My Letter to The White House in Support of Matthew Keys

As I’m sure you’ve heard, journalist Matthew Keys went to prison this week to serve a two-year sentence for aiding in the defacement of a website. Matt is a good friend of mine, and because of this state of affairs, I felt compelled to do something I would never usually do: I sent a note to the president, something Matt is recommending others do on his website. Matt, by the way, sent his own letter before he reported to prison. I recommend you read it.

My letter is below.

Hi there,

My name is Ernie Smith, and I’m a longtime journalist and blogger. I’m reaching out to you about my friend, Matthew Keys.

In late 2010, I first became acquainted with Matt, who at the time was unemployed from work. I was running a news blog, and he was doing some experimental things with real-time journalism. The work he did back then was hugely influential and his strategies are frequently used today.

As we were covering similar things, we ended up collaborating a lot. We became really good friends in the process of doing this coverage, and he remains one of my favorite people to this day.

Like many other fellow journalists, when I found out he had been charged with aiding Anonymous in the defacement of a website, I didn’t know how to react. But, ultimately, our community stood by our friend and colleague, and remained shocked when we heard the potential punishment he faced for what, at worst, was the equivalent of digital graffiti.

I’m not personally convinced that Matt did anything — he is steadfast that he wasn’t involved, and I believe him. But even if he was, I want to ask officials at the White House and with the Justice Department: Why? Why did Matt have to go to prison over this? Why are your federal prosecutors using the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act to go after people who allegedly deface websites? Why hasn’t this injustice of a law been overturned, and why isn’t the White House speaking up about it?

Matt, who went to prison this week, won’t serve the 25-year maximum that he had been threatened with, but two years isn’t a consolation prize. It’s way too much over way too little.

After the news of Matt’s charges broke, one of the first things I did was to travel to New York to see him, just to check in with him to make sure he was OK, and to hang out with someone who I cared about, who was suddenly under intense media scrutiny. Maybe we were naïve, but we both certainly felt like this was all a big misunderstanding, that things would work themselves out. He was optimistic, and so was I.

Despite everything that’s happened since — the loss of his job at Reuters, the criminal trial and conviction, and all the news stories that came about after all of those developments — he remained optimistic. When we caught up, we never talked about this giant elephant in the room. Matt was still Matt.

Give him a reason to hold onto that optimism. Get rid of that giant elephant in the room. Show him this draconian law can change.

Thank you.