As we've reported before, there appears to be a coordinated and dangerous effort on the libertarian left to anoint hackers as digital superheroes. A group of activist bloggers circulating around and including Glenn Greenwald, who once referred to hackers as "young online activists," have begun a campaign to characterize hackers as digital First Amendment crusaders and, in some cases, legitimate journalists. Among them, the hacker collective known as Anonymous has been defended by Greenwald and his clique against criminal investigations and surveillance conducted by the U.S. and U.K. governments.
Over the weekend, hackers infiltrated Apple iCloud accounts held by a long roster of celebrities including Jennifer Lawrence, Kate Upton and Mary Winstead, and posted online the private photos and videos, including some nudes, from those account-holders. Reacting to the news, Greenwald disciple and host of The Young Turks podcast Cenk Uygur tweeted this:
Yes, because we wouldn't want the otherwise stellar reputations of hackers to be unfairly dragged through the mud.
And what the hell? "All other hackers?" This iCloud thing is pretty damn close to what all other hackers do. They're criminals who intentionally disrupt or even ruin the lives of their victims simply because they can. They do this because they're anarchists and nihilists with the technical means to exploit and expose private information in public view.
No, not all hackers steal and post our iCloud files -- nearly "all other hackers" do indeed commit crimes that are actually as bad or unbelievably worse, and they do it most often to victims who, unlike celebrities, don't have the means to recover as quickly. They empty bank accounts, they steal and distribute millions of credit card numbers, they delete vital personal files such as emails and other documents, they destroy websites and servers, they disable computer networks and generally incite havoc for anyone they target, be they random people, celebrities or corporations.
Other than state-sponsored cyber-warfare activities, hackers are the number one threat to online users. They're common burglars with the ability to steal far more than your TV or wedding ring.
The usual clique of left-libertarian voices, many of whom enjoy sizable followings, are actively campaigning to ennoble these crooks as somehow activists or even journalists. It bears repeating that anyone can cite First Amendment-protected speech to justify criminal activity, and if enough people agree, what happens then? Hackers get a convenient get-out-of-jail-free card, backstopped by the loud, relentless activism of Cenk and others. Even if a minuscule number of hackers use their skills for what they or Cenk or Greenwald consider to be the greater good, they're still breaking the law and should be prosecuted appropriately. Cenk seems to believe that the iCloud hackers are the exception rather than the nearly-across-the-board rule. In making such a naive and badly-informed assumption, he's badly misinforming his followers about the true nature of hackers.
As I've reported before, the hackers who infiltrated my email and websites in October, 2012 did so under the wafer-thin cover of political activism: a "Team Romney" logo splashed across what was previously the front page of my blog. Was this activism? Was this political speech? Or was it criminal activity that cost me personally thousands of dollars? Any reasonable person would conclude that my hackers were criminals above all else, even if they sought to attack me because they disagreed with my position on the 2012 election. They broke into my digital home and stole from me. Political speech doesn't apply here, no more than it applies in more extreme situations such as an assassination attempt against the president or a break-in at the DNC offices inside the Watergate hotel.
Even if in the very, very rare instance that a hacker acquires life-saving information from a government server and exposes it to the public, a law has still been broken. Worse, it's obvious that this would-be hacker possesses the means and the questionable discretion to gain access to other information and should not be allowed to continue his or her activities without proper accountability. What's so difficult to understand about this? Are we supposed to let hackers continue, backed with our ludicrously-placed trust, to act on their honor?
It's difficult to accept the astonishing degree of naivete displayed by Cenk and the others. To assume that hackers will only use their power for good, like keyboard-superheroes, is absurd on its face, and the judgment of their defenders needs to be vigorously questioned.