Hacking: is it
  What ethical
theories could

Copyright Peter Timusk © 2000-2001

    When we look at ethics in the Western world, where most hackers and computer exist, we find Kant and his ethics, Mill and his ethics, and modifications of these.[2] Aristotle and other philosophers try to answer the question: "What is it we ought to do?" In Kant's ethics simply put, something is right or it is wrong, without regard to the consequences. It is wrong to lie, period[12]. According to Mill, we know something is the right thing to do when doing it will produce the most good for the most people[12]. With Aristotle, we want to produce happiness by being virtuous. Thus moderation of temperament is recommended[12].
    Hackers are considered unethical. There is an argument that Hackers are helping find security flaws in networked or other computers[15]. This has been offered up as a defense. It is not my defense and I believe it falls flat.
    Is hacking right under Deontological(Kant) ethics? It is probably not right. Is it right under Consequential (Mill) ethics? It might be. Is hacking right under a modified deontological theory based on a hierarchy of duties?[2] If the duty is education of the hacker, and this outranks the duty to respect privacy, then hacking is the right thing to do.
    Hackers argue that hacking is good and the right thing to do[4], but against this we would find an ethical judgment saying it is bad thing to do. If there were no privacy, if everyone broke into everyone else's computers, there would be no point in breaking into computers. There would no longer be a crime. There would no longer be any privacy either. Maybe we should not have computer security in the first place. If computers are a public good like roads, then perhaps we should allow access like we do with roads. But roads, too, have rules of access. Richard Stallman's analogy of toll roads and software[20] could be taken into this context, but arguing from analogy in ethics may be the wrong thing to do[14]. That is a first look at applying Kant's categorical imperative to this problem.
    Under a consequential ethical argument hacking might be right. Hackers argue that they do no harm. For example they do not delete files. In my case I argue did good as a hacker by uploading useful files for the advancement in physics lab work by other students. So my intended consequence was  to do something good. In particular,  arguing that one should expose harmful databases seems to be an altruistic motive[4][15].
    This boils down to questions of access to computer resources. The code of the professional computer workers says unauthorised access is wrong[1], The British Computer Misuse Act also defines this as wrong and sets penalties[5]. The professional code says we can protect computers with passwords, but only if doing so is not a discrimination[1]. Thus, the professional code relies on a deontological theory, something like the social justice theory of Rawls or perhaps a consequential ethic like Rule Utilitarianism. Later in the web essay we will look at consequential ethical theories in  more detail, and discuss how they might defend hacking. Throughout, we will look at social justice issues in relationship to hacking cases, laws, and penalties.

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Copyright Peter Timusk © 2000, 2001. Last updated September 29th,  2001. Created August 28th, 2000.
Web site for 32.214,  Carleton University.
Course Professor: Diane E. Dubrule Assistant Professor and Web Master Department of Philosophy.