A YOUNG Charlestown man has been convicted and fined after a peaceful protest against the federal government's planned internet filter was deemed a form of "computer terrorism".
Matthew Gordon George, 22, a Coles storeman with dreams of studying computer engineering, was fined $550 in Newcastle Local Court yesterday for inciting others to bombard Australian government websites with messages so they would crash.
The co-ordinated online attack was called Operation Titstorm.
Magistrate Elaine Truscott said she doubted that George realised how serious his actions were at the time of the offence.
"It is a serious offence because of it being able to amount to computer terrorism," she said.
Ms Truscott noted that carrying out such attacks carried a maximum penalty of 10 years' jail. Inciting others to carry out attacks carried a five-year jail term.
David Bernie, the vice-president of the NSW Council for Civil Liberties, issued a warning to protestors that "denial service attacks", as they are known, are illegal, but he expects to see more of them in the future.
Mr Bernie said he had sympathy for George, of Sabine Close, who will now find it difficult to travel internationally with a criminal conviction against his name.
George pleaded guilty to the Commonwealth crime of inciting "unauthorised impairment of electronic communications".
Four websites were targeted on February 10 this year by an unknown number of people although there were 300 in a chatroom when George posted a number of messages, a statement of facts said.
George is one of a minority who were apprehended and are before the courts across Australia.
The Australian Federal Police's High Tech Crime Investigation Team received intelligence about an "issue-motivated group" preparing the cyber attack five days before Operation Titstorm began.
On the day of the attack they recorded an individual called "Bush" who encouraged others online to keep sending information to websites including the Prime Minister's.
George admitted he was "Bush".
"pm.gov.au is going down," he posted in a chatroom. "Keep it down."
The protesters also targeted websites for parliament house and the Minister for Broadband, Communications and the Digital Economy as well as australia.gov.au.
The protest caused disruption to the sites throughout the day.
George's solicitor Katie Kelso said the protesters were hoping to attract support for their campaign against the government's proposed internet filter.
But the protest backfired and most of the media coverage they received was negative.