Defending Andrew Auernheimer

There’s a documentary, The Hedgehog and the Hare, being made about the prosecution of Andrew Auernheimer (aka “the weev”). The filmmaker wants to interview me for background and context on the hacker culture. The following is a lightly edited version of the backgrounder I sent him so he could better prepare for the interview.

I’ve watched the trailer. I’ve googled “weev” and read up on his behavior and the legal case. The following note is intended to be a background on culture, philosophy, and terminology that will help you frame questions for the face-to-face interview.

Wikipedia describes Andrew Auernheimer as “grey-hat hacker”. There are a lot of complications and implications around that term that bear directly on what “weev” was doing and what he thought he was doing. One good way to approach these is to survey the complicated history of the word “hacker”.

My authority to explain this rests on having edited The New Hacker’s Dictionary, which is generally considered the definitive lexicon of the culture it describes; also How To Become A Hacker which you should probably read first.

In its original and still most correct sense, the word “hacker” describes a member of a tribe of expert and playful programmers with roots in 1960s and 1970s computer-science academia, the early microcomputer experimenters, and several other contributory cultures including science-fiction fandom.

Through a historical process I could explain in as much detail as you like, this hacker culture became the architects of today’s Internet and evolved into the open-source software movement. (I had a significant role in this process as historian and activist, which is why my friends recommended that you talk to me.)

People outside this culture sometimes refer to it as “old-school hackers” or “white-hat hackers” (the latter term also has some more specific shades of meaning). People inside it (including me) insist that we are just “hackers” and using that term for anyone else is misleading and disrespectful.

Within this culture, “hacker” applied to an individual is understood to be a title of honor which it is arrogant to claim for yourself. It has to be conferred by people who are already insiders. You earn it by building things, by a combination of work and cleverness and the right attitude. Nowadays “building things” centers on open-source software and hardware, and on the support services for open-source projects.

There are – seriously – people in the hacker culture who refuse to describe themselves individually as hackers because they think they haven’t earned the title yet – they haven’t built enough stuff. One of the social functions of tribal elders like myself is to be seen to be conferring the title, a certification that is taken quite seriously; it’s like being knighted.

The first key thing for you to understand is that Andrew Auernheimer is not a member of the (genuine, old school, white-hat) hacker culture. One indicator of this is that he uses a concealing handle. Real hackers do not do this. We are proud of our work and do it in the open; when we use handles, they are display behaviors rather than cloaks. (There are limited exceptions for dealing with extremely repressive and totalitarian governments, when concealment might be a survival necessity.)

Another bright-line test for “hacker culture” is whether you’ve ever contributed code to an open-source project. It does not appear that Auernheimer has done this. He’s not known among us for it, anyway.

A third behavior that distances Auernheimer from the hacker culture is his penchant for destructive trolling. While there is a definite merry-prankster streak in hacker culture, trolling and nastiness are frowned upon. Our pranking style tends more towards the celebration of cleverness through elaborate but harmless practical jokes, intricate technical satires, and playful surrealism. Think Ken Kesey rather than Marquis de Sade.

Now we come to the reason why Auernheimer calls himself a hacker.

There is a cluster of geek subcultures within which the term “hacker” has very high prestige. If you think about my earlier description it should be clear why. Building stuff is cool, it’s an achievement.

There is a tendency for members of those other subcultures to try to appropriate hacker status for themselves, and to emulate various hacker behaviors – sometimes superficially, sometimes deeply and genuinely.

Imitative behavior creates a sort of gray zone around the hacker culture proper. Some people in that zone are mere posers. Some are genuinely trying to act out hacker values as they (incompletely) understand them. Some are ‘hacktivists’ with Internet-related political agendas but who don’t write code. Some are outright criminals exploiting journalistic confusion about what “hacker” means. Some are ambiguous mixtures of several of these types.

Andrew Auernheimer lives in that gray zone. He’s one of its ambiguous characters – part chaotic prankster, part sincere hacktivist, possibly part criminal. The proportions are not clear to me – and may not even be clear to him.

Like many people in that zone, he aspires to the condition of hacker and may sincerely believe he’s achieved it (his first lines in your trailer suggest that). What he probably doesn’t get is that attitude isn’t enough; you have to have competence. A real hacker would reply, skeptically “Show me your code.” Show your work. What have you built, exactly? Nasty pranking and security-breaking don’t count…

Now, having explained what separates “weev” from the hacker culture, I’m going to explain why his claim is not entirely bogus. I can’t consider him a hacker on the evidence I have available, but I’m certain he’s had hacker role models. Plausibly one of them might be me…

His stubborn libertarian streak, his insistence that you can only confirm your rights by testing their boundaries, is like us. So is his belief in the propaganda of the deed – of acting transgressively out of principle as an example to others.

Combine this with a specific interest in changing the world through adroit application of technology and you have someone who is in significant ways very much like us. I think his claim to be a hacker is mistaken and shows ignorance of the full weight and responsibilities of the term, but it’s not crazy. If he wrote code and dropped the silly handle and gave up trolling he might become one of us.

But even though Andrew Auernheimer doesn’t truly seem to be one of us, we don’t have much option but to join in his defense. He’s a shady and dubious character by our standards, but we are all too aware that the kind of vague law and prosecutorial overreach that threw him in jail could be turned against us for doing things that are normal parts of our work.

Sometimes maintaining civil liberties requires rallying around people whose behavior and ethics are questionable. That, I think, sums up how most hackers who are aware of his troubles feel about Andrew Auernheimer.

124 thoughts on “Defending Andrew Auernheimer

  1. Eric, I suspect that the filmmaker is looking for a hacker martyr to put on display and you have just diminished his status to that of a lesser combatant. It will be interesting to see if this documentary is to be a window-on-reality or a propaganda hit piece. I would emphasize that hackerdom is a leadership movement more so than a rage against the machine.

  2. @esr:

    I think you nailed it. As TomA points out, it will be interesting to see the final message.

  3. tz: Not only did Randal literally write the book that got me interested in Open Source, but I thought merlyn (and tchrist) were amazingly helpful to newbies like me in fact, clarity, AND attitude. I cannot speak to the quality of Larry Wall’s code, but somehow he built a community that included those two. ‘Show me the code’ is a test to exclude some wanna-be hackers, but I think the hackers who build something lasting also build a community.

  4. You don’t really get weev — or the kind of trolling he did — at all. The central theme behind his trolling activities was a deconstruction of the social assumptions underlying the internet and other information networks. The GNAA stuff was a deconstruction of the internet as medium as well as other media; Goatse Security was a deconstruction of the whole concept of computer security and how exploit information is disseminated. Auernheimer himself makes a compelling case that exploits should only be distributed to activists who will use them in the interests of social justice, because none of the other agents who would have an interest in the exploit (vendors, governments, and attackers) are particularly trustworthy, and full disclosure destroys whatever value the exploit may have had as a tool to fight oppression.

    So from a certain perspective, these weren’t merely random acts of destruction. They were carefully designed to expose certain uncomfortable truths about our society. And that, ultimately, is what may have landed him in jail: not that he committed a relatively trivial hack against a woefully insecure Web server, but that modern 21st-century Murka (really, Western civ) can’t afford to suffer people like him exposing the truth about our society and infrastructure. So we try them on whatever charges we can press, convict them, and throw them into the memory hole of our prison system. Or worse, execute them (in the case of Aaron Swartz, convince them to execute themselves).

    Also, he’s a renowned reverse engineer and exploit developer. So to insinuate that he hasn’t built anything is dishonest and insulting. He’s probably built stuff that could break your box :)

  5. The first key thing for you to understand is that Andrew Auernheimer is not a member of the (genuine, old school, white-hat) hackerculture.

    I agree with you completely on this.

    One indicator of this is that he uses a concealing handle. Real hackers do not do this. We are proud of our work and do it in the open; when we use handles, they are display behaviors rather than cloaks.

    This however is something where I have to disagree with you strongly. I myself use a pseudonym, and for me, there have been both positives and negatives in doing so.

    There are a lot of reasons someone might use a pseudonym other than a repressive/totalitarian government. It could be that they work on software that some organization or individual out there don’t like. That could include anything from privacy-enhancing software (Tor), peer-to-peer software (BitTorrent), DRM circumvention software (DeCSS), or any number of other similar things where publicly disclosing ones identity might be considered more risky than using a pseudonym.

