Author Topic: Jeremy Hammond's Sentence Won't Stop Activist Hacking  (Read 1071 times)

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Jeremy Hammond's Sentence Won't Stop Activist Hacking
« on: November 18, 2013, 11:08:21 AM »
Jeremy Hammond's Sentence Won't Stop Activist Hacking

By DJ Pangburn

Today, Anonymous and LulzSec hacker Jeremy Hammond was sentenced to 10 years, after pleading guilty to the Stratfor hack and other computer-abuse crimes. Now that the government has made an example of Hammond, what does his sentencing mean for the future of ethical, socially responsible hacking?
In considering any implications for hacktivism, it might help to think back to the public tenor following the outing of Chelsea Manning as WikiLeaks’s Cablegate whistleblower. As the government built its case against Manning, some suggested that government whistleblowing might experience a chilling effect . Then along came whistleblower Edward Snowden two years later, who very clearly understood his slim chances for a fair trial, but still blew the lid off of the NSA’s various mass and targeted surveillance programs anyway.
While Manning was not a hacker (he had security clearance for classified databases), Hammond’s lawyers stated in a sentencing memorandum that he was inspired by the imprisoned whistleblower. Like Manning, Hammond felt that if someone has access to information exposing political or corporate crimes, then there is an ethical and moral imperative to make this information known to the public. In rather warped fashion, Hammond applied this belief to the infiltration of private databases, then embarked on a series of protest hacks against Stratfor, the Arizona Department of Public Safety, the FBI’s Virtual Academy, the Jefferson County, Alabama’s Sheriff’s Office, and other organizations.
Hammond, like Manning and Snowden, knew the potential for stiff federal prosecution and sentencing under the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act (CFAA). Hammond took the risk anyway. For him, the ethical and moral imperative outweighed the psychological and physical anguish of imprisonment. He was, to borrow an idea from author Eric Hoffer, a true believer in a larger cause—an open society but also a free internet. So, it would seem that Hammond didn’t feel any sort of chilling effect from Manning's case, but was rather emboldened instead.
What Hammond didn’t reckon with was the fact that the FBI had turned his LulzSec chum, Sabu, into a stool pigeon. While not technically a case of entrapment—the FBI would have had to overtly suggest illegal actions—Sabu’s role as informant seems to have influenced Hammond in certain other ways. Sabu acted as a cheerleader for Anonymous and LulzSec’s efforts, and didn’t advise against hacks even after his unmasking, particularly in his dealings with Hammond.
Could this give other would-be ethical and socially responsible hackers pause? It’s certainly possible. Thanks to Sabu, hackers can now never be quite sure that the government is secretly manipulating anonymous hacker protest movements.
Does this mean the era of the ethical hacker is dead? As long as government, industrial, and financial crimes exist, in all likelihood the socially responsible hacker will too. Sure, hackers will now have to weigh Hammond’s 10-year prison term against their desire to expose official and corporate corruption and wrongdoing, as well as think twice about their anonymous accomplices; but for some this risk will be well worth taking.
History is stocked with non-violent radicals and activists finding political value in imprisoned martyr status. We’ve seen this risky mentality at play during the Arab Spring in countries where punishment is often far more severe than here in the US, and sometimes outright deadly.
The simple truth for many activists is that breaking the law is sometimes necessary to expose what they believe are far greater crimes. This is the true mark of civil disobedience. Such is the fate of the whistleblower, whether they have official access to incriminating data or break digital barriers to obtain it.
Ultimately, Jeremy Hammond’s sentencing might have the exact opposite effect the government intends: the imprisoned hacker becomes a source of inspiration. In fact, Hammond, like Manning before him, is likely already an inspiration to many politically-motivated and civic-minded hackers. For such hacktivists, cyberspace is the new battleground in a much larger war for free and open democracy. They aren’t likely to capitulate so easily.


WikiLeaks        ✔ @wikileaks 
 RELEASE: over 500k new Stratfor files. Total now released over 5.5M.  #freehammond
  10:45 PM - 15 Nov 2013