U.S. Press Freedom Tracker

Comstock's former editor accused of deleting the magazine's YouTube account

Incident Details

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A portion of the filing requesting a summons for Matthew Keys

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July 19, 2021 - Update

Former Comstock’s editor sentenced to prison for violating terms of his supervised release in deleting magazine’s YouTube account

On July 19, 2021, Sacramento journalist Matthew Keys was sentenced to six months in prison and 18 months’ supervised release for deleting the YouTube account and videos of the magazine where he had worked as an editor, according to a press release from the U.S. Attorney's Office for the Eastern District of California.

A U.S. District Judge ruled in April that Keys was responsible for deleting Comstock’s YouTube channel, violating the terms of his supervised release from prison by committing new crimes: damaging a protected computer and destroying data. Keys had previously served two years in federal prison for his involvement in a 2010 hack of the Los Angeles Times’ website; he was in the midst of two years of supervised release when he joined the monthly business magazine as digital editor in May 2019. After his abrupt departure in January 2020, a Comstock’s editor discovered that the publication’s YouTube account and its videos had been deleted.

April 19, 2021 - Update

Former digital editor found responsible for deleting magazine’s YouTube account

A U.S. District Judge ruled on April 19, 2021, that Sacramento journalist Matthew Keys was responsible for deleting Comstock’s Magazine’s YouTube channel, and in doing so had violated the terms of his probational release from federal prison, the Sacramento Bee reported.

District Judge Kimberly Mueller ruled that the prosecutor’s office had successfully proven that Keys was responsible for deleting the channel, according to The Bee. Mueller did not indicate whether Keys would be ordered to return to federal prison. A “dispositional hearing” in the case has been scheduled for May 24. Keys originally went to prison for his involvement in a 2010 hack of the Los Angeles Times’s website.

Keys joined Comstock's Magazine, a Sacramento-based business periodical, as digital editor in May 2019, according to his LinkedIn page. He quit his job "abruptly" on Jan. 23, 2020, according to a federal court filing by Keys' probation officer. An editor at Comstock’s discovered on Feb. 14 that the publication’s YouTube account, along with its videos, had been deleted.

February 10, 2020

A former employee of Comstock's Magazine has been accused of deleting the publication's YouTube channel on Feb. 10, 2020, less than a month after quitting his job at the magazine.

Federal prosecutors allege that Matthew Keys deleted the YouTube channel while on federal probation for a previous hacking offense. In 2015, Keys was convicted of three counts of conspiracy and violations of the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act after he, prosecutors said, gave a member of Anonymous login credentials to access the backend of the Los Angeles Times' site in 2010. (The Los Angeles Times was then owned by the Tribune Company, and Keys was a former employee of a Tribune-owned television station, Sacramento's KTXL FOX 40. Keys denied the allegations at the time.)

Keys was released from federal prison in March 2018 and placed on two years supervised release that was slated to end in April 2020.

Keys joined Comstock's Magazine, a Sacramento-based business periodical, as digital editor in May 2019, according to his LinkedIn page. He quit his job "abruptly" on Jan. 23, 2020, according to a federal court filing by Keys' probation officer.

On Feb. 14, an editor at Comstock’s discovered that the magazine’s YouTube account had been deleted, along with its videos. Tom Couzens, the magazine's executive editor, suspected Keys' involvement in the deletion, and called the U.S. Attorney's Office, according to the filing.

As a condition of his probation, Keys' computer and other electronic devices could be searched with reasonable suspicion, without obtaining a warrant.

In March, probation officers conducted a search of Keys' home, seizing 18 electronic devices, including Keys' iPhone X and Mac laptop, according to the filing.

A digital forensic analysis found that in the early morning of Feb. 10, someone using Keys’ devices performed a Google search for "how to delete YouTube channel.” Then, “approximately 20 seconds later, the user was once again signed into [Comstock’s] YouTube account, accessed the, ‘Manage your YouTube content.’”

Analyzing the forensic evidence, the probation officer concluded "it appears Matthew Keys has exhibited similar conduct to that of the underlying offense by deleting Comstock's Magazine YouTube content," the filing states.

Keys was asked, in the presence of his attorney, about these allegations on April 23, and denied them, according to the filing. "Mr. Keys indicated he believes Couzens' accusations stem from a complaint he filed against Comstock's Magazine with the California Employment Development Department for a hostile work environment," the filing reads. An email sent to Keys' attorney for comment was not returned.

Couzens, reached via email, declined to comment, citing a legal matter.

In the court filing dated April 27, the probation officer asked that due to the coronavirus pandemic, Keys remain out of custody pending a hearing. The judge agreed and set a hearing for June 8.

The U.S. Press Freedom Tracker catalogues press freedom violations in the United States. Email tips to [email protected].