    In my own case, I stuck with a pseudonym after being threatened by IRC server owners and operators back in the mid to late 1990s due to patches I created for Eggdrop which corrected a number of flaws that they had been exploiting to detect Eggdrop bots (automated IRC clients) on their servers.

    A major upside for me to having stuck with a pseudonym is that more than a decade later, it gave me some isolation when I began to be targeted by others. One downside is that there are people who take you less seriously simply because you use a pseudonym.

    My own opinion on the use of pseudonyms is that it isn’t really the name that’s important. The more important things are the person’s contributions and actions.

    A third behavior that distances Auernheimer from the hacker culture is his penchant for destructive trolling.

    Absolutely!

    Auernheimer absolutely loved to troll and attack others. For me, this is the red flag and the reason I personally can’t consider him a hacker.

    Another thing to consider here though is that this is more due to how he learned to interact with others online. In the circles Auernheimer was active in early on, trolling/bullying/harassment of others was seen as fun and encouraged. This probably wouldn’t have been the case had he been more active within the open-source software community.

    My own opinion is that people can really go either way. If they become involved in trolling and that behavior is reinforced early, then they can take on that sort of persona. On the other hand, if they are brought into an open-source software project or otherwise engaged with the hacker community early on, they are far less likely to become an online troll.

    Now, I don’t think Auernheimer is a bad person…I do however think he was a jerk and could at times be a complete and utter asshole. That said, I don’t think it was right to prosecute him for publicly disclosing such a stupid flaw in a public website, and a flaw which caused no real damage or long term problems for anyone.

  6. >Also, he’s a renowned reverse engineer and exploit developer.

    Yeah? Where can I read his code? Who would use it for any purpose that isn’t malicious? Even you know why writing exploits doesn’t count for him.

    The rest of your rant is just tedious political bullshit. Auernheimer hasn’t made me any more free or better off, no matter what rationalizations he utters for being a toxic jerk.

  7. @Jeff Read:

    Weev has been on my radar for awhile. Maybe it’s just the filtration that comes from not being directly connected to him, but most of his deeper thinking seems to me to be rationalizations for things that he has already done. For all I know, all his deeper thinking was provided by others who were happy to help provide rationalization to someone sticking it to the man.

    I could be wrong, and even if I’m right, none of us know exactly where we are going to wind up, so in general, not having a roadmap before you start out is not necessarily a bad thing. Except, of course, when your actions seem designed to provoke powerful entities.

    Eric’s right. No one should get in trouble for simply showing that AT&T’s security was made of tissue paper, and certainly no one should be on the hook for AT&T’s costs for applying a modicum of security to their own system, but weev is, by design, an extremely unsympathetic character. I’m all for honoring his choice, which means I have no sympathy.

  8. The rest of your rant is just tedious political bullshit. Auernheimer hasn’t made me any more free or better off, no matter what rationalizations he utters for being a toxic jerk.

    How do you know that? How do you know there isn’t, e.g., another Snowden using his sploitz to get more dirt on the three-letter agencies of the world?

    “Show me the code” is not appropriate in all contexts. There are an increasing number of occasions where it’s necessary to operate from the shadows. Because you can be damn sure that’s where the enemies of freedom are operating from.

    As for being a toxic jerk, I never said he wasn’t. But there’s a method to the madness. I mentioned deconstructive trolling; I actually believe that deconstruction and trolling are intimately related. The writings of Jacques Derrida, and the works of Marcel Duchamp, actually make sense when interpreted as long-form trolling of the philosophical and art communities, respectively. And in all cases, it’s done to make a point about unstated, but deeply held assumptions.

  9. >How do you know there isn’t, e.g., another Snowden using his sploitz to get more dirt on the three-letter agencies of the world?

    If such a person surfaces, I might have to cut Auernheimer more slack. I’m not holding my breath until this happens.

  10. I have the (dis)pleasure of having interacted with weev on IRC before. No matter what bullshit justifications are sought for it being deconstruction of something or other, it was annoying, destructive and unproductive. It was also technically trivial (things like flooding channels by introducing large numbers of bots repeating things like “ni**er” or “ki*e”).

    That aside, he was clearly involved in some shadey stuff, as it becomes obvious from reading logs where he begins by thinking of what ways to commercially exploit the vulnerability and only afterwards decides to claim that it’s some kind of activism. I’m actually pretty favourable to disclosure and activism online, and more likely to be sympathetic to those positions than most, but I have zero sympathy for people using these excuses as covers for lumpen petty fraud.

  11. >It was also technically trivial (things like flooding channels by introducing large numbers of bots repeating things like “ni**er” or “ki*e”).

    Quite. A real hacker, supposing he were moved to, would come up with something cleverer and more subtle than a spambot.

  12. >One downside is that there are people who take you less seriously simply because you use a pseudonym.

    Yes, and this is functional. In order for the hacker social machine to function, we have to stand behind our work – we have to maintain it and be accountable.

    Choosing to mask yourself when you don’t have a reason as compelling as “the STASI will come for me if I don’t” appears as an evasion of responsibility. Also as a kind of hypocrisy; in a society that doesn’t have a STASI-equivalent, it smells bad to advocate process transparency, open source, and full disclosure while hiding who we are.

    You may have good intentions (I’m prepared to assume that), but this community norm is not going to change. Nor, in my opinion, should it.

  13. Because you can be damn sure that’s where the enemies of freedom are operating from.

    Who are you and what have you done with Jeff Read?

  14. He’s been around here long enough to know what resonates with the readership.

  15. Yes, and this is functional. In order for the hacker social machine to function, we have to stand behind our work – we have to maintain it and be accountable.

    What you seem to be implying is the use of a pseudonym and accountability are mutually exclusive. That isn’t necessarily the case though. If someone uses a pseudonym for a very long period of time and stands behind their work, the pseudonym might as well be their real name. If someone were to choose a name such as Bob or Jerry, how would you even know that it wasn’t their real name?

    I agree with you that the work product and the accountability of the person matters, but I don’t think it much matters what they choose to call themselves.

    Choosing to mask yourself when you don’t have a reason as compelling as “the STASI will come for me if I don’t” appears as an evasion of responsibility. Also as a kind of hypocrisy; in a society that doesn’t have a STASI-equivalent, it smells bad to advocate process transparency, open source, and full disclosure while hiding who we are.

    Is it really though? In today’s society, just publicly criticizing or saying something that a company or individual doesn’t like can get you sued, harassed, cyberstalked, etc. Using a pseudonym offers some (limited) protection from that sort of thing. A downside to using a pseudonym in this case is that there is always the risk of being “outed” though.

    Then you have the cases where a company or government goes after someone for publicly disclosing (or discussing) software vulnerabilities or how to defeat DRM for the purposes of using content you’ve already legally purchased.

    Another area I’m familiar with where the use of a pseudonym has in the past been common are women involved with open-source and online communities such as IRC. Some women choose to take on male sounding or androgynous names. This can be either so they will be taken more seriously, or so that they can avoid the online equivalent of catcalls from some male geeks who don’t seem to know how to behave around women.

    I get where you are coming from on the issue of pseudonyms, but I don’t think it is fair to use that as part of the litmus test to determine if someone is a “true hacker”.

    You may have good intentions (I’m prepared to assume that), but this community norm is not going to change. Nor, in my opinion, should it.

    Are you sure that this isn’t already beginning to change?

    “I hunt sys admins”

    How the NSA Plans to Infect ‘Millions’ of Computers with Malware

  16. >In today’s society, just publicly criticizing or saying something that a company or individual doesn’t like can get you sued, harassed, cyberstalked, etc. Using a pseudonym offers some (limited) protection from that sort of thing. A downside to using a pseudonym in this case is that there is always the risk of being “outed” though.

    Which is why I don’t buy your argument. The degree and kind of protection offered by a handle is exactly wrong – not good enough to evade serious opponents if what you’re attempting is social change, just good enough to hide from individuals if you’re engaging in small-scale irresponsibility.

  17. The whole hacker word issue once again causes me to wonder if defending the word is futile. And by that, I don’t mean that I think it IS futile; I mean that I genuinely don’t know. (How would I find out?)

    If it were, then one option would be to use a new word, including creating one. With all the tradeoffs that would bring (dissemination, coattail-riding, carpetbagging…).

