B. Linn Winmill, Chief Judge of the United States District Court appears to have misunderstood the modern usage of the word “hacker” in a case in which he ordered the seizure of a company’s computers because they called themselves hackers on their website.
The Court finds it significant that defendants are self-described hackers, who say, “We like hacking things and we don’t want to stop.”
The Court has struggled over the issue of allowing the copying of the hard drive. This is a serious invasion of privacy and is certainly not a standard remedy, as the discussion of the case law above demonstrates. The tipping point for the Court comes from evidence that the defendants – in their own words – are hackers. By labeling themselves this way, they have essentially announced that they have the necessary computer skills and intent to simultaneously release the code publicly and conceal their role in that act. And concealment likely involves the destruction of evidence on the hard drive of Thuen’s computer. For these reasons, the Court finds this is one of the very rare cases that justifies seizure and copying of the hard drive.
The case involves Battelle Energy Alliance, a company that is suing a former employee, Corey Thuen, and his new company Southfork Security. The dispute is over a software program called “Sophia” that Thuen developed at Battelle. Battelle now alleges that Thuen used the code in violation of his former employment agreement with Battelle.
Winmill appears to envision hackers only as wrongdoers who invade and disrupt others’ computer systems for their own amusement or benefit.
More recently, when someone self-identifies as a hacker, it usually means he or she enjoys tinkering with things and figuring out how they work, and perhaps changing them to make them better. Facebook’s entire corporate culture, for instance, is based around hacking.
In the case above, the ordinary, modern interpretation of the word hackers implies that the company simply likes to take things apart and improve them. But the judge appears to have interpreted it as meaning the company has a more malicious intent.