Globe and Mail runs loony screed against "hackers", Aaron Swartz, logic

Cory wrote on Monday about Ahmed Al-Kabaz, the Dawson College Comp Sci student who found a massive bug on his school's website that left total data on thousands of students vulnerable to an easy hack. Ahmed reported the bug to Dawson's administrators and later checked to see if it had been closed. He was then expelled. The story outraged Canadians, disgraced Dawson College and won Ahmed some job offers. Yesterday, the editorial board of The Globe and Mail, Canada's "newspaper of record", published this contrary view:

"When did it become wrong to punish hackers?"

The piece not only sides with Dawson College on Ahmed's expulsion, it also takes the opportunity to state the Globe's support for Carmen Ortiz's prosecution of Aaron Swartz. And it goes on. In five galling paragraphs, the Globe and Mail has declared its opposition to Internet freedom fighters, copyright reformists, privacy activists, transparency campaigners, and hackers of any stripe.

Read it and I think you'll agree that it's a stunningly ignorant piece of writing. A proud declaration of ignorance. An ignorance manifesto.

It's beneath contempt and consideration, save for the fact that it was published by the most influential newspaper in Canada. So it must be dealt with. Where to begin?

"The international hacking community is currently up in arms after the suicide of Aaron Swartz"

Sorry, "the international hacking community"?

Are the academics who donated thousands of research papers to the public domain in Aaron's memory members of this "international hacking community"? Is Congresswoman Zoe Lofgren in this shady cult too, and is her bill in Aaron's memory a weapon of her radical cause? What about the hundreds of thousands of people who mourn Aaron because his contributions are so wonderful and his resolve to do good so inspiring? Are we the "international community of hackers", or is that just a convenient way of ghettoizing, belittling and dismissing us?

"Stealing is stealing," "rules exist for a reason," copyright is a "foundation".

Jesus, really? You'd think they wouldn't go there, considering what just happened.

Last fall, senior Globe columnist Margaret Wente was exposed as a serial plagiarist and a fabulist. The Globe knew about her thievery for months but ignored it for as long as they could. Then they tried to sweep it under the rug. Finally, they apologized, badly and insincerely. So much for copyright, so much for "stealing is stealing". And as for "the rules," they didn't apply to Margaret Wente. Her job was protected.

"In the age of the Internet, the massive downloading for free of music and movies and other copyrighted material has muddied the waters for many people."

What on Earth does music downloading have to do with Ahmed Al-Kabaz and his discovery of sloppy code that put himself and thousands of his peers at risk? What exactly does movie piracy have to do with Aaron Swartz's belief that locking away thousands of scholarly works, paid for with public funds and created for the good of humanity, was a crime that couldn't be tolerated? Who exactly is guilty of muddying the waters by lumping these disparate things together?*

Can the Globe's editorial board really not fathom the difference between running a security diagnostic tool on a website and launching a "cyber attack"? Would they uncritically appropriate language from a corporate press release in any other instance? Is this truly an inability to discern distinctions between fraudsters and fixers, between thieves and humanitarians, or just an angry refusal to even try?

Either way, it's no longer okay to be this stupid. Stubborn, willful stupidity like this, in the hands of power, has consequences.


Jesse Brown blogs at Macleans.ca and is on Twitter @JesseBrown.


*Actually, there is a connection between Ahmed Al-Kabaz and Aaron Swartz. Ahmed investigated a powerful institution to see if it was competent and safe, and when he discovered that it wasn't, he exposed it. Aaron believed passionately in the public's right to information. Both were doing journalism. In decrying their actions, the Globe has in effect taken a position against the basic mission of journalism .

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