The role of law enforcement is still being defined in hacker law. Yet it appears a heavy hand is being used. There are lawyers and groups coming to the defense of hackers such as the Hacker Defense Fund and the Electronic Frontiers Foundation. I have to conclude, along with Sterling, that this new area of law is worthy of more attention in terms of training police officers.
To get an idea about a hacker bust read the description below from Bruce Sterling's The Hacker Crackdown:
On July 22, 1989, the Secret Service showed up at the Leftist's house....
But now Leftist was pat-searched for weapons by grim professionals, and his bag of floppies was
quickly seized. He and his parents were all shepherded into separate rooms and grilled at length
as a score of officers scoured their home for anything electronic.
Leftist was horrified as his treasured IBM AT personal computer with its forty-meg hard disk, and
his recently purchased 80386 IBM-clone with a whopping hundred-meg hard disk, both went
swiftly out the door in Secret Service custody. They also seized all his disks, all his notebooks,
and a tremendous booty in dog eared telco documents that Leftist had snitched out of trash
We need to ensure due process in computer crime arrests, and that the laws of search and seizure are followed without disrespect of civil liberties. Confiscation of an already expensive computer system should be carefully considered in terms of a hackers budget, often a teenager's budget.
If hackers are in fact teenagers, some consideration for the youth of the suspect should be made, rather than throwing the book for simple web graffiti. A prank is still a prank, in intention if not in action. If a hacker makes the White House web site point to a pornographic web site he should not be facing ten years in jail. This type of sentencing shows all the zealousness of 'the 911 case.' It is over reacting in an already violent world.
I am not arguing against all punishment for hackers. Consider the community service component in the sentence of Robert T. Morris. I do support vigorous application of community service orders in hacker cases. Hackers are most likely computer programmers and they could really help out with community groups, for example.
Of course, there are web pages that publish more serious hate crimes or threats, but these, although seemingly cases of computer crimes are in the end murders or other serious crimes. They are not necessarily hacker crimes. That such cases can be considered problems of computer ethics is debatable.