Democratic Underground

The Digital Knockout
September 25, 2001
by Elad

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The one-two punch strategy seems be a very well-developed technique with Republicans. It's extremely effective, and has a nasty way of demoralizing the opposition while scoring huge victories for the GOP. Here's how it works:

First punch - sweeping proposal that attacks many things the left holds dear Second punch - after passing in whole or in part the first punch, they then propose another even worse proposal.

The effect of this is that everyone ends up too busy fighting the second one and forgets about the first. Those who spent time working towards getting the first punch pulled, are now in a position of taking one-step forward and two-steps back because of the second punch. Everyone is left in awe, saying to themselves, "They barely pulled off the FIRST punch, how could they have the gall to throw a SECOND punch?"

A perfect example of this is the tax cut. Months after the tax cut was passed, after bitter partisan fights and tons of rhetoric, instead of counting it as a victory and moving on to other things, the GOP threw the second punch and now propose cutting capital gain taxes! Everyone is left wondering how they have the balls to propose a newer, even WORSE tax cut, when they should be damn glad they even got the first one.

One-two punch, the Democrats are KO.

In the world of computing, internet privacy, code hackers, 1 and other computer gurus, the first punch was the Digital Millenium Copyright Act, which passed Congress unanimously leaving Clinton no choice but to sign it into law (although he didn't show much opposition to it even before that, it's impossible to know whether or not he would have signed it if it had had a tougher time in Congress). The DMCA is a horrid piece of legislation that essentially overhauls all our existing copyright laws in the name of catering to huge special interests.

A few examples of the DMCA's absurdity:

1. It essentially outlaws the knowledge and possession of tools for reverse engineering, 2 which is equivalent to saying crowbars should be illegal because some criminals use them to break into stuff, not to mention reverse engineering is an established scientific practice and researchers at a major university have already been forced to sacrifice legitimate research because of the DMCA. 3

2. It has created the first illegal prime number. 4

3. In the landmark court case challenging the DMCA (which is currently in the appelate court), the district court ruled that a website which LINKED to another website that contained a tool for reverse engineering was liable for that website's contents. 5

For years, computer-activists (affectionately called "hacktivists") have been battling in court and in the public's eye to get the DMCA repealed, like its earlier cousin the Computer Decency Act which was quickly repealed after civil liberties groups piled on.

Now we're forced to forget the DMCA battle and fight the second punch. The punch that's twice as hard. The punch that makes even less sense. The punch that causes the most damage. And it's contained in legislation that has the backing of practically the entire country - The Anti-Terrorism Act.


"Hackers face life imprisonment under 'Anti-Terrorism' Act" screams the headline. Here's a small excerpt:

"Hackers, virus-writers and web site defacers would face life imprisonment without the possibility of parole under legislation proposed by the Bush Administration that would classify most computer crimes as acts of terrorism.

The Justice Department is urging Congress to quickly approve its Anti-Terrorism Act (ATA), a twenty-five page proposal that would expand the government's legal powers to conduct electronic surveillance, access business records, and detain suspected terrorists.

The proposal defines a list of "Federal terrorism offenses" that are subject to special treatment under law. The offenses include assassination of public officials, violence at international airports, some bombings and homicides, and politically-motivated manslaughter or torture.

Most of the terrorism offenses are violent crimes, or crimes involving chemical, biological, or nuclear weapons. But the list also includes the provisions of the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act that make it illegal to crack a computer for the purpose of obtaining anything of value, or to deliberately cause damage. Likewise, launching a malicious program that harms a system, like a virus, or making an extortionate threat to damage a computer are included in the definition of terrorism." 6

First of all, I have problems understanding how computer crimes can even be called acts of terrorism in the first place. The damage is 99% of the time strictly financial. Additionally, many cracks 7 of American corporate, private and government networks and websites occur from foreign countries, countries that we're allied with. If they refuse to extradite one of their citizens for defacing Microsoft's website with a plug for Linux so he can be sent to jail for life without parole, will we then declare "war" on them for harboring "terrorists"?

It gets worse. This legislation would also retroactively eliminate the statute of limitations on computer crimes, force convicted crackers to give the government DNA samples for a federal database, and harboring or even giving advice to a hacker would be considered an act of terrorism.

So in conjunction with the DMCA's broad expansion of what constitutes computer crime (although not yet a part of the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act, so the DMCA violations cannot technically be applied to the ATA, though it's only a matter of time until the CFAA is ammended) the government has basically given itself unrestrained freedom to do whatever it wants with whomever it wants if at any point in time that person did something the government didn't like with a computer.

Nine years ago, when I was twelve, I naively spat out the words "I hacked [...]" in an email. With no statute of limitations, and that being an act of terrorism, it's completely possible for me to be arrested, tried, and sentenced to life without parole. And this legislation could be passed within a week.

Anyone using encryption algorithms could be opening themselves up to life without parole. Anyone who DoS's their next door neighbor because their dog won't stop barking could be sentenced to life without parole (not that I would endorse such a DoS attack, but let's face it, it's hardly worthy of a life sentence).

The scores of websites and magazines dedicated to network security and the hacker community could be forced to cease and desist or face life without parole, since simply providing information about computers is now being considered an act of terrorism. To think I may not be able to read my regular publications, which yield so much useful information, because those publications could be considered tools for giving advice to terrorists.

And ultimately, that's all hackers want - information. They want to know everything they can about how computers work. Most don't commit crimes. Most hack for fun on their own personal networks. Many have written some of the greatest pieces of software out there, and made it available to the entire world for free, because that's their nature.

And now they're all terrorists. Nay, now we're all terrorists, because I do fall into the category of "hacker." And I do not commit crimes. For example, I have programmed many modifications to DU's message board software. If you go to the website of the company which created that software, you'll see that they themselves refer to, and indeed approve of, people "hacking" it. This shows how completely misinterpreted the term "hack" has become, and furthermore, goes to show the reach of this legislation when it inevitably is applied universally to the word "hack."

One-two punch, another bunch of commie liberal un-American bastards are KO.

And they said it could never happen here.

1. definition of how I use the term "hack" - hacking is learning about computers, originally applied to programmers who would "hack" a program to make it work differently. It is not a crime. A hacker is not a criminal. Some criminals are hackers.
3. and
7. definition of how I use the term "crack" - cracking is criminal hacking. A cracker is someone who steals credit card numbers, brings down websites, etc.