The founder of eBay has called for leniency towards 14 members of Anonymous accused of a carrying out a cyberattack on PayPal.
The group, which has become known as the 'PayPal 14' were arrested in 2011 and charged with taking part in a distributed denial of service (DDoS) attack against PayPal on 8 December 2010.
They are due to appear before a Federal Court in the US this week, all facing two federal felony charges, which carry a combined maximum sentence of 15 years in jail and a $500,000 (£306,000, €369,000) fine.
It is unknown how many members of Anonymous took part in the attack, but only 14 people were ever arrested. It was reported that the vast majority of traffic was directed by two large botnets, controlled by hackers, who directed all infected computers towards the PayPal site.
The Anonymous-organised attack was a response to PayPal's decision to suspend Wikileak's account with the online billing service.
PayPal's website was down for an hour on 8 December and another brief period on 9 December. The company estimates the damage caused by the attack was $5.5 million and it provided the FBI with 1,000 IP addresses of its attackers.
Pierre Omidyar is the founder and chairman eBay, PayPal's parent company, and in an article for the Huffington Post has caleld on prosecutors to show leniency towards the PayPal 14.
Close to home
Omidyar says that as someone "deeply committed to government transparency, press freedoms and free expression, these issues hit close to home."
Omidyar has been in the news recently for his new online publication called NewCo which will feature Glenn Greenwald as its star journalist and will have "the First Amendment at its core."
The eBay founder said that prior to the cyberattack on 8 December, 2010 he expressed concerns to company management about the decision to suspend Wikileak's account.
The attack on PayPal not only effected the company but also the people who rely on it to do business: "An attack on PayPal's servers hurts these vulnerable people far more than it hurts a multinational company."
However, Omidyar recognises that members of Anonymous felt they were just taking part in an online protest:
"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."
The sentence handed down to the PayPal 14 will be based on the amount of damages prosecutors say was caused by the attack on PayPal's servers. However the 14 defendants are likely to be charged with the total amount of damage caused by all those taking part in the attack - which could have numbers in the thousands.
Prosecutors are also planning to tell the court that the damages figure should include the cost of upgrading PayPal's systems to protect them from such attacks in the future.
Omidyar believes this is unfair and that each individual should only be charged for the damage they caused and for "the pay and overtime pay required for employees to respond to the attack."
"Prosecutors should also look at the circumstances of each defendant, and examine whether or not they were aware of the excessive impact their actions might have. They may have believed they were participating in a legitimate online protest and not aware of the multiplicative effect of the tools they were installing."
The eBay founder believes the charges the PayPal 14 are facing are too serious for the crime committed: "In those cases, I believe justice requires leniency. In my view, they should be facing misdemeanor charges and the possibility of a fine, rather than felony charges and jail time."
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