    Meanwhile, the world is filled with people who can’t help but believe that “hacker” denotes a special case of criminal, because that is the first meaning they happened upon. Do they have any less right to that association than those who learned it meant a type of playful programmer? The former set’s meaning came later, but they don’t know that. And how would they learn? Again, there’s little stopping a carpetbagger from saying “don’t listen to him! MINE is the true meaning!”.

    Is there ever a point when it’s worth staking a new term instead of valiantly defending the old one?

  18. The whole hacker word issue once again causes me to wonder if defending the word is futile.

    Prescriptive linguistics has worked so well for the French, after all.

  19. >Is there ever a point when it’s worth staking a new term instead of valiantly defending the old one?

    You have to consider relative overheads. Inertia is significant. At least, when defending the existing term, we can point to authorities with some heft. Besides, can you even imagine the flamage that would ensue if we tried to define a new one?

    This is why I’m trying to nudge the community in a direction I think it wants to go anyway – less about who you know and more about bright-line tests like “do you push code to public repositories”?

  20. Meanwhile, the world is filled with people who can’t help but believe that “hacker” denotes a special case of criminal, because that is the first meaning they happened upon. Do they have any less right to that association than those who learned it meant a type of playful programmer?

    Imagine if it weren’t the word “hacker” but something a bit more P.C. and relatable, like “feminist”. And imagine that there were first a bunch of Women’s Libbers who had united and labored under the “feminist” banner, and then, a couple decades later, a bunch of Valerie Solanas types went around causing mayhem under the rubric of “feminism”. “Feminist attacks” became common topics on the news, and whenever someone said “feminist” the image that was called to mind was a crazed, dangerous woman who wants to cut up men.

    Some might argue that that scenario is not terribly far removed from reality, but that’s a different debate.

    Ought not the original feminists, whose activities were legitimate and aims noble, have the right not to be associated with such rabble? Ought not they fight to preserve the original sense of the term they coined to identify themselves, and with it the history of the term, the movement it was coined for, and to distinguish themselves in the public imagination from the later usurpers?

    In a sense I can see where Eric is coming from. By the same token, even most software professionals use hacker more often in the breaking-and-entering sense. Part of the problem is there’s no easy word in English to describe what a hacker in that sense does, so the first term to come along tends to stick extremely well. Even “white-hat hacker” is narrowly scoped, and refers to someone who performs computer security penetrations for legitimate purposes, for example as a paid member of an authorized “tiger team”.

    “Cracker” is not an acceptable substitute; that means either a salty snack, a pejorative for Caucasians, or a person who strips the copy protection off proprietary software for software piracy purposes. “Cracker” in the black-hat-hacker sense is a Stallmanism; like most Stallmanisms it has enjoyed virtually zero uptake outside Stallman himself and his fancritters.

    That said, the original sense of “hacker” is enjoying a burst of resilience thanks not to the usual suspects of Stallman and Raymond, but Paul Graham and the quasi-cult of the startup he helped establish. This has led to lots of annoying side effects like the concept of “growth hackers” and “civic hackathons” consisting of suits brainstorming about what to do with downtown municipal real estate. But these are merely irksome and not as damaging as the initial usurpation of the hacker label was.

  21. >That said, the original sense of “hacker” is enjoying a burst of resilience thanks not to the usual suspects of Stallman and Raymond, but Paul Graham and the quasi-cult of the startup he helped establish.

    With due respect to my friend Paul Graham, that is not actually not the most encouraging recent development.

    No, the best recent news on this front is all the positive PR and associations of the term “hackerspace”.

    And be fair. If it hadn’t been for RMS and me unitedly insisting that everybody keep the terminological faith, the hacker culture at large might not have held out until either the hackerspace movement or Y Combinator began to re-enlighten the journalists and mundanes. There were certainly enough people telling the both of us our insistence was noble but doomed. But we were (and still are) of one mind in this.

  22. Who are you and what have you done with Jeff Read?

    I support freedom, okay? I just have severe disagreements with some of ya’ll on the best way to preserve it.

    I find it interesting how Eric describes weev’s “libertarian streak” when the man is actually a full-on left-wing revolutionary. From certain angles, lefties and libertarians look a lot alike. A lefty is a libertarian who realizes that he didn’t spring from his his own asshole, to employ Craig Brozefsky’s imagery.

  23. “I mentioned deconstructive trolling; I actually believe that deconstruction and trolling are intimately related.”

    I knew there was a reason I thought deconstruction was bullshit. I, for one, think that trolling is unacceptable in any context for any reason, and trolls should be shunned just like anyone else who pisses in the punch bowl of conversation.

  24. >From certain angles, lefties and libertarians look a lot alike.

    Pfft. I have noticed before that lefties would like to think they resemble libertarians more than libertarians think they resemble lefties.

    Perhaps this delusion is caused by some sneaking desire to, you know, actually be on the side of freedom.

  25. @Tothwolf:
    “What you seem to be implying is the use of a pseudonym and accountability are mutually exclusive. That isn’t necessarily the case though. If someone uses a pseudonym for a very long period of time and stands behind their work, the pseudonym might as well be their real name.”

    This depends upon the purpose and the beholder. For something like straight-up publication (essays, code, whatever), and assessing credibility, you are correct. The handle of the person might as well *be* the person when I’m evaluating how to treat what I’m reading from them. In that case I don’t really care where or who the physical person is (unless it’s topical eg. writing about what you’re seeing in Crimea).

    For something like criminal actions, the reason to separate the handle from the physical person is to evade criminal responsibility. Eg. You decide to SWAT somebody’s house or send cocaine to their house and tip off the cops.

    If you are in Western Nation, you are pretty much able to express any opinion you want online and not suffer any criminal repercussions. Freedom of Speech/Press/Expression/etc. Though many of the laws we face are stupid and/or unjust, talking about them or avoiding breaking them is pretty easy in such countries, so claiming to require secrecy as a part of the process is pretty ridiculous.

    However, if you are in a not-so-free country, expressing disapproval of the Dear Leader is against the law and can get you killed. In this case, the libertarian instincts of most hackers takes over and it is accepted that this is a legitimate reason to want to hide your identity as there is a real threat to you.

    So, if you claim to be in a Western Country and you won’t provide a real identity and you are doing something that looks like it could be actually harmful, I am going to treat this as a serious risk.

  26. @esr:
    >Pfft. I have noticed before that lefties would like to think they resemble libertarians more than libertarians think they resemble lefties.

    To many social conservatives, libertarians and lefties do in fact look a lot alike.

  27. No, Jeff, lefties are righties who merely have a different set of actions they want to force other people to perform at gunpoint.

  28. To make terminology even more confusing: while hackers say whatever the public considers hacking i.e. breaking into systems should be called cracking, we who have been involced in the microcomputer gaming culture of the late 1980′s used the term “cracking” as “removing anti-piracy copy protection from games”. I am a bit nostalgic about all the C= 64 visual intros added to them by the cracker groups, like texts floating in sinus waves “cracked by Fairlight”, and all that jazz. Coded in assembler, usually.

  29. Choosing to mask yourself when you don’t have a reason as compelling as “the STASI will come for me if I don’t” appears as an evasion of responsibility.

    To this I have a response: Brett Kimberlin.

    BK and his pack of cybertrolls aren’t the STASI, but they have seriously damaged the lives of several of their targets. At least one person lost his job.

    They’re not the only such group out there,

  30. >To this I have a response: Brett Kimberlin.

    I’m not sure what this is supposed to prove. Everything has tradeoffs. You can choose to be so worried about cyberstalking that you mask yourself, or you can participate in the hacker culture’s public reputation game. I’m saying that as a general rule you can’t do both of these things; you have to choose one.

  31. From certain angles, lefties and libertarians look a lot alike.

    That’s nonsense. lefties and libertarians couldn’t be further apart. One says, “You respect my freedom and I’ll respect yours.” The other says, “I know what’s best for you and others so do what I say (or else).” The real attitude of lefties regarding libertarians is nicely captured by your last sentence:

    A lefty is a libertarian who realizes that he didn’t spring from his his own asshole, to employ Craig Brozefsky’s imagery.

    To many social conservatives, libertarians and lefties do in fact look a lot alike.

    Only in the sense that they both reject the social conservative’s proscriptive moral teachings. As Nathaniel Brandon once said in another context, lefties and libertarians are both against small pox but that doesn’t make them the same.

