Kernell convicted of Palin hack

Kernell, who accessed Palin's webmail account while she was running for the vice presidency, was found guilty by a federal jury in Knoxville, Tennessee, after a week-long trial. He was convicted on one count of unauthorized access to obtain information from a computer, and on one count of obstructing justice. He escaped a conviction for wire fraud, and the judge declared a mistrial on the charge of identity theft after the jury found itself unable to reach a verdict.

Kernell, now 22, gained unauthorized access to Palin's webmail account by using the webmail system's password reset function. He answered a series of security questions by mining information about Palin from the public domain. Once the password had been reset, he was able to gain access to the system, read Palin's emails, and take screenshots of the contents. He also posted the information, including the passwords, to a public website.

Unfortunately for Kernell, the act of hacking Palin's account invites a relatively mild punishment. It will land him a maximum of one year in prison and a $100 000 fine. The obstruction of justice charge invites the most punitive sentence, with a maximum of 20 years in prison and a $250 000 fine. Evidence presented at trial showed that when Kernell became aware of a possible FBI investigation in September 2008, he began to delete records and documents to try and cover his tracks.

In a statement on her Facebook page, Palin likened the hack to the Watergate scandal. "Violating the law, or simply invading someone's privacy for political gain, has long been repugnant to Americans' sense of fair play," she said. Kernell was the son of Tennessee Democratic state representative Mike Kernell. "As Watergate taught us, we rightfully rejected illegally breaking into candidates' private communications for political intrigue in an attempt to derail an election."

Palin herself was found to have violated state ethics laws by asking to have her brother-in-law fired from his position as a state trooper by a legislative report published in 2008.

Douglas A. Berman, professor of law at The Ohio State University's Moritz College of Law, mused about the potential outcome of the sentencing. "Will Palin opine formerly about what sort of sentence she wants Kernell to receive?", hee asked. "Is it entirely appropriate for Palin to be using Facebook to tell the world how awful she thinks the defendant's crimes are (especially given that he was acquitted on two counts)?".

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