SINGAPORE: Bomb hoax youth gets 3 months' jail, $4,000 fine

Judge also sets sentencing guidelines for unauthorized wireless network usage

Straits Times
Thursday, February 8, 2007

By Chua Hian Hou

District Judge Francis Tseng yesterday sentenced Lin Zhenghuang, who used a neighbour's wireless network to post a bomb hoax, to three months' jail and a $4,000 fine.

The judge also set sentencing guidelines for future mooching, or unauthorised wireless network access cases.

In sentencing the 21-year-old full-time national serviceman, the judge took into account the lesser impact Lin's hoax had, compared to previous bomb hoaxes.

Lin's hoax, said Judge Tseng, did not cause any public disruption and "no resources whatsoever were expended by the police," except to find the person behind the hoax.

In his written judgment, the judge said future mooching offenders would be liable to fines unless the offence was "committed in order to facilitate the commission of or to avoid detection for some more serious offence," as it was in Lin's case.

Mooching is an offence under the Computer Misuse Act. Traditionally, those convicted of such offences have been jailed, whether or not any damage had been caused.

Sleepless and bored one night, Lin had posted a message, Breaking News -- Toa Payoh Hit by Bomb Attacks, on the forum of popular technology site HardwareZone.

His July 2005 post, made a day after the London bus and subway bomb attacks, had so alarmed a forum user that he had reported it to authorities.

At Lin's trial last week, Judge Tseng had asked Deputy Public Prosecutor Toh Shin Hao to check whether there was a difference in sentencing between bomb hoaxes which had little impact -- like Lin's -- and those which caused public disruption and panic.

He then postponed sentencing to allow the Attorney-General's Chambers to check.

Following Judge Tseng's query, Lin's original charge of making the hoax, an offence under the Telecommunications Act, was amended to one with a lower maximum jail term and fine.

But neither this amendment, nor the first-time offender's renewed plea for a second chance in the Subordinate Courts, was enough to get Lin off the hook.

'While it may seem harsh to imprison offenders, particularly young ones, who may not have any real intention to cause harm, it is necessary that custodial sentences be imposed to serve as a deterrent,' said the judge.

He also noted that the moocher's actions had landed his neighbour in trouble.

Police investigators had arrested the 22-year-old student and seized her computer, thinking she was behind the hoax. Computer forensics eventually cleared her.

This "aggravating factor" led to a further three months' jail for Lin. But since the two sentences are concurrent, he will spend just three months in jail. He was also fined $500 for each of his eight other mooching offences.

He is the second person here to be charged with mooching. The first, a 17-year- old school dropout, was sentenced to 18 months' probation by the Community Court.

Lin, who told The Straits Times he had been hoping for a "fine or probation," looked close to tears. Neatly dressed in a dark blue long-sleeved shirt and blue jeans, he was accompanied by his civil servant father, three friends and his army superior.

The superior, who declined to give his name, said Lin had been teased endlessly by his campmates, and had been very depressed. He added: "In camp, he is quite helpful and responsible."

Lin had been a clerk working with computers, but was reassigned as a driver after news of the case broke.