IT guy gets probation for spying through women co-workers' webcams [Tampa Tribune, Fla.]
(Tampa Tribune (FL) Via Acquire Media NewsEdge) Jan. 24--TAMPA -- A judge issued a sentence of probation and home confinement to a former information technology director who used a computer program to secretly watch and photograph female employees through their web cams.
One of the victims told the court Thursday in a letter read by the prosecutor that she felt "violated and used," and has "gone as far as to cover the camera on my computer with a sticky note to ensure that this will never happen again."
Christopher Scott Channer, who worked in Tampa as the IT director for the Atlanta-based advertising company 22squared, pleaded guilty in November to a federal charge of intercepting communications, a charge which carries a maximum possible penalty of five years in prison.
Channer, who now lives in Massachusetts, will have to serve six months of home confinement as part of a five-year probation sentence. U.S. District Judge Steven D. Merryday also imposed a $2,000 fine.
Before he was sentenced, Channer turned to a few former colleagues in the courtroom and apologized. As at least one of the two women present wept, Channer said, "I just wanted to say that I'm sincerely sorry for what I did. I never wanted to hurt you. I regret what I did, and I'm sorry for any pain that I caused."
Channer described himself as "very remorseful because I never intended any harm." He also said he was "deeply regretful for the damage I've caused my loving family, particularly my wife. ... She deserves better than this."
The crime came to light after women who worked for the firm noticed their computer web cameras appeared to turn on at unusual times. They notified their bosses.
After an investigation led to Channer, he told the FBI he had activated a program called "Theft Tracker" on the computers of female employees he found attractive. The program enables users to remotely obtain screen images of computers and activate web cameras in the event a computer is stolen.
Channer told FBI agents he "saw pictures that he probably should not have," according to his plea agreement. He confessed to activating the web cameras dozens of times and viewing at least one image of a female employee whose breast was exposed.
"He could not feel worse about what he has done," said defense lawyer Mark Rankin, who told Merryday on Thursday that the crime was an aberration. "He did it on an impulse."
The program captured 1,400 webcam images and 1,200 screen shots, but that was because every time a targeted computer booted up, the program would automatically start capturing images every five minutes, Rankin said.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Donald Hansen disputed that the offense was an aberration. Hansen said that Channer essentially stalked fellow employees over an extended period. "He was a peeping tom for three months," Hansen said.
Rankin said he believed the program ran on company laptops that were used by employees working from home. "He violated their privacy and it was wrong."
Rankin said Channer sent a check to the company for $15,000 to compensate for the cost of the internal investigation. He also sent a letter of apology to the affected employees.
After Channer was fired by 22squared in September 2010, he went to work for Google and has since lost that job, Rankin said.
Mike Grindell, chief administrative officer for 22squared, told the judge that in addition to the cost of the investigation, the firm lost $10,000 in the salaries of executives who spent time on the matter.
"There have been human costs as well," Grindell said, adding that employees were "terribly shocked" when they were told what happened. He said the women were also "angry, hurt, humiliated, violated" and have no idea what images were captured by Channer.
Deloitte, the professional service firm hired by 22squared to do a full forensic scan of the computers belonging to members of the firm's IT department, determined the webcams had been activated by a program called LanRev, which has Theft Tracker as a component.
Channer's work responsibilities included activating LanRev.
During Thursday's hearing, the defense and prosecution differed over whether Channer should receive a more severe sentence under federal guidelines that assess stricter penalties for crimes committed by people in positions of trust or with special skills.
While Merryday concluded that Channer had been in a position of trust within the firm and had special computer skills, the judge concluded that they were not sufficient to qualify under the sentencing guidelines.
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