Rupert Goodwins' Bacchanalian Diary

Thursday 20/12/01Over in the US, more madness ferments. I've written about this before, but it bears a revisit.

Thursday 20/12/01

Over in the US, more madness ferments. I've written about this before, but it bears a revisit. One David McOwen, an IT support guy working at a technical institute in Georgia, put a load of distributed processing programs on the network and settled down to take part in an encryption challenge. So far, so good. Then, the institute noticed that unexpected data was passing around the network, found out about the software and told him to get it off. Well, fair enough.

Then, the story changes. Were warnings given? They say yes, he says no. Did he carry on running the software after being told not to? Again, there's a difference of opinion. This is unpleasant, but still the sort of stuff of employment tribunals.

Not in Georgia. Mr McOwen has been arrested and told he faces up to 120 years in prison and a $400,000 fine for eight separate violations of the state law on computer crime. For behaviour that is very much in the grey area of acceptable use, that hurt nobody and that, if not stopped, would have at worst contributed a smidgeon of data to a valuable research project, this seems beyond words. The prosecutors are claiming that it was made far worse by the presence of a $1000 prize to the person who cracked the encryption problem, which gives you an idea of how strong their case really is.

It's so tempting to say "Oh, those batty Americans" and leave them to it. But all it takes is someone to call such things 'terrorism' and we'll all be marched down to the nick at gunpoint in double-quick time for running Seti At Home. You mark my words.

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