The Original Hacker Ethic
- Hands On Imperative: Access to computers and hardware should be complete and total. It is asserted to be a categorical imperative to remove any barriers between people and the use and understanding of any technology, no matter how large, complex, dangerous, labyrinthine, proprietary, or powerful.
As we can see, this has not been the case. The computer system has been solely in the hands of big businesses and the government. The wonderful device meant to enrich life has become a weapon which dehumanizes people. To the government and large businesses, people are no more than disk space, and the government doesn’t use computers to arrange aid for the poor, but to control nuclear death weapons. The average American can only have access to a small microcomputer which is worth only a fraction of what they pay for it. The businesses keep the true state of the art equipment away from the people behind a steel wall of incredibly high prices and bureaucracy. It is because of this state of affairs that hacking was born. (“Doctor Crash”, 1986)
- “Information Wants to Be Free” “Information wants to be free” can be interpreted in three ways. Free might mean without restrictions (freedom of movement = no censorship), without control (freedom of change/evolution = no ownership or authorship, no intellectual property), or without monetary value (no cost.) Some hackers even take this to mean information is alive, free to act on its own agency, as viruses, genetic algorithms, ‘bots and other software programs do. Most hackers seem to advocate this principle in different senses of the word “free” at different times. In any case, when asked about the content of the Hacker Ethic, most people assert this as the key principle.
There is much knowledge that is disallowed, hidden. Government activities, corporate crime, and “illegitimate” information needs to be disseminated. People without access to technology need it – they can contribute to the world. Distributing this information is illegal, potentially dangerous. This, in my humble opinion, is the best use of hacked accounts. Obtaining information, disseminating information needs anonymity. This protects your hide. This is important. Whistle blowers are only silenced when their identity is known…
Access to information
Yes, access is a right you have. You need to know when the government is killing people, radiating them, listening to them, lying to them, lying to you. You have a right to gain access to information about OUR government. This government is supposedly of the people, by the people, power granted by a social contract.
- Mistrust Authority. Promote decentralization. This element of the ethic shows its strong anarchistic, individualistic, and libertarian nature. Hackers have always shown distrust toward large institutions, including but not limited to the State, corporations, and computer administrative bureaucracies (the IBM ‘priesthood’). Tools like the PC are said to move power away from large organizations (who use mainframes) and put them in the hands of the ‘little guy’ user. Nowhere is this ethos stronger than among the anti-statist cypherpunks and extropians.
In fact, technology represents one of the most promising avenues available for re-capturing our freedoms from those who have stolen them. By its very nature, it favors the bright (who can put it to use) over the dull (who cannot). It favors the adaptable (who are quick to see the merit of the new (over the sluggish, who cling to time-tested ways). And what two better words are there to describe government bureaucracy than “dull” and “sluggish”?
The State will of course try to slow or halt the spread of this technology, citing national security concerns, use of the technology by drug dealers and tax evaders, and fears of societal disintegration. Many of these concerns will be valid; crypto anarchy will allow national secrets to be traded freely and will allow illicit and stolen materials to be traded. An anonymous computerized market will even make possible abhorrent markets for assassinations and extortion. Various criminal and foreign elements will be active users of CryptoNet. But this will not halt the spread of cryptoanarchy.
- No Bogus Criteria: Hackers should be judged by their hacking, not by “bogus criteria” such as race, age, sex, or position. Nowhere is this ethos more apparent than in the strong embrace by most hackers of the levelling power of the Internet, where anonymity makes it possible for all such ‘variables’ about a person to remain unknown, and where their ideas must be judged on their merits alone since such contextual factors are not available.
The Internet is one of the best hacks the world has to offer. It has continually shattered deeply ingrained social prejudices concerning characteristics such as age, race, wealth, and sex. In fact, it is common to find 14 year olds arguing philosophy with 41 year olds on America’s computer networks!
- “You can create truth and beauty on a computer.” Hacking is equated with artistry and creativity. Furthermore, this element of the ethos raises it to the level of philosophy (as opposed to simple pragmatism), which (at least in some quarters) is about humanity’s search for the good, the true, and the beautiful.
Without question, good/great programming (hacking) is art and as with art each person has their own signature and style (which changes over time). Quite a few years ago I was reviewing some derivative works of one hacker, and found the lack of signature and style of the original.
- “Computers can change your life for the better.” In some ways, this last statement really is simply a corollary of the previous one. Since most of humanity desires things that are good, true, and/or beautiful, the fact that a computer can create such things would seem to mean that axiomatically it can change peoples’ lives for the better. However, this is merely a declarative statement, which like the previous one reflects a deep-felt love of technology. It does not state explicitly that computers should always change peoples’ lives for the better, or the principle that would follow from that, which is that it is unethical to use them to make peoples’ lives worse. .. Many hackers see the Internet as an immense positive force, and this reiterated again by hacker Emmanuel Goldstein —
The future holds such enormous potential. It is vital that we not succumb to our fears and allow our democratic ideals and privacy values to be shattered. In many ways, the world of cyberspace is more real than the real world itself. I say this because it is only within the virtual world that people are really free to be themselves – to speak without fear of reprisal, to be anonymous if they so choose, to participate in a dialogue where one is judged by the merits of their words, not the color of their skin or the timbre of their voice. Contrast this to our existing “real” world where we often have people sized up before they even utter a word. The Internet has evolved, on its own volition, to become a true bastion of worldwide democracy. It is the obligation of this committee, and of governments throughout the world, not to stand in its way.
Thus, the ethical principles of the Hacker Ethic suggest it is the ethical duty of the hacker to remove barriers, liberate information, decentralize power, honor people based on their ability, and create things that are good and life-enhancing through computers. It remains an open question (of interpretation) as to whether it advocates the free distribution of software (the GNU/Richard Stallman position), the injunction against using computers for malicious purposes (the Clifford Stoll position), or the need for secure networks based on trust (the Steven Levy position.) Each of these document samples show that new hackers are aware of, and advocate (whether intentionally or accidentally) elements of the original Hacker Ethic.