The “Information Superhighway” possesses common traits with a regular
highway. People travel on it daily and attempt to get to a predetermined
destination. There are evil criminals who want to violate citizens in any way
possible. A reckless driver who runs another off the road is like a good hacker.
Hacking is the way to torment people on the Internet. Most of the mainstream
hacking community feel that it is their right to confuse others for their
entertainment. Simply stated, hacking is the intrusion into a computer for
personal benefit. The motives do not have to be focused on profit because many
do it out of curiosity. Hackers seek to fulfill an emptiness left by an
inadequate education. Do hackers have the right to explore wherever he or she
wants on the Internet (with or without permission), or is it the right of the
general population to be safe from their trespasses?
To tackle this question, people have to know what a hacker is. The
connotation of the word ‘hacker’ is a person that does mischief to computer
systems, like computer viruses and cybercrimes. “There is no single widely-used
definition of computer-related crime, so computer network users and law
enforcement officials must distinguish between illegal or deliberate network
abuse versus behavior that is merely annoying. Legal systems everywhere are
busily studying ways of dealing with crimes and criminals on the Internet”
(Voss, 1996, p. 2).
There are ultimately three different views on the hacker controversy. The
first is that hacking or any intrusion on a computer is just like trespassing.
Any electric medium should be treated just like it were tangible, and all laws
should be followed as such. On the other extreme are the people that see
hacking as a privilege that falls under the right of free speech. The limits of
the law should be pushed to their farthest extent. They believe that hacking is
a right that belongs to the individual. The third group is the people that are
in the middle of the two groups. These people feel that stealing information is
a crime, and that privacy is something that hackers should not invade. They are
not as right wing as the people that feel that hackers should be eliminated.
Hackers have their own ideals to how the Internet should operate. The
fewer laws there are to impede a hacker’s right to say and do what they want,
the better they feel. Most people that do hack follow a certain profile. Most
of them are disappointed with school, feeling “I’m smarter than most of the
other kids, this crap they teach us bores me” (Mentor, 1986, p. 70). Computers
are these hackers only refuge, and the Internet gives them a way to express
themselves. The hacker environment hinges on people’s first amendment right to
freedom of speech. Some justify their actions of hacking by saying that the
hacking that they do is legitimate.
Some hackers that feel their pastime is legitimate and only do it for
the information; others do it for the challenge. Still other hackers feel it is
their right to correct offenses done to people by large corporations or the
government. Hackers have brought it to the public’s attention that the
government has information on people, without the consent of the individual.
Was it a crime of the hacker to show that the government was intruding on the
privacy of the public? The government hit panic stage when reports stated that
over 65% of the government’s computers could be hacked into 95% of the time
(Anthes, 1996, p. 21). Other hackers find dubious business practices that large
corporations try to accomplish. People find this information helpful and
disturbing. However, the public may not feel that the benefits out weigh the
problems that hackers can cause. When companies find intruders in their
computer system, they strengthen their security, which costs money. Reports
indicate that hackers cost companies a total of $150 to $300 billion a year
(Steffora & Cheek, 1994, p. 43). Security system implementation is necessary to
prevent losses. The money that companies invest on security goes into the cost
of the products that they sell. This, in turn, raises the prices of the
products, which is not popular to the public.
The government feels that it should step in and make the choices when it
comes to the control of cyberspace. However, the government has a tremendous
amount of trouble with handling the laws dealing with hacking. What most of the
law enforcement agencies follow is the “Computer Fraud and Abuse Act of 1986.”
“Violations of the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act include intrusions into
government, financial, most medical, and Federal interest computers. Federal
interest computers are defined by law as two or more computers involved in the
criminal offense, which are located in different states. Therefore, a
commercial computer which is the victim of an intrusion coming from another
state is a “Federal interest” computer” (Federal, 1996, p. 1). Most of the time,
the laws have to be extremely specific, and hackers find loopholes in these laws,
ultimately getting around them. Another problem with the laws is the people
that make the laws. Legislators have to be familiar with high-tech materials
that these hackers are using, but most of them know very little about computer
systems. The current law system is unfair; it tramples over the rights of the
individual, and is not productive, as illustrated in the following case. David
LaMacchia used his computers as “distribution centers for illegally copied
software. In this case, the law was not prepared to handle whatever crimes may
have been committed. The judge ruled that there was no conspiracy and dismissed
the case. If statutes were in place to address the liability taken on by a BBS
operator for the materials contained on the system, situations like this might
be handled very differently” (Voss, 1996, p. 2). The government is not ready to
handle the continually expanding reaches of the Internet.
If the government cannot handle the hackers, then who should judge the
limits of hacking? This decision has to be in the placed in the hands of the
public, but in all probability, the stopping of hackers will never happen. The
hacker’s mentality stems from boredom and a need for adventure, and any laws or
public beliefs that try to suppress that cannot. Every institution that they
have encountered has oppressed them, and hacking is the hacker’s only means for
release, the government or public cannot take that away from them. That is not
necessarily a bad thing. Hacking can bring some good results; especially
bringing oppressing bodies (like the government and large corporations) to their
knees by releasing information that shows how suppressive they have been.
However, people that hack to annoy or to destroy are not valid in their
reasoning. Nothing is accomplished by mindless destruction, and other than
being a phallic display, it serves no purpose. Laws and regulations should
limit these peo ple’s capabilities to cause havoc. Hacking is something that
will continue to be a debate in and out of the computer field, but maybe someday
the public will accept hackers. On the converse, maybe the extreme hackers will
calm down and follow the accepted behaviors.
Anthes, G. H. (1996, September 16). Few Gains Made Against Hackers.
Computerworld, 30(38). 21. Federal Bureau of Investigation. (1997, February).
Federal Bureau of Investigation National Computer Crime Squad. Internet.
Available: World Wide Web, http://www.fbi.gov/ programs/nccs/compcrim.htm
Mentor, The. (1986). Hacker’s Manifesto, or The Conscience of a Hacker.
In Victor J. Vitanza (Ed.), CyberReader (pp. 70-71). Boston: Allyn and
Bacon. Steffora, A. & Martin Cheek. (1994, February 07).
Hacking Goes Legit. Industry Week, 243(3). 43-44, 46.
Voss, Natalie D. (1996, December). Crime on the Internet. Jones
Telecommunication and Multimedia Encyclopedia. Internet. Available: World
Wide Web, http://www.digitalcentury.com/encyclo/update/crime.html