Monday, January 28, 2008

Book Review: The Hacker Crackdown

The Hacker Crackdown by Bruce Sterling focuses on the 1990 dragnet by federal, state and local police forces to reign in the "digital undergroud". This is the sweep that led to the founding of the Electronic Freedom Foundation. It is a funny, interesting and unflinchingly fair book.

The cops in this book are for the most part, well-intentioned. The best of them share techno-mania and love of computers with their intended targets, the hackers. And the hackers themselves are a remarkably weird bunch. I mean, most hackers of the sort portrayed in this work are, well, losers. The only people who are shown as almost uniformly negative are the telecommunications corporations and their employees. It’s not the negativity of muckraker, merely of someone observing a culture both out-of-date and wildly bureaucratic. The book ends by focusing on the real heroes, the techno-libertarians.

The founders of the EFF aren’t good guys because they were “sticking it to the man”, they were (and very much are) good guys because they keep the cops honest. And, in reading about the trial of hacker “Knight Lightening”, the cops really need to be watched closely. Not because they are bad people intent of robbing us of our freedoms but rather, because our technological advances are creating large ambiguities in the legal system of this country. Ambiguities cops have to navigate and hope they don’t get caught on the wrong side of. The EFF are dedicated to forcing discussion of those ambiguities and possibly resolving them sometimes in order to help law enforcement do its job better.

I highly recommend this for those interested in the history of computers and digital freedoms.

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