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Sunday, 4 May 2008

BrumCon 07 - Morning

Yesterday was BrumCon07(.5). It was supposed to be in October, but was delayed. They plan to also have a BrumCon08 next October. So, when I arrived, I expected complete disorganization, but this was not the case at all. I plugged in all of my cables in the morning, but didn't get to do a sound check right away as they were showing Pink Panther cartoons, which were the cause of much hilarity.

The room would probably have been slightly too big for my monitor speakers. But, during the Pink Panther cartoons, it was clear that something was deeply amiss with the PA. The MGM lion roar was deafening, and the incidental music and dialog was barely audible. The bass levels might have been perfect for a dance party. But then when people started talking, later, with a mic, it was ok sounding. I was concerned, but not alarmed.

The first talk was about hacker stereotypes and hacker ethics. The speaker had been famous when he was a teen for being Britain's youngest (arrested) hacker. At 13, he was committing credit card fraud to feed his family. He didn't divulge too many details, but it sounded as if his parent(s) had drug problems and neglected him. He had a computer, though. At 13, he couldn't get a job, but he could use stolen credit cards to get groceries delivered to his house. He got arrested and tried for that. I think this would have been a really good time for social services to step in. I know we English speakers are very keen to punish everybody and make sure that people who do wrong suffer harm. But really, in this case, a kid stealing money for food? That's a good time to look at food stamps (or whatever they're called here) and foster care and whatnot.

Incidentally, this is why it's not entirely unfair for Americans to think of the UK as being set in Dickens novel. (Just like you lot think we're a cowboy movie.) Because leaving a kid in that situation is Oliver Twist like. Really, everybody, social services are good things. They help people get their lives together. They give a smart kid a future. But no, the British state sent him back home, where he kept doing credit card fraud, eventually getting less altruistic about it, until the point where, as an adult, he stole £750000 ($1.5 million) by breaking into unsecured e-commerce servers and now has an adult prison record for hacking.

Alas, he fails to distinguish between his actions at 13 and his actions at 18. Anything he did was justified simply because he did it. Now tech companies are reluctant to hire him and this is totally unfair!! Right, step 1, lose the attitude. The banks he broke into, let him fix their problems for them. The movie Catch Me If You Can was based on the memoirs of a kid who did a lot of fraud and then started working for banks. That's probably the best future for this kid. But seriously, what's putting people off as much as the prison record, is the whiny, self-righteous attitude. You don't have to actually be sorry about breaking into wide-open servers. But you could perhaps try to create that impression?

I think morally, there's a big difference between ripping off a bank and ripping off a person. Breaking into a server hosted in somebody's living room is different than breaking into a small company's colo, is different than breaking into a big company's server farm. The bigger the target, the less moral trouble, imo. This didn't come up at all, even in a discussion about the morality/ehtics of breaking in. I would think the Robin Hood model would be fundamental to such a morally murky area.

So the speaker was whining about how his juvenile record is permanently available via Google. Which is why newspapers shouldn't reveal the names of minors convicted of crimes. It's meaningless to seal juvenile records if it's going to be so easy to find them. The speaker seemed to think he was special in this regard. Imagine a group of people whose private business and embarrassing past was so easily available to anybody with a computer! Why, that's never happened to any sensitive minority group ever before! I can't think of a single other highly obvious example!

Yeah, I'm starting to have mixed feelings about search engines. Google has taken over a lot of government functions in the Silicon Valley. But this particular function is one that has more home in a police state than the benevolent, Medici-esque system that California and Google seem to be blundering in to.

More later . . .

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