  32. “Pfft. I have noticed before that lefties would like to think they resemble libertarians more than libertarians think they resemble lefties.”

    Libertarians for the most part accept liberal values, but tend to propose more consistently liberal means to them, whereas the U.S. democrats and greens accept liberal values, but propose conservative solutions (state coercions) as means.

  33. I, for one, think that trolling is unacceptable in any context for any reason, and trolls should be shunned just like anyone else who pisses in the punch bowl of conversation.

    Because Alan Sokal was just a complete jerk who contributed nothing of value to the social dialogue surrounding the means and meaning of science.

  34. >Because Alan Sokal was just a complete jerk who contributed nothing of value to the social dialogue surrounding the means and meaning of science.

    I think Jay has a more specific sense of “trolling” in mind than you do.

    You are arguably right to call Jay on his definition being too narrow and his condemnation too absolute. But at the same time let us not forget that there is a large consequential and ethical difference between what Auernheimer did and what Sokal did.

    Spam-flooding an IRC channel with obscenities is not consequentially equivalent to to satirizing the intellectual vacuity of postmodernism. Treating them as equivalent would be a worse error than Jay’s, and I hope you are not seriously proposing that we should do so.

  35. I think Jay has a more specific sense of “trolling” in mind than you do.

    But his condemnation of “trolling” was specifically in response to such arguable commentary as Derrida. I’m inclined to agree that most deconstruction is bullshit in Frankfurt’s sense, but I also think that Chip Morningstar accurately identified the kernel of actual wisdom in the idea, that it’s important to maintain an awareness that the author’s motives and context are crucial to proper analysis of content, and to that extent Derrida has more in common with Sokal or Swift than with lowlife trolls. The difference matters.

  36. The power of memetics can be found in the hacker reference.

    The 1983 movie “Wargames” played a significant role in introducing the public to the idea of a renegade computer wiz that cracks his way into supposedly secure computer sites. This meme has been repeated endlessly in numerous other movies and TV shows. Think Cloe from “24″ or Stan Johnson in “Swordfish.” This is now a dominant and ongoing meme, and will likely continue because it’s a useful dramatic trope.

    If you do good diffusely, you’re the Salvation Army. If you do bad dramatically, you’re a notorious celebrity.

  37. Which is why I don’t buy your argument. The degree and kind of protection offered by a handle is exactly wrong – not good enough to evade serious opponents if what you’re attempting is social change, just good enough to hide from individuals if you’re engaging in small-scale irresponsibility.

    That’s why it works. It is “just good enough” when dealing with individuals and companies that might target you for what you say. Practically nothing is going to be enough to evade a government funded organization with an unlimited budget and resources. If you are on the radar of an organization with unlimited means, you’ve probably got much larger problems already.

  38. I use “trolling” in the original form: posting outrageous things one does not actually believe simply in order to draw reactions. That does nothing but poison the discourse, and lowers the trust level in the community. After all, if trolling is acceptable, what is one to do when confronted by comments that would normally deserve condemnation and ridicule? It also leads others who disagree with one’s posts to incorrectly label them “trolling” instead of engaging them. Personally, I think the “troll” moderation on Slashdot is used far too heavily for this purpose.

    If you’re going to challenge unstated assumptions, what’s wrong with stating them and engaging them directly instead of trying to slip past people’s bullshit detectors?

  39. You can choose to be so worried about cyberstalking that you mask yourself,

    For me, back then it wasn’t about cyberstalking, but my physical safety and well-being. There is however a very fine line between “cyberstalking” and systematic persecution, and I’d be more than willing to share some of my experiences with you sometime.

    or you can participate in the hacker culture’s public reputation game. I’m saying that as a general rule you can’t do both of these things; you have to choose one.

    Maybe generally that’s true, however it can be made to work, and I’ve managed to make it work for nearly two decades. I’m willing to accept that my case may be the exception, but because it can in fact work, I can’t accept the argument that using a pseudonym will prevent someone from being taken seriously by others within the hacker community. It could also be that pseudonyms tend to be more socially acceptable in certain parts of the hacker community than others.

  40. Just looking at his: http://weev.livejournal.com/, it looks like pure Hacktivism. Tried googling the site and couldn’t find one piece of code. Doesn’t appear that he has an account on Github, Bitbucket, or Gitorious.

    Most likely he leveraged a tool such as Metasploit(http://www.metasploit.com/) and was functioning as solely a consumer of code instead of contributor.

    Myself being an Information Security analyst, the ethical thing to do would have been to report the vulnerability without actually executing the exploit against AT&T.

  41. If you’re going to challenge unstated assumptions, what’s wrong with stating them and engaging them directly instead of trying to slip past people’s bullshit detectors?

    Because you can’t reason someone out of a position he didn’t reason himself into. The emotional effect of the upended perspective that comes with the satirical epiphany can jolt people out of mental ruts in a way that frontal assault sometimes can’t.

  42. That’s not enough of a gain compared to the damage that trolling causes to reasoned discourse.

  43. That’s not enough of a gain compared to the damage that trolling causes to reasoned discourse.

    Perhaps not in an environment that already consists of reasoned discourse. That doesn’t describe most large-scale debates or discussions at any stage in history. Even Athens had Demosthenes.

  44. Sorry, Christopher, but you’re simply not going to convince me that trolling has any place in discourse. It’s too destructive, too distracting, too damaging of trust and thought. It should be stamped out and its practitioners expelled from polite society as being totally untrustworthy.

  45. I use “trolling” in the original form: posting outrageous things one does not actually believe simply in order to draw reactions.

    [Trolling is] too destructive, too distracting, too damaging of trust and thought. It should be stamped out and its practitioners expelled from polite society as being totally untrustworthy.

    That’s an interesting, if modest, proposal.

  46. Justin Andrusk,

    Yeah, I was wrong about weev’s politics, or at least my information is not current. He now claims to be a Protestant and his rhetoric is vaguely socially conervative, including decrying the betrayal of his “Marxist” parents.

    Is this guy for real? Or is it more social engineering?

  47. >If you are in Western Nation, you are pretty much able to express any opinion you want online and not suffer any criminal repercussions.

    Unless you call having a SWAT team show up at your house believing you just called 911 and said you’d killed your wife and were ready to kill others “criminal repercussions” because cops think they need to shoot you.

    I made the decision to be pseudonymous in most of my online communications years ago because I knew I couldn’t be in four places at once to protect The Bride of Monster and both Monsterettes from the sick bastards that will go after your family if they don’t like you, and still earn a living.

    I wonder how ESR classifies “Moxie Marlinspike”. He definitely builds things.

  48. >Which is why I don’t buy your argument. The degree and kind of protection offered by a
    > handle is exactly wrong – not good enough to evade serious opponents if what you’re
    > attempting is social change, just good enough to hide from individuals if you’re
    > engaging in small-scale irresponsibility.

    There are other reasons for using a pseudonym (or nom de guerre if you will). It might not protect me much against Sony Music, or some random TLA, but it most certainly protects my money-making identity from being linked with the sorts of ideas and political positions that make one essentially un-hireable at all but the highest levels of this industry.

    James Donald and Timothy May might be able to get jobs–mostly as consultants I would suspect, but those of us 2-3 levels down on the food chain who still get jobs by sending resumes through the HR department, why I’d be homeless and my child living on stolen food if a couple of passes with a search engine linked my interest in firearms, martial arts and politics with my real name.

    I *barely* and VERY CAREFULLY discuss those things under my real name simply because if you’re a (kirkian bit.ly/1kDa3Vp) conservative with a massive distrust of large governments (I’ve been inside them and know how they work and don’t work) and a anarchist/minarchist/libertarian perspective, why you’re going to have a hard time finding work at any medium to large sized company.

  49. So, Jay, you want to ostracize devil’s advocacy (which is how you defined trolling), a useful tool of pedagogy and reasoned discussion since forever. Next you will want to ostracize inflexible, dogmatic thinking. ;)

    Me, I would modify your definition of trolling to include something like: because picking fights is how he gets his kicks.

    Yours,
    Tom

  50. Tom, I’ve got no problem with that. A useful clue is that anyone who does things “for the lulz” is someone to be shunned.

