Stefan Wray on Wed, 30 Sep 1998 20:11:51 +0200 (MET DST)

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<nettime> Hacker Active Matrix; a liberal?: Y2K Internat'l Hacktivism Gathering?


Check out recent interview with Active Matrix

I really don't like his definitions of "hacking" and "cracking"

According to his typology, there does not seem to be any room for political

No middle ground.

For Active Matrix, hackers are the good guys with high ethical standards,
while crackers are pranksters whom he says are "criminals" and who give a
bad name to hacking.

Some of his argumentation sounds quite liberal. He seems to side,
implicitly, with the corporate and financial world in terms of their needs
for network security.

He says what hackers are all about is enabling free flow of information to
the public and that what crackers do is inhibit such free flow. On this
basis he condemned the recent hack into the New York Times. His analysis of
the New York Times hack made no mention of the role or function of the New
York Times as a capitalist media institution and as an instrument for U.S.
elite propaganda. His analysis of the NYT hack was very apolitical indeed.

His statements start to confirm a growing realization on my part, that what
have been "technical" complaints about the efficacy of FloodNet may really
have an underlying, yet not explicit, political nature.

It seems this notion of "free flow of information" is a core part of the
ethical hacker ideology. As I mentioned recently, the entire notion of free
flow really needs to be examined more carefully. "Free flow" is a concept
that emerged within the United States in the early 60s and more so late
60s. It is mainly a ruse, because in reality the flow of global cultural
information has been mainly a one way flow out of Hollywood. (But this is a
longer story...)

Yes. Access to information is important. But can we make the claim that
under all circumstances we must be concerned about the access of all people
to all information that they want to find? I.e. should statements about
access and free flow be absolutist? I think not. We need to look at this
case by case.

Let's take a hypothetical situation:
Suppose the U.S. starts Gulf War II in the year 2001.
Same scenario. Rapid deployment of U.S. troops and deadline given to Saddam.
On cue, the U.S. media takes the government-military position.
As is its practice in war time, U.S. media becomes mouthpiece for Pentagon.
Despite thousands and thousands of people taking to the streets (as before)
U.S. mainstream media does not mention any resistance.
New York Times only covers military point-of-view.
A large demonstration in New York city draws 10,000 people to Times Square.
But the next day, the New York Times makes absolutely no mention of the
(not entirely unlikely, NYT largely ignores demonstrations)
So a group of hacktivists who have been taking digital photos
decides to "hack" the New York Times web site, post photos of the
and create links off the NYT homepage to a number of anti-war web sites.....

You see my point....according to Active Matrix, I think he would still call
these hacktivists  "pranksters" and he would say they've adopted an
unethical approach, because the action involved breaking into a web site
and tampering with someone else's content. But in my view, what they would
be doing is extremely ethical. Because in effect they would be helping to
generate a more "free flow" of information. They would be placing on the
NYT web site information that indeed should have been there in the first
place, but because of the NYT's central role as mouthpiece for U.S. elites
and the military in times of war, such information would not have appeared
on their site....

So I think Active Matrix's typology of hacker=good and cracker=bad is way
too simplistic and even apolitical.

It is my understanding that for many years the hacking community has been
largely apolitical or if they had any politics they were motivated by more
libertarian ideas of "free flow." 

But we are beginning to see more politicized and radical hackers coming to
the foreground. Teenage hackers from the 80s have begun to wise up. Some,
perhaps many, have been seduced by high paying network security jobs. But
others now have more political understandings to back up their natural
curiousity with machines and equipment.

I think what would be extremely useful and important to do is to pull
together the communities of radical computerized activists and radical
politicized hackers. First and foremost on our agenda ought to be recast or
reframe the discussion and debate with respect to the false hacker:cracker
dichotomy. We need to inject into the hacking world and into the media
sphere the notion of political hacking. 

Political hacking and hacktivism indeed ought to have its own set of ethics
and codes of behaviors. We ought to begin to list and describe what some of
these ethics are.

There is need to reshape and reformulate a new set of ethical codes and
standards for political hacking. I don't think we can simply map onto
current political hacking or hacktivism the same set of ethical codes as
proscribed by earlier non-political hackers.

For example, according to Active Matrix's hacker code it is unethical to
break into the New York Time's web site to alter content and create new links.

But, according to a more radical political hacker code it is ethical to
break into the New York Time's web site and to alter content and create
links when it is determined the New York Times is not telling the full
story about a particular issue (as in the case above.)

I think there is a need for debate and dialogue around all of this. And I
would like to see the emergence of a radical hackers code of ethics that
can challenge the more non-political hacker ethical codes that seem to
dominate at this moment.

We shouldn't be criticizing the hackers who put porn on the NYT web site
because they broke into the NYT web site and did this prank. We should
criticize them for the content of their hack. Had they placed a story about
police brutality that the NYT wasn't covering, or had they placed photos of
the Mayor in a comprising position, then what they did would meet ethical
standards of political hacking.

It is not the actual ACT of hacking into a web site to place new content
that is problematic. What is problematic is that some of the people doing
this are not doing so with much thought about the content and are merely
demonstrating their technical ability to engage in this sort of hack. So
their poor content needs to be criticized, not the fact they broke into a
system. They should be applauded for breaking in, and given suggestions as
to how to improve their content.

The recent NYT hack, in a broader sense, represents a more immature stage
of hacking. Perhaps call it the "I hack because I can but have nothing to
say syndrome." When you consider that the vast majority of the first
generation hackers were predominantly male, predominantly teenagers,
predominantly affluent, it is no surprise at all that the bulk of hacker
content would be non-political or simply non-sensical.

But this is changing. The second generation of hackers, along with remnants
of the first generation who are still around, coupled with computerized
radical activists, need to now step forward and show there is another way.

We can't let the liberal hackers like Active Matrix be the voice of the
hackers. His views on ethical hacking, to me, seem to be clearly outdated
and to clearly represent the class interests of corporate elites and
property owners.

Consider, the political hack by the young British man last spring. He and
his group MilWorm posted images of nuclear mushroom clouds along with
anti-nuclear texts on over 300 web sites world wide. When this happened it
was considered the largest hack of its kind.

What would Active Matrix say about this? According to what he says in his
interview, I think he would call it a prank, he would say that JF was a
cracker not a hacker, and he would say that this was a criminal act.

If I am wrong about this, Active Matrix, then please accept my humble

But if I right, if it is true that Active Matrix would condemn this sort of
political hacking, then we need to make sure that the views of Active
Matrix do not "represent" hacking to the media sphere. We need to step
forward and enunciate a "third way" in-between the paranoic cyber-terrorist
rhetoric of government and the a-political free flow rhetoric of the
liberal hackers.

There should be debate, dialogue, and the generation of a new ethical code
for political hacking and computerized activism (hacktivism) that can
supplant this more liberal hacking ethic. We should come forward and create
such a text and sign on to it as groups or individuals and post such text
to a wide audience.

Perhaps around around this text, this manifesto, we might consider having
an International Hacktivism Gathering in the year 2000.

What do you all think?

- Stefan Wray
The Electronic Disturbance Theater

PS. Might the Next Five Minutes conference in Amsterdam in March, 1999, be
a site for further discussion and development of a political hacker code of
ethics? Could N5M be a site for discussing and issuing a call for an
International Hacktivism Gathering in Y2K?

PPS. Next FloodNet in support of micro-radio (aka pirate radio) on Oct. 5
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