Georgia state law considers a person guilty of computer trespass when he or she alters, damages, or in any way causes the malfunction of a computer, computer network or computer program, regardless of how long the offense occurs. Pickren allegedly hacked into the University of Georgia’s computer system’s on Nov. 27, and added the notation “Sat., November 29, 2014/12:00 pm/Get Ass Kicked by GT” to the regular entry for that day and time’s online calendar setting.
The posting was quickly noticed and taken off the system about an hour after if appeared. Following an investigation by the UGA Police Department, evidence was submitted to the grand jury, which indicted Pickren on Dec. 16. He was arrested on Dec. 22, after turning himself in, and released later in the day on $5,000 bond.
The charges and maximum penalty may seem a bit harsh for what many would perceive to be a harmless collegiate prank; however, the potential for significant harm from such computer hacking is why the crime is considered a felony and why the penalty is so severe. By some estimates computer hackers cause up to $1 trillion dollars per year in direct and indirect damages to companies and individuals worldwide. As a computer engineering major, Pickren should have known better.
However, as Pickren did not seek financial gain, nor apparently intend malicious damage to UGA’s computer system, I would imagine that Clarke County District Attorney Ken Mauldin might be open to a plea bargain that would allow Pickren to plead guilty to misdemeanor charges. Of course, D.A. Mauldin is a UGA alumni, and chances are the judge, and any members of a potential jury pool, would have UGA affiliations, too.
Thus, Pickren is going to need a little mercy from the Clarke County legal system. But at least he can face the system knowing that his message to UGA proved prescient, as the Yellow Jackets downed the Bulldogs 30 to 24 in an overtime upset.