  51. Hackers hack for the lulz… :-/ (I know you really meant “destructive” as well…)

  52. @Tom DeGisi:

    > because picking fights is how he gets his kicks.

    But how do you know that?

    @Jay Maynard:

    > A useful clue is that anyone who does things “for the lulz” is someone to be shunned.

    When you presume to determine why somebody writes something by reading between the lines of what they wrote, there is somewhere a slippery slope that will slide you straight into that deconstruction that you claim to abhor.

  53. I meant those exact words. The destructive types do it “for the lulz”; non-destructive types use other words.

  54. Is it really that simple? All destructive trolls self-identify using verbiage that nobody else would?
    What cues did they use last century? What about in 1729?

  55. > If it hadn’t been for RMS and me unitedly insisting that everybody keep the terminological faith, the hacker culture at large might not have held out until either the hackerspace movement or Y Combinator began to re-enlighten the journalists and mundanes.

    And?

  56. Exactly, Patrick, it is not that simple. My modification to Jay’s definition renders his solution impossible, since not everyone who does it for the lulz will admit it – particularly if they know they will be ostracized. Being ostracized really cuts down on the lulz. That tells me he was being more hyperbolic than serious. Could be wrong about that. I am not good at reading minds.

    OTOH, some online communities work hard at providing no lulz to trolls. They seem to be successful. I don’t know how much good devil’s advocacy they forego. Jay may prefer only those communities. I like them, but I also like those that tolerate trolling.

    Yours,
    Tom

  57. Apparently if you use the word l-u-l-z too often you get stuck in moderation.

  58. @esr, I am interested in why you may feel like, on the margins, you may have to defend “weev”. He seems like another anti-institution, hacktivist, non-conformist, leftist sponge in the bit of research I have done. His motives aside, he talks about the primary effects from antisec are to make it un-cool for the younger generations to submit to the military-industrial complex. This sounds like a internet-millenial version of “don’t trust anybody over 30″ to me. And his roping off the white hats in favor of the grey stinks of redefining norms that would, if successful, damage the “true hacker” culture that you defend.

    So where is the redeeming work / qualities / moral justification? I am just not seeing it.

  59. Almost like the comment filtering triggers on that word because its a flag for a low-signal post, as if a great many people who tend to generate low-signal posts are more likely to use it… nah.

  60. @William O. B’Livion

    Agree, furthermore, being lower on the food chain means you haven’t got any chance for effecting social change anyway. Then it is just your hobby to be interested and comment on social and political ideas outside the mainstream. I think every time a person sees “the stars are right” – that there is a lucky situation he could effect some change, however small, by stepping up,he tends to do it with his real name, whatever the risks are, as people only listen to real people, not handles, in serious way.

    Besides there is art and self-expression and messages in handles. I took mine from my buddhist name, a way to always remind myself to keep that perspective and e.g. not get too angry on others (doesn’t always work).

    Finally, our opinions evolve and change. Actually ESR is unusually consistent in his, but as for me at 36 I think I was silly at 20 and may think at 50 the same of my current self, so it is good I use a different handle than back then. Different content under a different brand name, it just makes sense. It is helpful that I don’t actually believe there is a constant, unchanging self or ego connecting those contents, see above for the reason :-) Of course it would not absolve me of responsibility for harmful acts in the past, but simply discarding ideas I no longer hold with the handle / brand name used to express them is OK.

    A friend of mine, who is using his real name, used to say that we should never quote him without putting the year there, quote him as J. Smith, 2004 said so and so and not just Smith said so and so, because J. Smith, 2014 may actually disagree with that now.

  61. >So where is the redeeming work / qualities / moral justification? I am just not seeing it.

    It’s not his redeeming qualities that make him worth defending. It’s the fact that the legal theory under which he was prosecuted could be very dangerous to hackers doing many kinds of legitimate work.

  62. It’s the fact that the legal theory under which he was prosecuted could be very dangerous to hackers doing many kinds of legitimate work.

    This doesn’t go far enough, in the same way that first amendment arguments that talk about legitimate journalists don’t go far enough.

    A curious teenager with no training and not much skill might have done the same thing* as weev, with absolutely no ill intentions.

    * The same thing he was convicted of, not his actions in their totality.

  63. Boy, the moderation filter is working overtime lately. I have absolutely no idea why it is not happy.

  64. Boy, the moderation filter is working overtime lately. I have absolutely no idea why it is not happy.

    We’re running our mouths off about a notorious internet troll. The chances are significant that someone is trying to send some flying penises Eric’s way.

  65. >To this I have a response: Brett Kimberlin.

    I’m not sure what this is supposed to prove. Everything has tradeoffs. You can choose to be so worried about cyberstalking that you mask yourself, or you can participate in the hacker culture’s public reputation game. I’m saying that as a general rule you can’t do both of these things; you have to choose one.

    You didn’t limit your comment about masking to participation in hacker culture. I’ll agree that public FOSS work is unlikely to be dangerous unless one is exposed to a hostile and lawless government. But the same person may be engaged in other public activities which risk retaliation from determined sociopaths. Also the person may have fewer resources than you and more hostages to fortune. For example, someone who needs to keep a “day job” that provides health care that keeps a dependent child alive.

  66. It’s the fact that the legal theory under which he was prosecuted could be very dangerous to hackers doing many kinds of legitimate work.

    Not just “could be”. Has been. See the cases of Randal Schwarz (hacker doing legitimate work) and Aaron Swartz (hacker doing questionable but not outright destructive work that deserved no more than a slap on the wrist), both of whom were prosecuted under the same loosey-goosey interpretation of “unauthorized access” in the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act as was Auernheimer.

    Part of the problem is the American adversarial justice system, in which prosecutors are encouraged to read the law as broadly as possible to get a conviction and to seek the maximum sentence possible to intimidate the defendant into pleading guilty.

  67. Part of the problem is the American adversarial justice system, in which prosecutors are encouraged to read the law as broadly as possible to get a conviction and to seek the maximum sentence possible to intimidate the defendant into pleading guilty.

    It’s crucial to note that this isn’t a problem with the adversarial part but rather with how prosecutors’ career success is measured. The local sheriff, for example, is likely to campaign on results, such as the drop in the crime rate; the prosecutor’s career is dependent on convictions, regardless of the merit or societal benefit of those convictions.

  68. ESR is probably inspired by Voltaire : “I hate everything you say, but I’m ready to die for your freedom of speech anyways”. And I agree with both. freedom of speech, despite its numerous flaws, has a great positive value. Therefore, it should be defended – even if you don’t agree with the threatened speech.

    For Aliases, well, I’m just not good enough a hacker to be recruited just on reputation. as others said, I’ve got to pass through HR filters. The only thing you’ll find about me if googling my real name are my linkedin profile, & some reference to some betatest I’ve done long ago. nothing that would prevent me from being recruited by a suit-dominated company(where my skills belong, anyways). My linkedin profile I can control, and having betatested some obscure strategy game 10 years ago shall not frighten most HR drones.

    I understand it is frustrating for those who advance in the open, here or there. I personally think I cannot afford that level of publicity. I’m not good enough in hacking to afford that level of risks.

  69. I’m just enjoying the irony of a staunch libertarian insisting that people must use their government names in order to have any credibility. The very notion of relatively uniqueand immutable names are a state construct and a key instrument of state control and taxation.

    Anyway, trolling aside, I do think that it’s possible to succeed in the open source community even with principled pseudonymity: consider perl developer “chromatic”, and the late and lamented “why the lucky stiff”, both of whom have pretty significant contributions to open source while maintaining pseudonymity.

  70. I’m just enjoying the irony of a staunch libertarian insisting that people must use their government names in order to have any credibility.

    It’s nothing of the sort, and you’re reading that into it. Rather, it’s simply pointing out that in the hacker community, reputation is important in a way that’s been diffused in many other areas of economic activity (such as by professional licensure). The key isn’t the use of a specific government name but rather the willingness to stand behind an identity and link one’s reputation to one’s past.

    As a well-known example, Limor Fried has long used the handle ladyada, but that’s more akin to an artisan’s hallmark than a mask; as Eric mentioned, it’s a display behavior, just like her iconic hair.

    In my own case, I’ve used the name chrylis for close to twenty years now, but it’s not something I hide behind. Rather, my formal name is very common (e.g., there’s a US representative with it), and chrylis is, to my knowledge, globally unique. I use it consistently, and visiting https://www.facebook.com/chrylis will take you to my Facebook profile with my “real” name on it. This is in significant contrast to the use of a handle to hide who I am, which is the behavior under discussion.

