Analysis: The American Perspective On Hackers Essay, Research Paper
The issue of public information has always been a controversy in our world. One of our country’s founding arguments was based on the necessity of free speech and free information. Many now believe that our government is being overly restrictive on information, blocking and controlling some aspects of free speech that first amendment advocates feel are necessary to maintain our American society. These advocates of free information have been using the nickname “hackers” for over twenty years, but improper use by the media has stretched the word to slanderous levels. Hackers are now stereotyped as mindless vandals and miscreants, although the word “hacker” has been used as a term for computer programmers and technicians since the late 1970s. Modern-day hackers refer to themselves as intelligent socio-political activists who want to raise social awareness of threatening problems. Governments worldwide are trying to persecute hackers when vandals, not hackers, are most often the ones breaking laws and causing damage. The conflict between hackers and the American public is a deeply rooted standoff, caused by misinformation and sensationalism from the media and the government.
To evaluate and analyze this conflict objectively, both points of view must be put into proper perspective. This was a simple task for me, because I am a very technically oriented person who does not get lost in the “computer jargon” used by both the “hackers” and the political forces. I have worked as a security engineer for three Internet Service Providers. I am presently a security programmer at the second-largest private Internet Service Provider in Tampa. To do my job, I must to understand the thoughts and methods of the cyber-delinquents often misnamed as “hackers.” This experience has given me a strong perspective of both the intruder and victim’s side.
Firstly, take the view of the American people. This includes people who do and do not have computers at home, and do not understand their core functions. This group also makes up the majority of the users on the Internet. Most of them are home users with no intentions of understanding the machine they own. They see “hackers” as being electronic vandals and information thieves, breaking computer networks and destroying data. They fear anyone with cyber-power, because they do not understand the abilities of such individuals. This fear is primarily hatched from sensationalistic movies and articles written on “hackers.” It exists almost solely in consequence to the actions of the media. The irrationality of this fear is proven by the contrasting attitude of technically oriented society.
The technically oriented part of society is made up of (at the very minimum) very advanced home users, capable of modifying parts of their computer and fixing most problems. This sect also includes network administrators and operators, most programmers, and most computer hardware specialists. Not all programmers or hardware specialists fall under this description, because many of them do not have or need a full understanding of a computer in order to complete their job. These technically oriented people have enough knowledge about computers so as to not automatically resort to fear. Most of them understand the vast difference between a cyber-vandal and a true hacker. In fact, most of them have acted as either a cyber-vandal, hacker, or both at some time in their past. They generally see that actual hackers are not intent on damaging things. Actual hackers are content with the free spread of information and thought. The people that technically inclined individuals avoid and sometimes fear are the delinquents and vandals who find it amusing to damage and ruin data. In an attempt to make people think they are anything more than attention-starved brats with computers, these vandals prefer to be called hackers.
The most amazing set of opinions comes from the Government. Our Government is broken down into two parts: the technically-advanced (such as the CIA, NSA, FBI, and Secret Service) and the common men (such as Congress, Protection agencies, and Policing forces.) Our technically advanced sector of Government has notoriously been known as one of the best worldwide in catching information vandals and thieves. They have used the word “hacker” to describe these outcasts of the true online hacker society, giving true hackers a bad name for the rest of the government to bash into the ground. However, they too have been known to make some legally questionable decisions concerning computer crime.
One example is the case of Kevin Mitnick. He was arrested for breaking into the computers of Digital Equipment Corporation, as well as that of Tsutomu Shimomura, a computer security expert. He did not break anything. He read information for his own knowledge, not using a single word of it for his personal gain. Even considering these facts, he has been imprisoned without bail since February 15, 1995 and without a trial to convict him. He was supposed to face the court on January 19, 1999, but due to the prosecution refusing to release case information (a first-degree violation of civil rights), the court date has been delayed to April 20, 1999.
The Congress is responsible for writing laws to define “hackers” and the legal boundaries of their activities, although most of these congressmen neither own computers nor understand how they work. According to a series of live CNN interviews in 1996, the congressmen who do have computers often pay for their secretaries to learn how to use them, so that they never have to understand how email works or how to get to a web page. Only a handful of Congressmen actually use a computer themselves, and no more than a few of them actually understand the fundamentals of the Internet’s workings. It is despicable that the American Democratic system is allowing people who know absolutely nothing on the subject of computers and computer security to manipulate and fabricate the laws which all must follow. This is no different than trusting an air conditioning specialist to design a safe and efficient war submarine.
The best example of the faults of letting ignorant people create laws governing computers came out of the Telecommunications Decency Act of 1996. (The excerpt in question is attached to this paper.) This act was passed through congress in less than one week. In Title V, Subtitle a, Section 1, Paragraph A, it bluntly states that any data transmitted over any part of the internet which allows its interception within the United Sates boundaries is subject to this law. Sending data with the intent to annoy another person is considered a crime, punishable by up to a $100,000 fine or up to two years in prison. This act is a limitation of free speech that one would expect from a George Orwell novel. It disallowed any publication that spoke out against another cause. It denied Internet users from expressing themselves in any manner other than that dictated by the government. Our Congress poorly represented the American people when they committed this injustice upon our entire society.
Our congressmen are responsible for creating laws that define electronic crimes, which are very intangible and difficult to explain, having little to no knowledge of the Internet. They have the least reason of all the people in our society to fear and criminalize what they perceive as hackers. After all, they play no part in the sect of society that is effected by their perception of hackers.
Naturally, true hackers united in full force when news that this Decency Act passed hit their computer screens. By successfully getting this Act revoked, they proved by their actions that they are neither miscreants nor vandals. Many web sites including http://www.2600.com/ and http://www.eff.org/ launched major legal efforts, including petitions, to stop this bill. They also voted in massive numbers at the next elections. Such an action is not surprising, since, according to polls taken by numerous local, “underground” hacker computers systems in operation in 1996, approximately 70% of hackers vote at presidential elections. This definitely outweighs the percentages of the general populous: On average from 1980 to 1996, 45.71 percent of Floridians vote in presidential elections, according to CNN. This goes to show that real hackers are not the kind of people that many believe them to be.
Fundamentally, much of our society has proven that they are intent on being a populace of ignorant non-voters, struck with fear of the unknown. This part of our society has proven that it is unable to accept other individuals and groups who are more intelligent and still believe in our Nation’s first amendment, out of fear that the rest of the world might evolve around them, without them. Rather than persecute and attack the hackers in our society and in our world, we need to embrace them. They are the people trying their hardest to make a difference in our government and society. They are the ones speaking out as we all should about atrocities, such as the East Timor Massacre in Indonesia seven years ago (http://www.2600.com/hacked/). True hackers are not out to destroy things. They want to learn and make a difference in our world. Our society should stop limiting their potential as human beings and citizens by slandering them. Our society should stop blindly believing stories about them without hearing both sides, as our Government, which is run by “We, the People” must become educated before creating and enforcing laws. Otherwise, we, as a society, are burying ourselves in ignorant beliefs, disrupting learning and the growth of knowledge. After all, no one can honestly say that they want to live in an ignorant society.