are essentially pranks," Leiderman said.
Keys' Facebook page says he worked as an online news producer for Tribune-owned FOX affiliate KTXL from June 2008 to April 2010.
After that, he worked briefly in San Francisco as the tech industry began its latest ascent. Today, top software companies often sponsor 'hackathons,' weekends of intense work and little sleep, to get free outside programming help to solve problems or advance products.
Sometimes, coding straddles the lines between what's legal and illegal.
The hacking crimes Keys is charged are laid out in the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act, which was enacted in the 1980s.
Federal prosecutors use the act to go after a wide range of Internet crimes, but the law may not reflect how our behavior online has changed over the last three decades, Fan said.
"Some might say if you take someone's property or break into a private place without permission, we don't get upset about prosecutions, so why would we be upset about these prosecutions if the trespass happened online?" Fan said. "Others might say is what happened in this case really even a problem? It's kind of a culture clash."
Follow Garance Burke at http://twitter.com/garanceburke .
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