Posts Tagged ‘Hacking’

Timothy Leary and the ethics of hacking

23 March, 2010

A while ago, i attended a meeting entitled “Hack the Planet” at a local Linux User Group meeting, The talk was interesting, but the speaker persisted in confusing the different meanings of hacker. As the mainstream media will tell you, a hacker is one who breaks into someone else’s computer system, for pleasure or profit. This meaning is often at odds with the original sense of the word in the world of computing:

  1. A person who enjoys exploring the details of programmable systems and how to stretch their capabilities…, who delights in having an intimate understanding of the internal workings of a system, computers and computer networks in particular.

Obviously, there can be an overlap between these senses. Someone may seek to hack into a system in order to learn, or as a challenge. But as more of our lives are lived online, money and malice become the stronger motives for the cracker.

I was musing on this, and how the ethical issues could be worked out in line with the principles of free software, and I recalled Robert Anton Wilson’s account of Timothy Leary’s philosophy. In particular, I remembered that the good doctor had articulated two new Commandments for the Molecular Age:

  1. Thou shalt not alter the consciousness of thy fellow man
  2. Thou shalt not prevent thy fellow man from altering his own consciousness

Just as Leary was defending our right to explore the limits and possibilities of our own consciousnesses, so the Free Software Foundation defends the right to explore the limits and possibilities of the software we use. People also need to be protected against exploitation by those who would manipulate their consciousnesses against their will. Just as our computer systems need protection as well, whether it is against the peddlers of DRM, script kiddies who want to pwn us, or fraudsters aiming to clean out our bank accounts and clone our cards.

Perhaps we need to propose a couple of new commandments, for the digital age:

  1. Thou shalt not access or modify others’ computer systems without their consent
  2. Thou shalt not prevent others from using or modifying their own computer systems as they wish

Certainly, these commandments would bear some qualification, but not bad, I think, as a starting point.