#183: Guilty by Text

[F.U.C.K. is an e-zine that I started on January 24, 1993 and ended on January 24, 2000. One concept is that articles should be timeless if possible, so they were not released with dates. As such, the date on this blog is not exact but I will try to use a date as close as possible.]

When a computer hacker gets caught, a series of events takes place that will dramatically change his/her life. The first thing after the investigation is complete, will be a visit by federal agents. They will come into the house and seize any computer or telephone equipment. Often times a year or more will pass before the hacker is brought to trial to defend himself.

During the wait to go to trial, the federal agents in charge of the investigation will search the computer for evidence to help convict the hacker. Sometimes it will take months for the agents to completely go through the hard drive, and look at each file. When they are done they will print out any file that can be used as evidence.

When a lack of true evidence exists, the prosecuting attorney will resort to other means to show the hacker’s guilt. Instead of providing logs that show detailed events that happen, they will provide text files and online magazines that were found on the hacker’s computer. Everything from Phrack magazine, to text files on making pipe bombs.

The attorney tells the judge and jurors that those kinds of files show intent. They go farther by saying that these files show the person is a hacker, has hacked, is malicious, and should be found guilty. Simple text files like the one you are reading. It doesn’t matter if the hacker was working on a term paper on the subject, or just wants to read other people’s ideas, those files supposedly only show guilt.

The question I ask is this:

If I own a gun, does that mean I am a murderer?

If I own a knife, does that make me a mugger?

If I own a fishing rod, does that make me someone who fishes illegally on other people’s land?

If I own a car, does that make me guilty of hit and run? Vehicular homicide?

Those may seem extreme, but if I am in court for a parking ticket, does the fact that I own a car make me anything else? Does it show my guilt? Of course not.

It seems that computer crime is the only exception to the rule. Since the law isn’t equipped to deal with computer crime, and train the attorneys, the victims in this case aren’t the system administrators, but the computer enthusiasts.

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