leslie jones

Illustration by Max Fleishman (Licensed)

In theory, the hackers could face computer crime, identity theft, and hate crime charges.

The Department of Homeland Security is now investigating the cyber- and revenge-porn attack on comedian and actress Leslie Jones. If caught, the perpetrators are likely to face some very serious charges.

The Ghostbusters star, who has endured months of racist and misogynistic attacks simply for appearing in the film, was further victimized this week after hackers defaced her personal website with disturbing messages and stolen nude photos. After exposing, in mid-July, the flood of abusive and hate-filled messages directed at her, Jones inadvertently became something of a symbol of the rampant and sustained online harassment faced by many women and, in particular, women of color.

Jay Leiderman, a California-based attorney known as the “hacktivist advocate” for his work defending online activists, told the Daily Dot that, if caught, the criminal hackers could “theoretically” face more than 30 years in prison. 

“Whomever did the hack could likely have liability under the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act,” said Leiderman, who also worked on one of the Celebgate cases, which involved the theft and unauthorized publication of hundreds of celebrity nude photos.

If convicted under CFAA, the hackers could face up to 10 years in prison if the damages were calculated at more than $5,000. “If this was a joint operation involving multiple parties, a conspiracy to violate the CFAA could be added,” said Leiderman. 

The added conspiracy charge would tack on an additional five years. Since Jones’ private information was among the data stolen, the government may also pursue identity theft charges—which, according to Leiderman, “carries a two-year mandatory minimum and 15-year maximum because one of the documents involved is a U.S. passport.”

“If this can be construed as a hate crime, the punishment will be increased by one year,” the lawyer added, emphasizing his assessment was based on a cursory review of publicly available details.

The investigation is currently being handled by the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, a subdivision of which investigates computer-related crime. An ICE spokesperson declined to comment on the investigation due to its ongoing status. “In order to protect the integrity of the case, no further details are available at this time,” she said.

In an article Thursday for the Daily Dot, writer Gillian Branstetter took issue with the media’s depiction of the attacks as an ongoing battle between Jones and a group of internet “trolls.” Framing the incident in this manner, she argues, furthers the pretense that “berating a target with racist and hateful speech or stealing her private photos and data were mere pranks by basement-dwelling loners.”

“The reality is these are acts of abuse and Jones is a victim of a hate crime,” wrote Branstetter. “The fact that they’ve happened online does not matter, and had someone said or done to her in real life what crowds of criminals have done to her online they would be roundly investigated and arrested.”

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