Hacking as a form of Social Activism

Posted: June 24, 2011 in AZ, Criminal in AZ, Department of Public Safety, Illegal Immigration
Tags: ,

The hacking of the Arizona Department of Safety personnel records has become a national story and I don’t plan to cover the facts because its really not necessary.  From the perspective of someone who has worked in IT for a fairly long time, I have to say that this is a classic example of how the weakest link in any security scheme are the people.  Essentially the hackers found a subgroup of officers who did not have to update their passwords nor follow the guidelines in regards to the complexity of their passwords.  The rest was probably a piece of cake.  This is the kind of case I would use when I teach college students about network security.

But that’s not what I want to focus on either.  What struck me most about this story was how I reacted to it.  My first instinct was “oh no, that’s bad”.  Then a second later it was “but wait, they’re striking back against recent state practices against immigrants” which I also oppose.  So I felt very torn.

I felt like a bit of hypocrite because I was overall supportive of the Wikileaks campaign of leaking federal documents.  However, it should be noted if they had not redacted the names of people who might have faced repercussions I would not have supported their efforts.  I think that is what bothers me about this current hack.

My first thought was for the officers and their families who do not support Arizona’s recent immigration laws and policy changes.  However, they have a job to do, probably a job they love.  They have families to support.  And they know that politicians come and go, but good LEO’s will stay on the job for decades.  The reason I know this is because I worked in law enforcement 20 years ago in Central Florida.  My political views were no less liberal then than they are now.  I have to admit I was one of the few liberals working in law enforcement who held such views, but there were others.  And even those who subscribed to conservative views didn”t condone everything the state did.  They’re not robots or party hacks.  They’re just people doing the best they can, getting paid very little to do it and getting no respect for it either.

So it is here in Arizona.  Some of these officers are descended from immigrants or have married into families with immigrants, some legal and some probably not.  Not every officer supports what the state does and some will outright oppose it but they do so risking their livelihood. Most that disagree won’t oppose it openly but they can and will vote their conscience. They can and will volunteer for candidates that oppose these ugly laws.  They can and will work for change within the discretion of their own position.  Most people not in law enforcement don’t understand the amount of discretion that an officer actually has in any given situation.  Believe me, the officer who doesn’t agree with these stupid laws will simply not impose them unless they are cornered and forced to by others.

The problem with this kind of hack is that it alienates the line officers who will often work quietly and internally against the actual enforcement of this law.  I fear the only result of this data hack will be that officers who might have advocated openly or taken action personally will no longer do so.  Surely there was a better way to punish the State of Arizona than to endanger AND alienate the line officers.

For those who don’t agree that officers are endangered, then you have your head up your ass.  Its one thing to know a cop that lives in your neighborhood, but its another to publish publicly information regardless of position or security clearance or risk to the officers themselves.

If you’re going to advocate for a cause and you intend to hack in furtherance of that advocacy, make sure you pick a target not just because you can get in but because it will actually help your cause.  In this case, helping the cause must not have been a consideration.

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