Alleged UNLV ‘Anonymous’ member will plead ‘not guilty’ to hacking charges
The UNLV student arrested by the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) last month said she will not plead guilty and will continue to attend the university.
Mercedes Renee Haefer, 20, was one of 14 people arrested for allegedly attacking the website of internet commerce giant PayPal after the company suspended WikiLeaks’ account with the site.
All 14 are suspected members of “Anonymous,” an Internet-based group closely linked to popular imageboard 4chan, that has been targeted by various law enforcement services for allegedly hacking into several websites.
Despite her arrest, Haefer maintains her innocence.
“To be honest, I haven’t really done anything illegal and I haven’t really done anything wrong,” Haefer said.
According to Haefer, the actions of Anonymous do not constitute “hacking” in the traditional sense.
“Basically, hacking is a really bad word because … the word ‘hacking’ implies infiltration — that people broke into PayPal, stole information, stole money. That’s not what happened,” she said.
Haefer said that what allegedly happened to the PayPal servers was a “distributed file services hack.” She said that what would happen in this type of hacking is that the computer being attacked is bombarded with enough data that the server can no longer process information until the data stream stops.
“What happened wasn’t that Anonymous broke into PayPal, stole information and crashed their site,” she said. “It was like they sent information constantly for days with thousands of angry people until PayPal’s servers just stopped.”
Haefer could not comment on the case, as it is pending. She also could not confirm whether or not she was a member of Anonymous.
However, she said that she has not been found guilty of anything yet.
“I was indicted, [but] everything is still alleged,” Haefer said. “I am still registered and involved with UNLV.”
Because of the pending court case, Haefer has limits on her computer use.
“My release terms stated by the judge are I’m not allowed to touch a computer except for work and then as soon as school starts I’m allowed to use the computers here on campus, but until then I can’t,” she said.
Professor Daniel Stout, director of the Hank Greenspun School of Journalism and Media Studies — where Haefer is a pre-major — said that there would be no resistance to her continuing her education.
“If she’s a student in good standing and not on academic probation, she can register in journalism classes,” Stout said. “There will be no action taken by the faculty to prevent that.”
Stout added that she will be treated the same as the rest of the student body taking classes in the journalism school.
“We’re going to be treating it as any normal situation,” he said. “She’s free to pursue her education through the proper and necessary channels.”
Haefer, however, believes that there will be tension on her first day back.
“I wouldn’t expect [the faculty] to be pleased,” she said. “I mean, one of their students made the news for an indictment of a federal case. Just don’t throw me under the bus.”
She also said she wants the student body to keep an open mind.
“I’ve had people in support of [what happened] and I’ve had people asking what it’s about because more often than not they just have a vague idea or a vague misconception from the news,” Haefer said, adding that they should look more into what Anonymous does.
“They hear about WikiLeaks, but they don’t hear about the other things Anonymous does,” Haefer said. “Whether or not I’m a member is neither here nor there, but from an observer’s point of view, Anonymous is involved in way more than WikiLeaks.”
She claimed that Anonymous was one of the groups involved with helping Egypt get its Internet back after a government shutdown amid widespread civil protests, among other actions.
“[People] should probably look more into it than what the media tells them,” she said. “What I’m being accused of, and the full story and Anonymous is so much bigger than what you can fit into four columns.”
Contact Sean Jaramillo at [email protected]