In a move likely to negatively affect his board members' blood pressure (and highlight his future media plans), eBay chairman Pierre Omidyar has called on the government to show leniency in the forthcoming trial of the "PayPal 14", who are accused of DDoSing the online payment service.
Later this week, the Department of Justice will begin its case against 14 people accused of using Anonymous' Low Orbit Ion Cannon (LOIC) DDoS tool to bring down the servers of PayPal for four days in December 2010. The accused were arrested barely a month later, mainly because the LOIC, while effective at hammering websites, isn’t hard to backtrace.
The DOJ is seeking serious jail time for the group, but Omidyar – who founded eBay (PayPal's current owner) – has asked the feds to go easy on them. In what he stressed was a personal, not corporate, editorial on the Huffington Post, he said he understood the attacker's motives and warned the government was being too harsh.
"I can understand that the protesters were upset by PayPal's actions and felt that they were simply participating in an online demonstration of their frustration. That is their right, and I support freedom of expression, even when it's my own company that is the target," he said.
While DDoS attacks are a serious problem, he said, the current laws to prosecute them are disproportionate to the crime. Instead of felony indictments and jail time, the defendants should be looking at misdemeanors and fines, he said.
Omidyar also opined that the financial damages caused by the attack are seriously overstated, since the 14 are being charged for the revenue lost in the attack on PayPal, the costs of dealing with it at the time, and some of the upgrades required to block further attacks.
"I think prosecutors need to look at the actual damage caused by each defendant," he said. "First, it would be unjust to hold fourteen people accountable for the actions of a thousand (or however many other people were part of the same attack). Each person should be accountable for the damage they personally caused."
PayPal, along with Visa, Amazon, and MasterCard, came under sustained attack as part of Operation Payback, after the services suspended payment processing services to WikiLeaks.
The stoppage came after WikiLeaks released US diplomatic cables purloined by Chelsea Manning, and as chairman of PayPal's parent company, Omidyar personally disagreed with the decision and said so at the time
"It appears, notification of a criminal investigation is enough to force businesses whose cause is not the First Amendment to cut off a publisher the way Amazon, PayPal, Visa and MasterCard each have done WikiLeaks," he wrote in his Honolulu Civil Beat news service.
"Unlike the press barons of old, the executives of these businesses cannot tell their shareholders that it will hurt their company more to cave on a matter of principle than to drop a customer," he wrote.
Julian Assange and WikiLeaks are publishers and subject to First Amendment protections under the law, Omidyar said. This is concerning for the general public since a free press is essential to a functioning democracy, he explained.
Omidyar has a personal stake in this as well. In addition to owning a news service in Hawaii, he's also setting up a mass-media news channel and has hired journalists like Glen Greenwald to write for it. The billionaire said that the new organization would be taking a robust attitude to defending First Amendment freedoms.
In a series of Twitter messages, WikiLeaks said that while some of the sentiments Omidyar expressed were nice, his account of the PayPal blockade was "falsely presented." The blockade is still ongoing, WikiLeaks said. ®