POSTED BY Abner Pinedo

Many frown upon the term “hacker” in our society. Corporations view hackers as the enemies who pry into protected computer source codes by circumventing copyright protecting technologies. However, hackers don’t view themselves as the enemy, but more of a public necessity in society. Their hacks and circumventing acts have brought upon many great outcomes, such as increasing a music owner’s fair use. For example, iTunes Music Store in the near past used to forbid users from playing purchased music on other music players and devices, other than iTunes or iPods. Hackers retaliated by circumventing iTunes DRM and created programs that allowed a user who rightfully purchased a song to have the ability to use it on other players and devices—fair use. These hacks led iTunes to create continuous updates and eventually led to their defeat and compliance with what society was craving for. Without hacktivism, individuals who purchase music would not have the freedoms they desired. Hackers view source code as a form of freedom of speech and their hacker culture as something to be proud of. However, this is not what most people perceive and think of when they come across the idea of a hacker.

Recently, Federal Judge Winmill in an Idaho case decided to treat an employee in a suit malignantly by ignoring his privacy rights because he was deemed a hacker. Corey Thuen, previously employed by the Plaintiff, Battelle, is being charged for copyright infringement of the Plaintiff’s source code of a program named Sofia. After being dismissed by the Plaintiff, Corey opened his own company called Southfork and created a similar program which he planned to sell it as an open source program. The Plaintiff’s claimed that the evidence needed to prove their case was on Thuen’s hard drive and that it was crucial to their case to prove infringement.

This led the Plaintiffs towards an ex parte proceeding in order to gain the courts permission to acquire the hard drive. The Plaintiffs argued that it was necessary to obtain the hard drive in such a manner because the Defendant is a hacker with the ability to make the evidence vanish. The Court viewed the Plaintiff’s claims favorably due to the Defendant’s self proclamation of being a hacker on his own company website. The decision that followed was the copying of the Defendant’s hard drive. The Court rationale was that a hacker was a bad individual who had the ability to destroy and alter the evidence on his own hard drive, thus the action was warranted in this case.

The Courts rationale leads to bias and stereotype that needs to be altered to fairly decide cases dealing with hackers. These stereotypes will only be broken if society becomes educated on hacker culture and principals. Further, Courts should view all the facts and circumstances before allowing stereotypes and hyperbole to take control of a Court’s decisions. A central key in this case was that the Judge did not understand that there was a non-negative meaning for the term hacker. The copying of an individual’s hard drive is seen as a huge invasion of privacy that should not be taken lightly. Many Courts have struggled with this issue regarding hard drive copying, but this Idaho Judge has taken the emotional short-cut without verifying all the facts and simply took the Defendant’s online self hacker proclamation as a valid claim.

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