Wednesday, July 06, 2005

A security and privacy view.

Let's say I'm a hacker. Let's say that I break into some poorly guarded website like, USC's, and I grab a name, address, age, and social security number of a person. I have stolen that person's identity. It's a crime. Now, let's say that I sell that person's identity to another person who profits from that position. That is also a crime. Let's say there is a witness to our deal and the police want her to testify in order to put all of us in jail, but she won't. So the prosecutor threatens her with impeding justice and throws her in jail. Most people would think that is justified, depending on the nature of the crime and it's outcome.

From a privacy advocate's standpoint, this is analogous to the Valerie Plame case. Plame had her identity stolen by a hacker (albeit a political one, but a hacker none the less). It was passed onto a fence who used it for profit (reporters). Both the hacker and the reporters have committed a crime. Apparently, Bob Novak and Matthew Cooper have avoided jail time by striking a deal with prosecutors (a time honored practice in our legal system). The 4th witness to the crime, who didn't report the incident, is going to jail for impeding justice.

Am I missing something? On the one hand, I understand that these are reporters and we want them to report stories, particularly since what we're talking about is a potentially impeachable offense. On the other hand, they are supposed to be willing to go to jail to protect their sources as they know they are doing something quasi legal and it is what makes their profession if not more noble, then something above tabloid. I admire Miller for going to jail. I don't feel the same way about Cooper even if his employer set him up or if his source set him free to discuss it.

No comments: