An old friend is considering all of the aspects of piracy and is trolling for some juicy tidbits on the subject for a seminar, nay maybe even a symposium on the subjects. I thought about different areas of interest from the typical to the recondite to the ridiculous.
My biggest interest is hacking public institutions. I'm curious as to what sorts of attacks might do other than to destabilize. Beyond just the coolness and power of assymetrical attacks, can a reasonable case be made for a constructive kind of destruction? It's dicey.
On the one hand, I am reticent about the kind of reporting / Woodward & Bernstein attitude that does less to inform than to cast doubt on national institutions. That entire cant of journalism strikes me as craven, because I don't see it ever shedding light on the virtues of the institution itself. It's always in the vein of the lone whistleblower whose deadly secret must take down the entire enterprise, rather than illuminate the inevitable failure that requires new energy to repair. Once you have decided that the tobacco industry is immoral, for example, you'll have 30 years of crusading journalists tearing it down brick by brick. That sort of thing is what I distrust.
On the other hand there can never be any slack in understanding the length to which human beings will corrupt themselves, and a dispassionate cold-eyed stare is a requirement. Moreover there should always be some agency involved in undermining that which is corrupt working hand in hand with proper rivals. Let there be a collection of underdog tobacco companies who are doing it right. Reveal their virtues, and strike at the heart of the devils.
Some piracy is not. Rather it is the sort of competition required. Speaking into this grey area, I think about the add for LifeLock in which the CEO gives out his Social Security number over the air - defying the conventional wisdom which is ossified into our trust in a broken security and ID system. I can think of that as a kind of assymetrical attack that undermines confidence in the status quo.
Back when I was about 30, I used a similar device by always saying my salary and debts and credit aloud in a kind of effort to undermine the respectability of such numbers. I think ultimately that was wrongheaded, but it made perfect sense to me at the time and did overcome 'silences'. I still have a lot of that ethic alive in me. It's unresolved.
Corporate espionage, according to somebody I know who knows, is much much larger than most people are aware. Patent trolling and intellectual property wars rage. I think there is a kind of intrigue in that area of American life that we probably spend more time moralizing against than actually understanding. And it is that aspect of piracy that requires some airing such that we can begin to support the kind of robustness we need in all aspects of our lives.
One of the things that I understand that I don't think a lot of people understand is the nature of the fence. I'll tell the brief story and shutup. I read a story about some clever kids who figured out exactly how to hack the subway fare cards of Boston's T. They got away with it until they began to try to profit from their enterprise. Technically it wasn't stealing until they tried to sell these fare cards. The same is true about the law against counterfeiting DVDs - or at least it was when I asked my brother the cop about it a couple years ago. It's not illegal to sell disks on the street, but it's illegal to copy the artwork that advertises that the content is a bootleg. The ethical boundary between hacking and theivery is all about making a market, of engaging buyers and sellers, not in the hacking.
The implications for corporate espionage and breaches are now thrown into a different light. The way that hackers can profit are by demonstrating flaws in systems - rather the way Penn & Teller show how magic tricks work. But if the corporation refuses to play along, it does in some way force the hand of the hacker.
So the ethics of free market competition would dictate that people sharp enough to discover flaws in security ought to be promoted. But if a hacked entity decides to keep things secret and not improve their system by admitting its weakness & committing to its improvement, then it is a kind of anti-intellectual dumbing down of security and meritocracy. Enough of this sort of corruption makes the hacker the real heroic character.