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The Vacuum Issue 11 spacer Issue 11
Computer Hacking
by Stephen Hull
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Anyone who has ever read anything about hackers will probably be aware of the particular penchant they have for pretence. That is to say, the hacker ostensibly does what he or she does for the good of mankind. Much is done to try and divert attention from such lofty motivation by emphasising the 'just for the hell of it' ethos of hacking. Given enough time however, a hackers conversation will invariably return to some moribund obsession with the rhetoric of human rights and, oddly enough, freedom of speech.
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Of course given enough time one can probably finesse - or coerce - just about any activity into the service of furthering the cause of human rights. Whether or not you manage to produce a compelling argument in the process is another matter entirely. Emmanuel Goldstein, editor-in-chief of 2600: The Hacker Quarterly, declares "Hacking is, very simply, asking a lot of questions and refusing to stop asking". It is? What a bizarre description, and so very patently not what hacking is all about.
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Mr Goldstein continues: "One of the common misconceptions is that anyone considered a hacker is doing something illegal. It's a sad commentary on the state of our society when someone who is basically seeking knowledge and the truth is assumed to be up to something nefarious. Nothing could be further from the truth". So, a hacker is really a kind of cyber-scholar, indeed their insatiable curiosity perhaps better qualifies them as a super cyber-scholar.
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But what about all that business of stealing people's credit card details and pirating software? Well apparently that kind of thing is only perpetrated by bad hackers - known as 'black hats' - as opposed to the good hackers or 'white hats' who only seek to 'break into systems' for altogether more altruistic reasons. Such Little-Endian-Big-Endian conundrums only muddy the waters further.
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The problem here is one of technocracy and the chronic loss of accountability and personal control incurred by its advance. The problem for hacking is that far from being any antidote to this issue it is of course implicated in it right up to its elbows. Hacking delights in its own profoundly elitist form of technocracy and the disempowerment it can inflict upon others. Technical expertise, regardless of brute quantity, does not amount to knowledge and however the mind of the hacker perceives itself, it is invariably bound to the corporeal shell of the computer junky.
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One should always be wary of specious comparisons but there does seem to be something in the hacker's argument which reminds one of the arguments put forward by the National Rifle Association in favour of upholding the right for American citizens to bear arms. It being a necessity for me to be able to have the means to blow your head off just to prevent you from doing the same to me. So thank heavens we have hackers to provide an insurgent technocracy against the establishment technocracy lest they ensnare us all in their web of secrecy.
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