My Friend, Alleged Computer Hacker Matthew Keys

This Aug. 6, 2009, file photo, shows a Thomson Reuters office in Boston. Thomson Reuters Corp., one of the world's largest ne
This Aug. 6, 2009, file photo, shows a Thomson Reuters office in Boston. Thomson Reuters Corp., one of the world's largest news and information companies, on Monday, April 23, 2012, said that it would sell its health care analytics division to Veritas Capital for $1.25 billion in cash. (AP Photo/Eric J. Shelton, File)

It's not every day you open an email and it's about someone you know that begins with: The United States of America vs. Matthew Keys.

Matthew is my friend from when he worked in Sacramento, Calif. He was the web editor for the local Fox TV affiliate. I am the news director for the local news radio station KFBK. We shared a love of news and social media. The U.S. Attorney in Sacramento handed down the indictment against Keys on Thursday. Imagine me at work and seeing your friend's name listed on an indictment in an email from the U.S. Attorney's Office.

Keys currently works as a deputy social media editor for Reuters in New York City. They immediately contacted me for comment. I was reluctant, but told Reuters reporter Alistair Barr that I was friends with Matthew and have always known him to be accurate in his successful news Twitter feed @TheMatthewKeys. I added: "I trust him."

The calls, texts and emails came in quickly, from New York to San Francisco. Wow! Did you hear about Matthew? Many of us in the Sacramento news community were very proud of Matthew. He went from leaving a local, small TV affiliate here to working in New York City for the international news service Reuters. He was an inspiration to other journalists of what they could achieve with hard work.

But the indictment is serious. Three felony hacking counts for allegedly using the codes from the Tribune Company job he was fired from to help others to hack into The Los Angeles Times webpage. Keys is facing up to 10 years in prison and fines of $250,000 for each charge. As the Atlantic Wire wrote, it would have been better for Keys to assault and pop the former boss who fired him in the face with his fist than hack into a company computer. Assault in New York City is a $5,000 fine. Cyber crimes? Keys is facing up to 25 years and $750,000 in penalties.

Yet Matthew tweeted Thursday he's OK. He also tweeted me that it was okay that the Reuters story did not include my positive comments about him I gave to their reporter.


On Friday, Keys was placed on paid suspension from Reuters.

Matthew is my 21st-century social media friend -- not the kind of friend you go out and have drinks or dinner with but one you kept in touch with 3,000 miles away via Twitter, DMs, Facebook and email. I got into the social media game with him after he started and we would counsel each other over the past three years, ruminating about the downside of the changing news industry where we are all required to work more for less to asking each other who we trust on social media. We were able to keep close and connected via our exchanges on social media rather than having a conversation, which we did a few times.

I trust Matthew Keys -- as far as his news reporting abilities. To his nearly 25,000 Twitter followers, he is respected as an aggressive, worldwide news tweeter armed with at least two or three computers at his fingertips to bring breaking news in real time to a hungry news audience. Keys was a social media phenom, often working tirelessly 24/7 without sleep, tweeting out breaking news such as the Gabrielle Giffords shooting and the Japanese earthquake. He brought you comments from journalists worldwide and audio links to TV and radio stations on the scene of breaking news. And he did this before other major news agencies started doing it. And as many of us who knew him as @ProducerMatthew, he was usually way ahead of The New York Times, Associated Press or Washington Post on breaking news.

Keys has always been accurate. When I've asked him to keep a confidence on a sensitive matter he always agreed. He has never broken my trust. I found myself in the odd position of having to write up his story and report it on my radio station.

Yet, already, Keys' case is being compared to Aaron Swartz, the whiz kid computer expert who hanged himself when he came under investigation from the Feds for downloading articles from MIT's servers. Swartz committed suicide at age 26; same age as Keys.

I do not know if Keys is guilty or not. I do know we are all trying to comprehend and navigate the new age of social media and computer laws and what we can and cannot do. We all agree we cannot hack although I've known people who have.

Some are already describing Keys with that cliche of "disgruntled employee." Aren't many of us disgruntled today with either lack of finding jobs or if you have one, disgruntled by all the extra work we have to do now in reduced workplaces without extra pay?

I hope Keys does not live up to that cliche. He will be back in Sacramento in April for arraignment before a U.S. Attorney.