  71. >The key isn’t the use of a specific government name but rather the willingness to stand behind an identity and link one’s reputation to one’s past.

    Precisely.

  72. “The very notion of relatively uniqueand immutable names are a state construct and a key instrument of state control and taxation.”

    Can you show me the historical record for that?

    Because e.g. the anarchic Icelanders – no slaves to States – didn’t change their names willy-nilly, nor am I aware of especially fluid naming practices anywhere in the West, ever. (The rest of the world I mostly don’t know enough to speak of.)

    Relatively unique and immutable names have obvious “social” (as in “interaction between people”, not “society”-anthropomorphised-to-justify-whatever-policy-preference) utility that people will more or less automatically enforce without any need for the State, as far as I can tell.

    The entire point of names is to let there be a linguistic label for someone; that argues strongly for – inherently, without States – relative immutability and uniqueness (within the context of their use; there are thousands of Tom Smiths, but you probably only know one, and this is even more likely if you were in a village where the second Smith boy would be unlikely to be given a confusing name, eh?).

    A name that changes randomly or matches a bunch of other people in your social group (“I’m Spartacus!”) is useless for the things people-not-states use names for, too.

  73. Be honest Jay Maynard: you’re trolling us. Someone who has spent as much time on internet fora as you have has witnessed the transformative rhetorical power of the troll many times. Any moment now, you’re going to suggest that internet trolls be sold for food.

  74. @ Shenpen on 2014-03-18 at 04:45:10 said:
    > Agree, furthermore, being lower on the food chain means you haven’t got any
    > chance for effecting social change anyway.

    No, it just means that the changes are minor. The middle of the road is defined by the extremes (see also “overton window”). By participating in local to national conversations free from the constraint of getting fired/not getting hired for my views I can “speak truth to power” and open that window.

    I can make (true) statements like “I believe that everyone over the age of 18 who has not been convicted of a violent crime should be able to own whatever weapons they want”, and “The compensation differences between men and women are complex and often are the result of greater risk taking, longer hours and focus”.

    This I can’t do under my real name.

    > Then it is just your hobby to be interested and comment on social and
    > political ideas outside the mainstream. I think every time a person sees
    > “the stars are right” – that there is a lucky situation he could effect some change,
    > however small, by stepping up,he tends to do it with his real name, whatever
    > the risks are, as people only listen to real people, not handles, in serious way.

    See Publis, A Farmer et. al.

    > Besides there is art and self-expression and messages in handles. I took mine
    > from my buddhist name, a way to always remind myself to keep that perspective and
    > e.g. not get too angry on others (doesn’t always work).

    Mine came because I’m not Minstral Boy or Reave Mekonta.

    > Finally, our opinions evolve and change. Actually ESR is unusually consistent in his,
    > but as for me at 36 I think I was silly at 20 and may think at 50 the same of my current self,

    When I look back at comments I made in the 90s the only twinge I get is how I expressed them. I have been relatively consistent. Sometimes the facts change, and one must adapt to them (it is more important to be correct than to win), but when one comes from core principles one shouldn’t change much.

    Or, I never had a heart. Whatever.

  75. Sigivald,

    Iceland is, afaik, the only Western country to still use patronymic names rather than surnames that remain the same generation after generation.

    Family surnames were instituted by governments to make ancestral relationships more explicit and easier to track for census-taking and taxation purposes. I guess Iceland just didn’t get that memo; the Commonwealth was still extant at about the time family surnames arose in England.

  76. In 18th century Germany, Jews were still using the son of system, when various rulers promulgated edicts compelling them to change over to the modern system of . The tax collectors of the various German states were to enforce this, and indeed, this all was for their benefit. The large number of Jewish families you see today with names like Rosenzweig, Rosenberg, Rosenstein, etc., dates from that time. Leaders of those families paid bribes to the tax collectors to have themselves recorded with what they thought were pretty, nice-sounding names.

    I should add, just for everyone’s amusement, something I was witness to, back when I was a grad student. There was another grad student there from Ethiopia. His name was Demerew – that’s it – just Demerew. Where he was from, everyone had one name, and everyone seems to have gotten along just fine with it….but not at The University, which seemed to be utterly incapable of handling such a subversive idea. Demerew filled out forms left and right, and always had to answer, “But, what’s your last name?”…”I don’t have one. I’m just Demerew.”….”But, you HAVE to have a last name.”….”Why?, is there a law, or something?”….”Uh….everyone has one.”….”I don’t. Where I come from, nobody does.”

    Demerew eventually got disgusted and just gave them his father’s name to use. No use turning The Great University into a smoldering ruin over this.

  77. If you’re gonna troll, you should have the balls to troll LEOs:

    When answering the doorbell holding a Wii controller is already a capital offense in the United States, I’ll pass on that one.

  78. I think it should at least be noted in the category of “weev is a toxic jerk” that he was responsible for calling down enough fire and brimstone on Kathy Sierra (apparently for the crime of… being a female tech writer? I don’t get it) that she disappeared from public life for six years, posting her social security number and home address on a full-disclosure mailing list, claiming and then later denying responsibility for it; he’s anecdotally (I know a guy who knows a guy) claimed to have bullied someone to the point that they committed suicide; he was stupid enough to publicly talk smack about an ongoing case on Reddit (the AMA consists mostly of people talking about what a toxic jerk weev is) which was cited by the prosecution at his sentencing. Aggressive stupidity may be common, but I don’t think it’s very hackerly.

  79. @Christopher Smith:

    > When answering the doorbell holding a Wii controller is already a capital offense in the United States, I’ll pass on that one.

    Oh, sure, focus on the negative.

    On the positive side, look at the plausible deniability. Maybe that guy really did have a gun tucked into his pants. Then when the real cops show up, it’s just “Eh. They thought I had a gun, but it’s really just my awesome tat.”

  80. @TomDegisi: Facebook has a new language called Hack.

    I understand that instead of

    pause;

    you just use

    errrrr;

  81. @Tom DeGisi:

    Re your blog post — you must be a pretty libertarian conservative — most conservatives would just lock ‘em up and throw away the key.

  82. @patrick maupin: I am not sure that is true now, if it ever was. There is a sense (mostly wrong) of conservatives being reactionary in the service of some overarching ideology. In fact, conservatives in the Burke-ian tradition are reactionary in the service of liberty. I think what’s interesting about @TomG’s post is that he’s done a pretty concise job of showing that other forces are reactionary in the service of an ideology.

  83. Patrick,

    You would be surprised how many conservatives agree with this statement: There are way too many people in prison in this country.

    I say there are way too many innocent people and way too many guilty people. I’m not a libertarian because I believe in tradition and the teaching aspects of the law.

    John,

    Thanks. So few progressives realize how old their new ideas are.

    Yours,
    Tom

  84. >I’m not a libertarian because I believe in tradition and the teaching aspects of the law.

    That’s an interesting statement. It implies that you think libertarians generally don’t believe in these things.

    There is more variation in this than you may realize. There is a strong strain in libertarianism of reverence for Anglo-American common-law, and a sense that its “teaching” aspects have been corrupted by the intrusion of statism into a legal theory that was decentralist in origin.

    Similarly, while I am not particularly a traditionalist myself, I report the existence of libertarians to which Russell Kirk’s “organic wisdom of institutions” is very much a live concept. Even for those of us to whom that does not seem very important, part of our complaint is that the expansion of state power has crowded out older, humbler ways of organizing that served human needs better.

  85. @Tom, @John:

    Over the last few decades it’s the supposed party of conservatives that repeatedly scared voters with things like Willie Horton, and actually won votes doing so. To be fair, apparently in focus groups, this strategy was determined to viable to keep cross-over Democrats who voted for Reagan, but of course, that means that, best case, the conservative politicians were willing to be hypocritical in order to win votes. (As an aside, you can argue whether Willie Horton was a justice problem or a racist problem. You will get significant pushback either way.)

    In any case, the Republican Party has acquired the cachet of being hard on criminals, and the reputation of being home to “conservatives”, and most current political actors, from Senators to Supreme Court justices are doing nothing to dispel either of these notions.

