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US Government War On Hackers Backfires: Now Top Hackers Won’t Work With US Government

Posted on Thursday, 8th August 2013 @ 10:36 AM by Text Size A | A | A

Techdirt has noted the increasing demonization of hackers (not to be confused with crackers that break into systems for criminal purposes), for example by trying to add an extra layer of punishment on other crimes if they were done “on a computer.” High-profile victims of this approach include Bradley Manning, Aaron Swartz, Jeremy Hammond, Barrett Brown and of course Edward Snowden.

But as this Reuters story reports, that crass attempt to intimidate an entire community in case anyone there might use computers to embarrass the US government or reveal its wrongdoings is now starting to backfire:

The U.S. government’s efforts to recruit talented hackers could suffer from the recent revelations about its vast domestic surveillance programs, as many private researchers express disillusionment with the National Security Agency.

Though hackers tend to be anti-establishment by nature, the NSA and other intelligence agencies had made major inroads in recent years in hiring some of the best and brightest, and paying for information on software flaws that help them gain access to target computers and phones.

Much of that goodwill has been erased after the NSA’s classified programs to monitor phone records and Internet activity were exposed by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden, according to prominent hackers and cyber experts.

The article goes on:

Closest to home for many hackers are the government’s aggressive prosecutions under the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act, which has been used against Internet activist Aaron Swartz, who committed suicide in January, and U.S. soldier Bradley Manning, who leaked classified files to anti-secrecy website WikiLeaks.

A letter circulating at Def Con and signed by some of the most prominent academics in computer security said the law was chilling research in the public interest by allowing prosecutors and victim companies to argue that violations of electronic “terms of service” constitute unauthorized intrusions.

This latest development also exposes a paradox at the heart of the NSA’s spying program. Such total surveillance — things like GCHQ’s “Tempora” that essentially downloads and stores all Internet traffic for a while — is only possible thanks to advances in digital technology. Much of the most innovative work there is being done by hackers — it’s significant that the NSA’s massive XKeyscore program runs on a Linux cluster. But as the NSA is now finding out, those same hackers are increasingly angry with the legal assault on both them and their basic freedoms. That may make it much harder to keep up the pace of technological development within the spying program in the future unless the US government takes steps to address hackers’ concerns — something that seems unlikely.

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