Online political crime

Authorities have tracked down a college student — the son of a prominent Democratic Tennessee politician and Obama supporter — who allegedly hacked into Sarah Palin’s personal e-mails, leading to their being posted, along with private family photos, on the Internet.

David Kernell, 20, of Knoxville, was charged with intentionally accessing the Republican vice-presidential candidate’s e-mail account without authorization. His father, longtime state Rep. Mike Kernell, of Memphis, chairman of Tennessee’s House Government Operations Committee, has denied any prior knowledge of the attack, and there is no evidence that the Obama campaign was involved in the dirty trick.

Kernell, whose trial is set to start on Dec. 16, faces a maximum of five years in prison, a $250,000 fine and three years of supervised release.

According to authorities, the man was able to figure out the password to the account. He then read the contents, made screenshots of the e-mail directory, delved into e-mails and other personal information, and posted some of the information to a public Web site. Some of Governor Palin’s political foes, though apparently not the Obama campaign, tried to make political fodder of the material.

It is no secret that computer data are prey to thievery. Don’t believe any assertions that personal information on your computers is 100-percent secure. Far from it! Computer hackers can gain access to medical and financial records that can be used to cause terrible harm to the victims. And, of course, the violation of privacy is appalling.

The justice system should set an example that such hacking is not a simple matter of a college prank or politics as usual. People who run for office surrender their privacy to a great degree, but they should not have to put up with being electronically violated. Still, the case is another reminder that we’d all be better off if we put fewer personal things into the Internet.