    I don’t disagree that original true conservative philosophy is different than the “conservative” mainstream Republicans of the last few decades, and it appears that in some respects, e.g. Tea Partiers, the motion may be moving back in that direction.

    The problem with labels.

  86. Eric,

    True. There is a lot of cross-over between libertarians and conservatives. I hope we are larning from each other.

    Patrick,

    Music genres are also hard to label.

    Willie Horton is not a particularly good example of lock em up to contrast with my examples. He was a very violent criminal. When we talk about violent crime, conservatives, libertarians and progressives tend to like locking people up. OTOH, I do think he is advertising shorthand for toughness on crime. On the gripping hand, when people think tough on crime, they really do want that toughness most for violent crime. Gun control is a progressive idea to combat violent crime, by contrast.

    There has been a significant trend towards more and more felonies and longer and longer sentences and less and less judicial sentencing discretion. (All of which I, in libertarian fashion, think are wrong, although I am intrigued by the notion of bringing back flogging to replace jail.) Both conservatives and progressives follow this trend. Libertarians and the Tea Party are, I think, slowly convincing conservatives this is wrong. As far as I can tell, what progressives learn from libertarians are how to use rules to nudge the populace whichever way they want. But then progressives think they are libertarian if they only want to keep the government away from bedrooms and bongs. The whole liberaltarian notion was lame.

    Yours,
    Tom

  87. @Patrick: Yeah, labels are always wrong in an instance. Affiliation in a two party system suffers from this too, except that it’s better than anything else out there. But it is a mistake to identify Republicans with Conservatives.

    @Eric: Kirk’s ideas largely grew out of Burke’s, with some emphasis on his opposition to the French Revolution and his support of the American one. Eventually, “vive la revolucion” destroys everything in the name of the new order, which is being made up on the fly by people who are neither ethical nor moral. The “organic wisdom of institutions” is a touchstone that unfortunately doesn’t offer much in the way of opportunities for graft or corruption. However, FWIW, I think this melds right into open source culture, hacker-dom, and a network of technological craftsmen.

  88. Maybe I’m misunderstanding what “the teaching aspects of the law” means, but when I read that phrase I immediately think of the position, common among conservatives[1], that the law ought to be used to teach and enforce morality. That murder, for example, should be prohibited and punished by law because murder is wicked, and not simply because murder violates the victim’s right to not-be-murdered. That the law should not be limited to prohibiting and punishing crimes but also should be used to prohibit and punish sins that are not crimes.

    I do have respect for the traditions thrown up by the “marketplace of ideas” (as opposed to those created by a ruler’s fiat), and I respect the common law as a decent first-approximation of what libertarian law would look like. But I’m one of those libertarians that rejects the idea that law ought to teach morality, and that “there ought to be a law” against every sinful, wicked, or foolish action. The law is a spiky mace; a blunt instrument that nontheless tears great bleeding wounds, and its application ought to be kept strictly limited.

    [1] Very common among liberals, too. It’s just that liberals have somewhat different ideas from conservatives about what counts as “wicked” or “sinful.”

  89. >But I’m one of those libertarians that rejects the idea that law ought to teach morality, and that “there ought to be a law” against every sinful, wicked, or foolish action. The law is a spiky mace; a blunt instrument that nontheless tears great bleeding wounds, and its application ought to be kept strictly limited.

    I’m personally close to your position. But there are libertarians for whom the “teaching aspect” of the law is not void, even if the NAP limits its application.

  90. I understand why people don’t like the teaching aspects of the law. It is coercive. What I like the least about complete legalization of drugs, for example, is the teaching aspect of no law. Lots of people think that if something is legal it is perfectly OK. If we did a better job of shaming people in this country I would not mind so much. Shame is a wonderful way to cut down on the need for government involvement. If you are a libertarian you should encourage judging and shaming others specifically as a way to have fewer laws, and you should applaud social conservatives who embrace this method.

    Yours,
    Tom

  91. So … I think I get that @esr is willing to defend “weev” based on this paragraph.

    Kerr went on to suggest that in order for the CFAA to have applied in this case, there would need to have been some sort of “password-gate” or other way of keeping someone out, which was not present here. Kerr argued that Auernheimer did not hack into servers or steal passwords; rather, he discovered a major network security flaw at AT&T.

    I get where established law falls apart here, because is the boundary line where the data resides or what gates are in place to protect it.

    My response, pace @Tom’s argument, is that weev should have the decency to know that he was treading in a grey area and should have conducted himself as a white hat. His lack of “shame” (which I use as a placeholder for a lot of other cultural norms) is what got him in trouble here, not necessarily the act itself (which everyone seems to admit is in a grey area).

    In other words, weev is guilty first of acting like a jack ass according to the “established wisdom of institutions” … that is, the established hacker community. This is why above I asked Eric why he is willing to defend weev’s behavior — his first offense is against the norms of the culture that he is hiding behind. I can’t help but think that the courts are less inclined to see the established hacker community as an established institution if in fact weev is seen as its representative.

    As to his guilt before the law, my sense is that the cultural issue is much more on trial here. Both he and Schwartz acted individually, and their trials are very much going to set where the line falls. That said, having some understanding of what happened here (if the press can be believed) leads me to suspect that there was no wrong doing. He essentially peed on someone’s lawn who hadn’t put up a fence.

  92. The problem with “the teaching aspects of the law” is that if one grants its legitimacy, it is then used to support “teaching” that does violate the NAP.

    I don’t want law to teach. I want law to settle disputes. Unless an act violates (or tangibly threatens to violate) the person or property of someone other than the actor, government has no just power to prohibit it.

  93. Monster,

    The law will teach, whether you want it to or not. Well written and executed law to settle disputes will teach people how to avoid disputes. Well written and executed law to prevent violations will teach people to avoid violations.

    I understand that you don’t want the law to teach people to avoid drugs, for example. So we could live in little tribes, like they do in Afghanistan, and shame our young folks into not using drugs. But that does not work, even in Afghanistan. Too many Afghan youngsters still ruin their lives with drugs. I know that plenty of people can do drugs and not ruin their lives. But some people can’t.

    I am not sure we can afford people thinking that drug use is OK. Maybe we can. Maybe we can tax drugs and use the money to rehab the people with ruined lives. Maybe we can not tax drugs and just let them screw up their lives and the lives of everyone around them. That is the way we handle drunks. The results are not pretty, but maybe those are the best results we can get. I would prefer something better.

    Another example is adultery. From where I sit, if you ruin someone’s marriage by messing around with their spouse, you have violated them, and you should be liable.

    Yours,
    Tom

  94. I am not sure we can afford people thinking that drug use is OK. Maybe we can.

    We afford people thinking that alcohol use is OK. Actual evidence doesn’t support the “reefer madness” rationale for US drug policy, and rather suggests that the Sherlock Holmes model is more accurate.

  95. >The law will teach, whether you want it to or not

    It may have that effect, but that should not be its purpose/justification. If it’s teaching us how to avoid violating someone else’s person or property, that’s fine, because protecting our persons and property from violation is a just power of government. If, on the other hand, it’s teaching something that is not properly the law’s bailiwick, government has no business making a teachable moment out of it.

    Adultery violates someone’s rights. If you can’t point to a victim, then it can’t be a crime, no matter how badly you’d like to teach someone a lesson.

    Why should we have to pay to rehab drug addicts?

    There will always be people who engage in self-destructive behavior. You don’t have the right to threaten them with violence if they do so, which means you have no right you can delegate to the state to exercise as a just power on your behalf.

  96. @ Tom DeGisi – “The law will teach,”

    In traditional physical evolution (of many thousands of years ago), making bad decisions would likely get you dead. This negative reinforced helped eliminate such behaviors in future generations.

    In modern civil society, in which memetic evolution is now a significant overlay on physical evolution processes, the signals are getting increasing mixed. If serious drug abuse resulted in infertility, then the problem would likely diminish over time. Government sanction against drug users creates the illusion of remedy under the guise of rehabilitation, but in reality just gets in the way of nature taking its course.

  97. @Tom, @Monster

    The problem I have with this particular line of discussion is that the law, as practiced, has less to do with either of your moral or ethical stances, and a lot to do with tax revenues. There is no war on Alcohol per se because governments get a healthy dose of revenue from sales. Cigarettes the same way. Now sales of marijuana will follow suit and the war against it will whither away.

