Hackers: Control and Property
The ethical issues surrounding hacking, stem from several sources mainly dealing with order and control, and information ownership. What is difficult to decipher from all the media hoopla surrounding the terms, "hacker" and "hacking" is both the simultaneous sensationalism and the condemnation of said activities. Of course just recently, even a movie was made and was appropriately called Hackers. The term and all that it implies has truly entered our popular consciousness when Hollywood has made a box office movie on it. As the advancement of computer technologies and systems of information become increasingly more and more complex in today's fast paced modern world and said technologies become an integral part of our homes and lives with rapid progress, we attempt to assert more and more control over what we consider "information," and "property." "Hacking" then seems to be the flagrant abuse of systems of information, complete and utter "unauthorized access." Yet what is the other side to this debate? Is there any validity to the concept of "free information," of "pure information?" The main ethical issues surrounding hacking seem to concern our definition of property and ownership, and the much more theoretical, abstract view of "control".
Who has control and exactly who should have control? What is information? Can it really be free? Should it be free? What about ownership and property rights? Is that an obsolete concept, stuck in the dark ages before computer technologies were invented and the main concern back then was physical property and damage? First, lets talk about property. Who owns what? The main issue here seems to be the different conceptualizations of property ownership and systems of information. As defined by Tom Forester and Perry Morrison, in Computer Ethics: Cautionary Tales and Ethical Dilemmas in Computing, "for systems owners, the system is their property (as suggested by the legal framework)-physical, touchable collections of central processors and disk drives-bought, paid for, and maintained for the use of authorized individuals to carry out authorized functions for the company's benefit." It would therefore seem natural to the systems owners that any unauthorized use by either an authorized or unauthorized person would be an illegal and criminal act. "Hackers", on the other hand probably view the system more abstractly, as a resource waiting to be used at the end of a telephone line, a challenge beckoning them, calling to them irresistibly, whispering to them, "There will be no damage done and no one will be the wiser."
On either side of this debate is the concept of free information. What is information anyway? Can it really be free? The Internet is a complex series of systems of information in which the circulation and distribution of these systems can create even more complex institutional relationships among the systems. Information, in and of itself should be available to anyone, in theory. Yet there is the other side, in which a terrorist can hack into the U.S. Defense Department or NASA databases and start a nuclear war. There must be some middle ground that can be reached in which the ideal of free information and the protection of property rights can coexist in harmony. What solution we have so far can only be to protect both ourselves and the system of information from contamination or "unauthorized access."
Of course this does not address the complexity of the entire issue. The 1960s generation of hackers were the avant-garde of corporate capitalism as they have demonstrated in their rise to power to key management positions in the 1980s. This clearly shows that the problem is both with the definition of the term hacker, and how they are to identify each other and define what is appropriate and what is inappropriate within the community. Eric Raymond is the current editor of The Jargon File: An Online Hackers Dictionary, this 'encyclopedia' tries to delineate what is appropriate and inappropriate within the hacker community and eliminate areas of confusion. It is a "comprehensive compendium of hacker slang, illuminating many aspects of hackish tradition , folklore, and humor." The most important values of "hacker" communities are said to be in The Jargon File. It also argues for the need for "denotative stability among computer professionals." For if there is no delineation about what is "appropriate" and "inappropriate," then there will be confusion and misunderstanding.
Janine Jackson, a media theorist has tried to stress the importance of having people who can "explain and represent online experience accurately," so that the popular press is not in danger of provoking dramatic, paranoiac responses to the "problems caused by poor circulation systems of illicit information on-line." In the March 1990 issue of Harper's, a former "hacker" spoke about his experience and work online. But this is a rare occurrence for a former "hacker" to come forward . There was the Time magazine "Cyber Porn" article, in which academics at Carnegie Mellon University, Vanderbilt University and others were asked to contextualize and analyze the issues involved in understanding the "powerful, and diverse, underground community." Thus in order to begin to understand this diverse community, we must be able to get as much accurate information as possible.