A federal appeals court on Friday overturned the conviction of a prominent computer hacker whose imprisonment had highlighted a growing debate over whether the government is overreaching in its campaign against cybercrime.

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the 3rd Circuit ruled that the Justice Department improperly put Andrew Auernheimer on trial in New Jersey, even though his alleged hacking took place elsewhere. Auernheimer was convicted in 2012 of obtaining about 120,000 email addresses of iPad users from AT&€™s website — including then-New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, Hollywood executive Harvey Weinstein and other well-known figures — and giving them to the website Gawker.

The 2010 data breach alarmed federal officials because it affected such a prominent company and triggered fears about the security of mobile devices. But Auernheimer’s conviction and prison sentence of more than three years prompted criticism from digital rights advocates and others that he was one of a number of minor hackers caught up in the cybercrime crackdown because of their political or anti-corporate views.

In an interview last year, Auernheimer told The Washington Post that he is a “political and economic activist” who was trying to embarrass AT&T.

In the decision, a three-judge panel said the government violated Auernheimer’s rights by trying him in Newark “despite the absence of any apparent connection to New Jersey.” Auernheimer’s hacking activities took place in Arkansas, a co-conspirator was found in California, and the AT&T servers they accessed were in Texas and Georgia, the court said.

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