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Florida journalist enters not guilty plea in federal criminal hacking case

Timothy Burke was arraigned in absentia during a court hearing on April 1.

Timothy Burke was arraigned in absentia during a court hearing on April 1.

Former Deadspin editor Timothy Burke (inset picture) from an undated social media image.
Former Deadspin editor Timothy Burke (inset picture) from an undated social media image. (Graphic by The Desk)

A Florida journalist was arraigned this week on numerous criminal charges related to conspiracy, computer hacking and electronic interception.

The journalist, Timothy Burke, did not appear at his April 1st arraignment, according to court documents reviewed by The Desk. Instead, an attorney retained by Burke since the middle of last year entered a plea of not guilty on his behalf.

Burke was arrested in February on more than a dozen criminal charges after prosecutors say he and an unnamed co-conspirator collected several usernames and passwords, then used those credentials to trespass into online computer servers.

At least one of those servers belonged to LiveU Matrix, and allowed Burke to access video feeds used by Fox News Media and a production company owned by Tucker Carlson. He used that access to watch and record live video transmissions of Carlson’s former Fox News program, including a controversial conversation with rapper Kanye “Ye” West, according to court documents and admissions from Burke and his lawyers in news interviews.

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In January, The Desk reported Burke accessed the LiveU Matrix after his co-conspirator passed along user credentials belonging to CBS News that were accidentally posted to a CBS News Radio affiliate website. In court records, Burke’s lawyers allege the radio station invited listeners to use the credentials to access online media, something the owner of the broadcast outlet denied during an interview with The Desk late last year.

Burke and his lawyers contend that the use of the username and password was part of an exercise in “good journalism,” and say the criminal case has serious implications for press freedom. Some advocacy groups, including the American Civil Liberties Union and the Society of Professional Journalists, have accepted their reasoning and committed resources and money toward Burke’s legal defense. Some news organizations that reached out to the U.S. Department of Justice on Burke’s behalf have since walked back their support for the journalist after he was indicted by a federal grand jury in February.

At a pre-arraignment hearing last month, a magistrate judge ordered Burke to undergo substance abuse testing and a mental health evaluation, and limited his travel to the Middle District of Florida. A lawyer representing Burke later said the journalist might need a court-appointed public defender if he is unable to raise enough money through an online legal defense campaign to pay his legal fees.

Burke has a pending matter with the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals in which he and his attorneys are pursuing the release of certain computers, notebooks and other items that were seized by federal law enforcement agents during a raid on his Tampa Bay-area home last May.

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About the Author:

Matthew Keys

Matthew Keys is a nationally-recognized, award-winning journalist who has covered the business of media, technology, radio and television for more than 10 years. He is the publisher of The Desk and contributes to Know Techie, Digital Content Next and StreamTV Insider. He previously worked for Thomson Reuters, the Walt Disney Company, McNaughton Newspapers and Tribune Broadcasting.
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