The city of Fullerton had to pay $350,000 to two bloggers it had sued for "hacking" its Dropbox folder

The city of Fullerton, California sued two bloggers it claimed had hacked the city's Dropbox folder. But after the Electronic Frontier Foundation and the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press filed amicus briefs for the two bloggers, the city of Fullerton will have to pay the bloggers "$230,000 in attorneys costs and $60,000 each in damages," according to Ars Technica. In addition, the city of Fullerton will have to publicly apologize to the bloggers on its website.

From Ars Technica:

Joshua Ferguson and David Curlee frequently made public record requests in the course of covering city government for a local blog, Friends for Fullerton's Future. The city used Dropbox to fulfill large file requests, and in response to a June 6, 2019, request for records related to police misconduct, Ferguson and Curlee were sent a link to a Dropbox folder containing a password-protected zip file. 

But a city employee also sent them a link to a more general "Outbox" shared folder that contained potential records request documents that had not yet been reviewed by the city attorney. The folder wasn't password protected or access restricted. At the time, there were 19 zip files in the outbox, five of which were not password protected. 

The bloggers downloaded the files related to their records request and the 19 zip files in the outbox link. In the unprotected files, Ferguson and Curlee found emails relating to police internal affairs investigations and an insurance claim regarding an automobile crash involving an allegedly drunk city employee, among others. 

From the EFF's amicus brief:

The City of Fullerton stored documents online that were accessible to any Internet user in the world. When Appellants Joshua Ferguson and David Curlee — contributors to the local news blog, Friends for Fullerton's Future — obtained those documents, they did what journalists do: they re-published them , along with commentary and analysis. Nothing about that conduct is unusual — much less illegal. Journalists regularly comb websites for data or investigative scoops the general public might otherwise miss. Indeed, for reporters, this type of online investigation is among "the most powerful techniques for data-savvy journalists who want to get the story first, or find exclusives that no else has spotted." What is unusual is the City's response. Rather than accept responsibility for its own failure to limit public access to information, the City instead is attempting to stretch computer crime laws to punish those journalists — first, for uncovering unflattering information and, later, for publishing it. The Court should reject this misguided effort to twist criminal law to punish truthful reporting. Adopting the City's arguments will chill those who report on government affairs, both in the City of Fullerton and throughout California.

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