posted Aug 21, 2001

Cyber Citizen lands Felony Charges?
Witch Hunts
'A good deed may lead to prosecution for Brian K. West, a 24 year old sales and support employee for an internet service provider in SE Oklahoma. Mr. West has become a statistic for the Computer Analysis Response Team because he alerted a local business to a serious security flaw in their website.'

'On February 1, 2000, one of West's co-workers created a banner advertisement to be placed on the Poteau Daily News website as part of a legitimate advertising campaign for his employer. To test how how the finished ad would look on the site, West clicked the 'Edit' button on Microsoft's Internet Explorer. This action brought up Microsoft FrontPage and should have created a local copy of the web page, allowing West to do a mock-up of the site on his own computer.'

I haven't created a new category in months, but I'm inaugurating a new one for this story: Witch Hunts. I'm going to define Witch Hunts in this context as times when the legal system reacts all out of proportion to the stimulus, and enters a mode where all it wants is a conviction and as much jail time as possible. In this context, witch hunts are frequently associated with completely ignoring contrary evidence, a complete lack of understanding (usually by choice nowadays, which is really scary) of the mechanics of computer security, and grossly inflated estimations of damage. (It's trivial to assign damages in this case: $0.00. In fact, the "damages" should be considered negative; the information should have led to real damage-preventing changes.)

This isn't the first witch hunt. The witch hunts conducted in our schools (if you are a student, I suggest leaving your computer competence at home) is another example of this. These things come in bursts, but in the past they tended to actually go after real hackers, albiet with ferocity probably unnecessary. This round seems to be just beginning, and the standards seem low.

Witch hunts are one of the most present dangers against our liberties, not just because you have no idea who will be next, but because of the mob mentality that develops. Mobs don't tend to support liberty. Mob logic distinctly tends toward "kill them all and let God sort them out." This kind of story is bad news for us all.


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