Feds out for hacker's blood

New York Times hacker Adrian Lamo cites religious objections for not giving blood for DNA sample; hearing to explore whether alternatives are acceptable.

Declan McCullagh
Declan McCullagh Former Senior Writer
Declan McCullagh is the chief political correspondent for CNET. You can e-mail him or follow him on Twitter as declanm. Declan previously was a reporter for Time and the Washington bureau chief for Wired and wrote the Taking Liberties section and Other People's Money column for CBS News' Web site.
3 min read
Adrian Lamo, the hacker best known for illegal pranks aimed at companies like Yahoo, Microsoft and The New York Times, is free once again.

But his legal battles over handing over a DNA sample to the federal government are just beginning.

After pleading guilty to breaking into the paper's internal computer network in January 2004, the terms of Lamo's probation had confined him to the eastern district of California, which includes his parents' home near Sacramento where he is living. That probation, which included mandatory "computer-monitoring software and filtering equipment," expired Monday.

What isn't over is Lamo's refusal to give federal authorities a sample of his blood, which he says violates his religious convictions. He has offered to give a cheek swab as an alternative, a practice used by a number of states including California--but not the federal system.

During a hearing this week in Sacramento, U.S. District Judge Frank Damrell Jr. said he would hold a status hearing on the DNA question on February 26.

A spokesman for the U.S. Attorney's Office in Sacramento said she did not know whether the pending hearing meant that Lamo would still be fettered by his probation restrictions: "We don't know the answer to that right now."

Lamo's attorney did not return phone calls, and an aide to the judge declined to comment. No additional restrictions beyond the one scheduled to expire Monday are listed in Lamo's court records, however.

In an e-mailed statement late Thursday, Lamo said he was glad that he was off probation and government supervision, which he said cost him "the loss of liberty, privacy and dignity." He also said he planned to open a computer security consulting business.

Mary French, a federal public defender representing Lamo, and the U.S. Attorney's Office have been fencing through a series of briefs since last May about whether the "homeless hacker" can be forced to relinquish a blood sample instead of a skin scraping.

"If Mr. Lamo sheds blood for a DNA test, he would not only be violating his religious beliefs and the scripture in which he believes, but he would also be causing anyone who facilitates the act to commit a sin, multiplying Mr. Lamo's culpability and sinfulness," French wrote in a legal brief filed on January 8.

Lamo has invoked a passage in the Christian Bible, Genesis 9:6, which says, according to one translation: "Whoever sheds the blood of man, by man shall his blood be shed; for in the image of God has God made man."

A 2000 federal law called the DNA Analysis Backlog Elimination Act required that DNA samples be taken from anyone convicted of or on probation for certain serious crimes. This was challenged in court on Fourth and Fifth Amendment grounds, but a federal appeals court upheld (click for PDF) the DNA collection requirement as constitutional.

In the Times intrusion, Lamo said he was able to view employee records, including Social Security numbers. He said he could access the contact information for the paper's sources and columnists, including such well-known contributors as former President Jimmy Carter and former Marine Col. Oliver North. The charges against Lamo also involved running up the paper's bill for LexisNexis, a commercial database of news and other articles.

In interviews with CNET News.com before his surrender to the FBI, Lamo claimed to be responsible for intrusions into systems at MCI WorldCom in December 2001, Microsoft in October 2001, Yahoo in September 2001, and Excite@Home in May 2001. When he entered Yahoo's system, Lamo said, he was able to alter news articles on the company's site.