The bonkers homecoming queen hacking scandal

If I were forced to come up with a list of pairs of things I never thought I would have to put together in a headline, “homecoming queen” and “hacking” would likely have been a good choice. And yet, here we are. The Daily Beast is featuring a simply bizarre story coming to us from Florida (of course) involving the vice-principal of an elementary school and her 17-year-old cheerleader daughter. Vice-principal Laura Carroll and her daughter, Emily Grover, were dragged out of their home back in March during a swat-team style raid and arrested

The two of them are now on trial and facing the prospect of well over a decade in prison. So what did they do that was so awful? Murder? Arson? Selling national secrets to the Russians? No, nothing like that. They stand accused of hacking into a school computer system to rig an election so the daughter could be chosen as the school homecoming queen. And the weirdness doesn’t stop there.

Police cuffed the women and, at one point, Carroll begged them to let her put on a bra before hauling her away to jail, she said. The teen was taken to a juvenile detention center.

Eight months later, they both face 16 years in prison—a punishment harsher than what some high-level ransomware attackers and corporate data thieves receive. But the pair stands accused of a more bizarre crime: hacking into a school computer system to rig a homecoming election in Grover’s favor.

The alleged cheat for glory could have ended with a slap on the wrist if it weren’t for local parents’ fears, investigators’ ambitions and the pair’s own stubbornness, according to hundreds of pages of court documents and interviews with people involved.

The pair were already offered a plea deal where they would have served no jail time but they turned it down. So in that regard, perhaps they bear the blame if they take an extended vacation to the crowbar motel. But they insist that they’re not guilty and will not cop a plea for a crime they didn’t commit.

But are they really innocent? It sounds like law enforcement has an awfully strong case. They claim that the daughter used her mother’s online ID to access a school database where she stole the names, ID numbers and birthdates of almost 250 students. She then used her phone and her laptop to log in to the site being used for voting for homecoming queen and cast lots of votes for herself in the names of others.

The votes all allegedly rolled in between midnight and 4 a.m. on the day of the Homecoming gala. But an alert teacher noticed a number of “false vote” flags and began investigating. The police eventually concluded that the false votes had come from both the student’s phone and her laptop. Also, the mother later admitted to letting her daughter use her admin password. It’s a bit of a stretch to assume this was all some internet misunderstanding.

But even understanding all of that, is it really justifiable to sentence a teenager to 16 years in the slammer for hacking a homecoming queen election? To this day you can stab a cop on the sidewalk in New York City in broad daylight and wind up doing less than five years behind bars. (Yes, that really happened.) Hacking can’t be allowed and they already took away the girl’s homecoming crown, so some punishment is probably in order. But if they get sent away for more than a decade over this, something in the system has gone off the rails.

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