The FBI has notified 13 reporters that it might subpoena their records regarding a hacker charged with breaking into The New York Times' computer system.
A Sept. 19 letter from the FBI directs Associated Press reporter Ted Bridis to preserve any documents pertaining to Adrian Lamo, stating that the request is in anticipation of an order requiring materials to be turned over to federal law enforcement authorities. The FBI said Wednesday that similar letters went to 12 other reporters or news organizations, which the agency did not identify.
Lamo, 22, has acknowledged hacking computer systems in the past two years, including the news pages of Yahoo! Inc., and the public Web site of WorldCom. He worked with the companies to fix the security weaknesses.
David Tomlin, assistant general counsel of the AP, called the letters "a government effort to turn the news media into criminal investigators." He added, "Reporters who are viewed as tools of law enforcement, even against their will, can't do the job the Constitution sets out for them. Thoughtful prosecutors have generally recognized this and respect the key role that independent reporting plays in our system. We hope that's not changing."
Lamo is charged with accessing a database at the Times containing home telephone numbers and Social Security numbers for more than 3,000 contributors to the Times' op-ed page. He also is accused of setting up five fictitious names and passwords that were then used to conduct more than 3,000 searches on LexisNexis over three months, incurring $300,000 in charges, the complaint states.
An Internet publication, SecurityFocus Online, wrote a story more than a year and a half ago quoting Lamo as acknowledging accessing the Times' computer system. The story said Lamo notified the Times of the vulnerabilities through a SecurityFocus reporter.
The AP's Bridis wrote a story about Lamo 16 months ago regarding a subpoena to MSNBC that demanded a reporter's notes of any conversations with Lamo about the computer break-in at the Times. Other AP stories have quoted Lamo on the subject of computer hacking.
Two weeks ago, Lamo was released on $250,000 bail and ordered by a federal judge to remain at his parents' home in California until his case is resolved. He is permitted to use a computer only to search for a job or education opportunities.
Lamo is charged with intentionally accessing a protected computer without authorization and using unauthorized access devices with intent to defraud.
If convicted, he could face up to 15 years in prison and half a million dollars in fines.