Twitter Hacker, TechCrunch Document Leaker, Arrested in France (UPDATED)

The AFP is reporting that the person who leaked internal business documents from Twitter Inc. to the blog TechCrunch last July is also the same person who compromised the Twitter accounts of Barack Obama and other celebrities last year. A 25-year-old who went by the name “Hacker Croll” has been tracked down and arrested in France by French authorities, with the assistance of the FBI. It’s not clear from the report what charges are to be filed.

Reportedly, the FBI alerted France to the man’s presence in that country almost a year ago, in the same month the internal documents were leaked. Update: Hours after the report of the man’s arrest, the AFP now says he has been released after questioning. Apparently the man explained that he merely guessed peoples’ passwords and the police were unimpressed. “He’s not a genius,” a source explained.

The media report doesn’t make mention of the leaked documents, only the illicit takeover of Obama’s account. “Hacker Croll” was identified as the source of the controversial files, though. It seems possible that these two incidents are being improperly connected, but the report filed indicates they were carried out by the same person.

We’ve reached out to both Twitter and TechCrunch for comment.

When the documents were sent to TechCrunch, that blog deliberated publicly at length about whether it had a journalistic obligation to publish or suppress them. Founder Michael Arrington in the end decided to work with Twitter executives to identify the most sensitive documents but published other, less sensitive information days later. The resulting blog posts provided a very interesting look into the thinking of one of the most important companies on the Internet, but proved damaging to TechCrunch’s reputation with people in the industry who considered the decision to publish them an unacceptable betrayal.

TechCrunch argued that it was within its legal rights to publish the information, and the law breaking had been done by the person who sent them the files. Now that person is apparently headed to trial.

The ethical and perhaps legal implications of TechCrunch’s decision will no doubt be discussed again due to this turn of events.

The one clear lesson from all this that no one can argue with, though: Don’t mess with Twitter or the FBI will hunt you down where ever you may be around the world.

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