Rui Pinto, the Football Leaks hacker, has claimed that his questionable activities were carried out for the great good of society, but a further examination of his past exposes a glaring flaw in his defense.
On January 16, Portuguese citizen Rui Pinto was arrested by Hungarian authorities in accordance with a Portuguese arrest warrant for crimes of extortion, theft and secrecy violation in relation to the football club Sporting Clube de Portugal and investment fund Doyen Sports. These charges stem from Pinto’s operation of a website known as ‘Football Leaks,’ which published a cache of confidential documents that sent shockwaves through the football community. A Hungarian judge later approved his extradition to Portugal where he currently awaits trial for his crimes.
What is Football Leaks?
The Football Leaks website went live in September of 2015 and resulted in the largest data leak in the history of sports. The website initially published confidential documents pertaining to some of the most prominent clubs, players and organizations in professional football that Pinto is accused of obtaining through illegal hacking methods and data theft. After initial criticisms of his motives, Pinto, who was acting anonymously under the pseudonym ‘John,’ shared the remaining cache of confidential materials with German news publication Der Spiegel and journalists associated with the European Investigative Collaborations.
The documents released by Pinto led to several media and criminal investigations into the immoral and illegal ways clubs were recruiting and retaining young players and tax evasion crimes committed by star players and clubs, among other offenses. The data leak has even led to an investigation into rape charges against current Juventus striker Cristiano Ronaldo.
Do the ends justify the means?
If the goals of an act are noble, does that excuse any wrongs committed to achieving them? This ethical dilemma that has vexed moral philosophers and legal scholars for ages. Rui Pinto would like us to believe that his actions are justified regardless of their legality because of the end result he achieved: exposing moral depravity and illegal activities in the world of football.
To the media, Pinto has painted himself as a martyr, giving up his freedom to expose corruption in a game loved and idolized by so many. The news media has been quick to accept his narrative, sympathetic to his plight. However, it is important to note that Pinto has cooperated extensively with the media and has become a vital source of information to several journalists, leading to a potential bias in his portrayal by the media.
The ‘ends justifying the means’ debate is further complicated when we consider what originally motivated Rui Pinto to illegally access and steal privately owned data. Is he the benevolent figure set on bringing about positive change to the football establishment, as he depicts himself to be. His history and previous actions lead us to question the narrative he professes.
When we dig deeper into Pinto’s past, we find a man motivated by personal gain and revenge. While his involvement in the Football Leaks saga has become the dominant story in his life, it is not the only story worth examining when we consider the kind of person Rui Pinto truly is.
Past Crimes of Rui Pinto
His arrest earlier this year is not Rui Pinto’s first encounter with the Portuguese authorities. In 2013, before Football Leaks dropped a bomb on the world of football, Pinto was a young student living in Portugal. Before he used his computer hacking abilities against the top teams in football, Pinto used his skills for his own benefit and to enrich his own bank account.
According to the Caledonian Bank, an offshore company located in the Cayman Islands, a hacker, later revealed to be Pinto, accessed the account of a bank administrator and through this breach was able to have direct access to customer data. He then preceded to transfer a total of €264,000 into his personal bank account. A criminal complaint was filed in Portugal by the bank accusing Pinto of breach of privacy and the theft of data and money from the bank and its customers.
The bank later settled with Pinto out of court. Through their agreement, Pinto all but €17,000 of the stolen money. The bank, not wanting to disclose to their customers that their systems had been hacked agreed to drop the criminal complaint and did not pursue further action against Pinto.
Extortion and Blackmail Attempt
While Pinto may have eluded authorities for his theft from the offshore bank, his next target has landed him in the trouble he finds himself in today and could be a better indicator of his true motives behind the Football Leaks data dump. After escaping punishment, a further emboldened Pinto began hacking football clubs and organizations including the Malta-based Doyen Sports, a private company invested in third-party ownership of footballers.
After hacking into Doyen’s private email server, Pinto sent an anonymous letter to the organization asking the company to pay him between €500,000 and €1 million to stop him from divulging compromising and incriminating information. He even went as far as sending a lawyer representing him to a meeting with Doyen officials to negotiate the blackmail terms. Through the company’s cooperation with law enforcement, Pinto now faces charges of data theft and attempted extortion.
The Implications of Pinto’s Defense
Knowing Rui Pinto’s history, we must revisit the ‘ends justifying the means’ argument. His actions against Doyen Sports make it clear that the ‘ends’ initially pursued by Pinto were for personal and financial gain, further exposing his ‘means,’ hacking and stealing private property, not as noble, but as illegal and unethical.
Accepting Pinto’s narrative as a whistleblower or martyr for the cause neglects to consider the wider implications and sets a dangerous precedent by allowing a hacker to assume no responsibility for his actions. It would endorse the violation of privacy rights of companies and individuals and confidential data will no longer be safe from theft. Cyber theft of digital property by a hacker would become legal, an act that in theory is not much different from a burglar breaking into a home and stealing physical property.
It is imperative we see past the story that Rui Pinto has told about himself and used to justify his illegal and immoral actions. His history proves that he is nothing more than a common criminal who has attempted to manipulate the media and the public into believing that he is something that he is not. It is the duty of the Portuguese legal system to convict Rui Pinto for his crimes and in doing so, protect our rights to digital privacy and security.