The Legal Discourse

The culture of criminal hackers seems to glorify behavior which would be classified as sociopathic or frankly psychotic.

(Mich Kabay, director of education, NCSA, NCSA News, June 1996, qtd. in Phrack 48)

The law enforcement discourse simply argues that there are people who are causing financial loss to corporations and that their activity should be viewed as criminal. Some people are using hacker-knowledge to defraud credit card companies (Ex. infamous hacker/phreak Kevin Mitnick was convicted for stealing 20,000 credit card numbers), long distance companies, banks, and plant viruses or otherwise damage a company’s computer system. 1For a company that does not know who is accessing its network and cannot tell their intention, it makes sense to lump all hackers together and depict them as criminals.

Of course computer security companies who benefit from over-playing the hacker threat, are not helping to calm corporate fears:

Anti-hacker ad runs during Super Bowl XXXII. The Network Associates ad, costing $1.3-million for 30 seconds, shows two Russian missile silo crewmen worrying that a computer order to launch missiles may have come from a hacker. They decide to blow up the world anyway (Trigaux 1998).

Computer hacking is in a gray legal area. It is only since 1980 that computer hacking became illegal in every state (Hollinger and Lanza-Kaduce, 1988 - ctd in Meyer), but law officials have made up for their lack of activity with high profile raids such as those carried out in 1990 (see Sterling’s The Hacker Crackdown). In a May 9, 1990 press release, Mr. Jenkins, Asst. Dir. of the US Secret Service explained their newly found vigilance: "Our experience shows that many computer hacker suspects are no longer misguided teenagers, mischievously playing games with their computers in their bedrooms. Some are now high tech computer operators using computers to engage in unlawful conduct"(qtd. in Sterling).

With this kind of rhetoric aimed at hackers it is not surprising that Judge Stanton said the following while handing down an exemplary one year (and three years probation) sentence to hacker Phiber Obtik: "The defendant...stands as a symbol here today... Hacking crimes constitute a real threat to the expanding information highway" (qtd. in Dibbel 1994).

Theoretical Framework
Hacking History
Phone Hacking
What is Hacking?
Juvenile Discourse, Black Hats, and White Hats
Hacker Language
Juvenility and Carding
Problems with the White Hat Hacking Discourse
Nostalgic Discourse
Problems with the Nostalgic Discourse
Law Enforcement and Computer Security Discourse
The Legal Discourse
Problems with the Law Enforcement Discourse
Media Discourse
Hackers as Resistance (illegal and legal)
Limitations to Resistance
Works Cited