    There are several problems with this. First, the government and the law cease to be objective arbiters of whatever standard of justice you choose to pursue. Secondly, because of the perverse tax incentives, there is serious inertia when it comes to localizing the law. So if @TomD lived in a community that he might eventually convince to codify his stance on drugs (and for the purposes of this argument, I am extending drugs to include alcohol), it can never happen in the current climate. The government is a rent seeker with enforcement powers.

    The centralization and federalization of these laws are part of why these discussions don’t really lead to resolution. And it is why a pursuit of liberty at the national level is the only long term answer. Because the reality is that there is really room for both solutions … Monster’s libertine solution and TomD’s pay-for-infraction solution.

  98. >The centralization and federalization of these laws

    In context, it looks like you’re using the word “federalization” to mean “elevation to the level of national government”. That is an antonym of the original meaning of “federal”, which is the name of the system under which most government authority is held at a more local level, and only matters such as national security and international relations are managed by Congress and the agencies it empowers to do so.

    I am actually quite a fan of this decentralization. If there are domains in which government violates my “libertine” sensibilities (which I argue are not libertine at all, but libertarian/minarchist), let it do so at the most local level possible. That allows people to “vote with their feet”, as many are doing now. Look at how many people are leaving CA and how many are going to TX, for example.

  99. @monster > antonym

    No. I said what I meant – The centralization of power through a too-strong national government and the Federalization of these laws that distribute the ability to abuse power throughout the system between the National government and the state governments.

    At any rate, I am trying to convey the reality that prosecution of crimes is distributed many levels of government (including local municipalities). Taxation is likewise distributed. This creates a hydra beast of competing rent seekers before we ever get to the people involved in the transaction or the victim of a crime.

  100. >This is why above I asked Eric why he is willing to defend weev’s behavior — his first offense is against the norms of the culture that he is hiding behind.

    You misunderstand. I don’t think Auernheimer committed any offense that ought to be prosecutable. His “offense” against the hacker community – being a jerk while posturing as supposedly one of us – is not a matter for the law. I’m mainly willing to defend him because I fear repetitions of Randall’s ordeal.

  101. @ESR > You misunderstand. I don’t think Auernheimer committed any offense that ought to be prosecutable.

    And yet, he _is_ being prosecuted before the law, not matter how misapplied or misunderstood. It seems to me that your defense will likely be taken as a defense of his perceived crimes, and will do harm to the community that you are serving.

  102. > It seems to me that your defense will likely be taken as a defense of his perceived crimes, and will do harm to the community that you are serving.

    That’s a known risk any time one pushes back against vague or unjust laws. Do you propose that people should never push back in that situation?

  103. >Do you propose that people should never push back in that situation?

    Not at all.

    My question is in this instance only, and it is a tactical question with strategic implications. I am just wondering how to salvage the bigger war when this battle is a losing one. I don’t see that “weev” is going to ever be reconcilable in the court of public opinion, and any good that may come from his actions won’t be attributed correctly.

    In other words, not only am I against vague and unjust laws, but against their arbitrary and capricious application in the service of questionable interests.

  104. @John Koisch:

    Weev is apparently a dick. He’s apparently done lot of dickish things, some of which may or may not be illegal.

    If he’s done some illegal things, nail him on those. If he’s done dickish but non-illegal things, don’t force the law to fit. That’s a horrible precedent.

    Defending against the misuse of these laws is exactly the same as defending the free speech of Nazis. We do it precisely so we don’t become Nazis, and slowly take everybody.

    Bad cases make bad law. In this instance, the government has managed to make terrible law, and it needs to be reversed. Some of the worst law the government managed to make was on the issue of venue. This bad law is absolutely huge, and the appeals court can and probably should determine that weev shouldn’t even have been hailed into court in New Jersey in the first place. If it decides the case on this basis, it should also, but probably won’t, decide the CFAA was misused.

  105. @Patrick

    Now I think you misunderstand. This post was started by ESR discussing his role in a movie / documentary re: “weev”. His role, as envisioned by the director, was to defend “weev.” @ESR’s stance was a luke warm defense, and my question was, why?

    That is almost completely ancillary to the law or to my opinion about the law or the prosecution of the law. I have … not once … said that I defend either the law or the prosecution of the law or the overarching established rules on which the law and its application are being based. My point has always been about how the hacker culture would or would not defend “weev” since his actions were outside of its cultural norms while the action itself was not.

    >Bad cases make bad law.

    I think this is exactly backwards. It is because the law is poorly written and badly applied that this is a case at all.

    > We do it precisely so we don’t become Nazis, and slowly take everybody.

    First they came for the data entry clerk. Right, I get it.

    The issue is not just this case, but this case in the longer arc of “hacking” cases that started 30 years ago, went to Aaron Schwartz, and now includes “weev”. Insofar as I have a point it is that because “hackers” have an (undeserved) negative image and the word has negative connotations, that it is worth being careful how and whether you defend “weev.” For example, I think it would be interesting if ESR in the movie denounced “weev” on whatever grounds, but defended the larger space. There are other variations on the theme.

    And fwiw Patrick, I think the law is horrible. But clearing it up … over time, and through multiple precedents … is going to be that much harder if prosecutors like those in this trial continue to have an adversarial relationship with the hacker community.

  106. @John Koisch:

    Now I think you misunderstand. This post was started by ESR…

    No, I understand perfectly.

    That is almost completely ancillary to the law or to my opinion about the law or the prosecution of the law.

    And this is part of the root of the misunderstanding — you apparently think that judges, prosecutors and juries work in a void, completely unswayed by public opinion.

    Weev is not a sympathetic character. But if someone who was making a documentary asked you what you thought about Weev’s actions, what would you do? The assumption that the documentary will be made with or without your input is probably the correct one to make.

    And fwiw Patrick, I think the law is horrible.

    The original intent of the CFAA was not horrible. Amendments made to it post-9/11 are as horrible as a lot of other laws made for national security reasons, and the perceived ambiguities in the law that only a prosecutor and a judge could agree on are truly horrible. (Remember that juries aren’t supposed to question the interpretation of the laws given them.)

    But clearing it up … over time, and through multiple precedents … is going to be that much harder if prosecutors like those in this trial continue to have an adversarial relationship with the hacker community.

    And this is the other part of the root of the problem. The prosecutors in this case obviously acted in bad faith, in multiple ways, by any objective measure. They only universe they could possibly be “right” in is one wherein the ends always justify the means. We should not tolerate that shit, much less co-operate with them. It’s not our job to get on the right side of the prosecutors. It’s our job to educate the public, and help to pressure the prosecutors to get on the right side of the law.

  107. One of the problems with the law, in this case, is that it is part of a movement away from (to quote John Adams) “A government of laws, and not of men“.

  108. Perhaps I am insufficiently educated, but it seems to me that “deconstruction” is bullshit.

    Jeff Read said…

    The GNAA stuff was a deconstruction of the internet as medium as well as other media

    So… weev is helping us understand that the Internet and other media make it possible to be an incredibly offensive prick? There is value in this?

  109. > No use turning The Great University into a smoldering ruin over this.

    Oh yes there is.

    The *job* of a University, small or large, Great or Not-so is to inculcate knowledge of the world. If they refuse to learn or understand the world, why then what fucking use *are* they?

  110. So… weev is helping us understand that the Internet and other media make it possible to be an incredibly offensive prick? There is value in this?

    Immensely.

    When Marconi was giving one of the first public demonstrations of radio, his communications were hijacked by a rival inventor, Nevil Maskelyne, who proceeded to interject rude, trollish transmissions on Marconi’s frequency. Marconi had assured the public that his new technology was secure from eavesdropping or hijacking; Maskelyne’s antics put the lie to that notion.

    Effective trolling is disrupting the assumed flow of communication. Sure, it’s annoying, but it draws attention to the assumptions underlying the communication flow and shows one or more of them to be false. The thing is, there are far more malicious assholes than weev (think intelligence agents) who know the assumptions, know how things actually work, and are incentivized to manipulate the communications for their own benefit. People like weev serve an important social function by drawing common folks’ attention to the disconnect between the shared hallucination and reality, so there is less information asymmetry between ordinary users of an information service and malicious exploiters.

  111. >Andrew Auernheimer is a criminal and is also insane.

    I doubt the “insane” part. Sufficiently advanced trolling mimics insanity pretty well.

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