Dartbeat Asks: “Hacktivism”

by Madison Pauly, The Dartmouth Staff

29 Jan 2013

Courtesy of Daily Kos

Freedom of information, freedom of the press, privacy, security and thousands of programmers in Guy Fawkes masks — “hacktivism,” or hacking into secure networks to promote a social or political cause, is a complex topic. The Aaron Swartz JSTOR case and the ensuing tragedy have catapulted the ethical and legal debate into the public eye. A developer of the popular social media site Reddit, Swartz was arrested last January for the systematic downloading of academic journal articles from JSTOR. Two weeks ago, Swartz was found dead after reports that he had committed suicide. This week, Dartbeat asks students: Do you think activists like Aaron Swartz or WikiLeaks creator Julian Assange — who use hacking to promote their goals — are committing civil disobedience or cybercrime?

It’s important to differentiate between activists and criminals. WikiLeaks, no matter how noble some people might think it is, presents serious dangers to innocent American personnel and others around the world. Activists like Aaron Swartz, however, are doing good — they are organizing, they are communicating and they are evangelizing the idea that anyone with an Internet connection has a voice. Sometimes the lines can be blurred, but digital activists on the whole are adding value and purpose to an otherwise oversaturated world of digital media. —Sebastian DeLuca ’14

I see cyberspace as just another medium of the society we’ve always lived in.  Technology and computers are everywhere, but the goals and motives of the people using them haven’t changed — they’re tools, means to an end.  And I’m not ready to offer a blanket statement on the virtue or lack thereof of the people who use them. —Wyatt Gutierrez ’13

I’d say that it really depends on the type of hacking and the activist’s end goal, as hacking is a very broad term and should probably be prosecuted — or not — on a case-by-case basis.  I would say that, in general, I believe the sentences our judicial system has issued for cybercrime and hacking have been excessively harsh. —Will Hickman ’16

I don’t think there’s a concrete answer, though I do think that it tends to lean towards cybercrime. I tend to think of an action as a crime if, on top of it breaking the law, it grants you an unfair advantage, or it inconveniences or has the potential to inconvenience a person.  Aaron Swartz would fall under the first category, despite the fact that he was prosecuted way too harshly — he did still download articles without permission. WikiLeaks, I think, would fall under the second category. The owner himself was aware of and okay with the possibility of someone dying due to his actions. —Caleb Amponsah ’15

I definitely think it’s wrong. Just because you’re pissed off at someone doesn’t give you the right to hack a website. I mean it’s considered civil disobedience to break into someone’s home, bank account, etc., so too is it to hack a website. —Mary Ivancic ’14

Related Links

Former Harvard Ethics Student Charged With Hacking MIT Computer — Christina Ng, ABC News
Hacktivism on Mashable — Various reporters, Mashable
The Death of Aaron Swartz and the New Hacker Crackdown — Adrian Chen, Gawker
Hacker collective Anonymous hits US government site — Martyn Williams, PC World
The Guardian’s coverage of WikiLeaks — Various reporters, The Guardian




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