Security

Here’s Richard Stallman’s letter to Stratfor hacker’s judge demanding lesser sentence

Image Credit: Michael O'Donnell/VentureBeat

Richard Stallman believes the U.S. patent system damages the software industry.

Free Software Foundation president Richard Stallman tried to get Stratfor hacker Jeremy Hammond’s judge to only hand down a community service sentence. Hammond, instead, received 10 years in jail today.

Stallman provided VentureBeat with his letter in full, which you can find below.

Hammond, working as part of the decentralized hacking group Anonymous, accessed Stratfor’s systems and stole thousands of credit card numbers, usernames, passwords, and millions of private emails. While Hammond effectively destroyed Stratfor’s reputation at the time, he was tried under the controversial Computer Fraud and Abuse Act, which many believe is applies too harsh of punishments for hacking crimes.

Stallman argued that we should take these hackers and issue them community service projects involved in helping companies plug their security holes. Check out the letter and tell us in the comments if you agree.

  [ To any NSA and FBI agents reading my email: please consider
[ whether defending the US Constitution against all enemies,
[ foreign or domestic, requires you to follow Snowden’s example.

References about GNU and Linux:
http://www.gnu.org/gnu/gnu-linux-faq.html
http://www.gnu.org/gnu/the-gnu-project.html
Reference about copyleft:
http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/

Dear Judge Preska
I’ve been proud to call myself a hacker since 1971.  That’s when I was
hired by the MIT Artificial Intelligence Lab to join the team that
developed the lab’s operating systems — for which the unofficial job
title was “system hacker”.  My subsequent hacking career has included
developing the GNU operating system, which is often erroneously called
“Linux”, and the legal hack of “copyleft” which uses copyright law to
ensure that all users of a program are free to redistribute it and
change it.  I’ve received numerous awards and doctorates for my
hacking, and have been invited twice to publish articles in law
reviews.

Being a hacker means practicing and enjoying playful cleverness.  (See
stallman.org/articles/on-hacking.html.)  It does not particularly have
to do with breaking security.  Indeed, no one ever broke security on
the AI lab’s system, because we decided not to implement any.

That decision, made by the original team members who became my
mentors, was not taken lightly: it was the result of careful political
and philosophical thought.  Instead of keeping most users (those
without “privileges” — which already sounds like a prison) shackled
so that they could not hurt each other, we thought the lab members and
guest users could learn to get along as a community, choosing not to
hurt each other.  And they did!

This example is not unusual for hackers.  From the beginning, hackers’
taste for playful cleverness has often gone along with a sense of
social responsibility, concern for others’ well-being.  Jeremy Hammond
is a fine example of a socially responsible hacker.  He found a clever
way to expose the many nefarious deeds that Stratfor was planning and
proposing.

People should not be allowed to enter others’ computers without
permission; but when punishing someone for virtual trespassing, we
ought to consider his motive.  Those who trespass as part of a
nonviolent protest, either physically or virtually, should not receive
severe punishments.  Those who act neither for gain nor for malice
should not receive severe punishments.  Imagine where our country
would be if the civil rights and antiwar sit-ins had been punished by
years in prison!  If we do not want the US to be like Putin’s Russia,
imposing long sentences on protesters, we must steer clear of doing
so.  That applies to virtual protests as well as physical ones.

I therefore respectfully suggest that Hammond be sentenced to
community service.  To make use of his skills and abilities, this
service could consist of helping nonprofit organizations protect their
personal data.
Sincerely,
Richard Stallman
Lead developer of the GNU system (gnu.org)
President, Free Software Foundation (fsf.org)
MacArthur Fellow
Internet hall-of-famer (internethalloffame.org)