Hacking: The Ethical Dilemma

At the current time in the evolution of the internet an ethical dilemma is faced. The internet has provided the avenue to not only allow individual nodes to network and speak their minds but to share information freely to all nodes (Benkler 2011). Hacking figureheads such as Julian Assange and Edward Snowden highlight the possibilities and consequences of the cyberliterarian value that is information freedom (Khatchadourian 2010; Sterling 2013). There is the capability to spread information freely but is this at the expense of privacy and security?

Andrew Morse and Ian Sheer (2011), authors at the Wall Street Journal, label hackers as a “serious annoyance and even a threat in their own right”. Although, given that the Wall Street Journal is owned by News Corp who had their own systems hacked earlier that year, these views may present more than a little bias.

This opposes the view of Bruce Sterling (2013), a pioneer of cyberpunk, who sees hackers such as Julian Assange (below right) and Edward Snowden (below left, held up by Assange) as “fantastic figures” who “have the initiative in a world afflicted with comprehensive helplessness”.

Image: https://medium.com/@bruces/the-ecuadorian-library-a1ebd2b4a0e5

Internet sites such as WikiLeaks are viewed by some as an “instrument for good in societies where laws are unjust” (Khatchadourian 2010). Democratic governments such as in Australia, remain transparent within reason. In most cases, the secrets are held largely to protect legitimate policy (Khatchadourian 2010). However, those operating under the cyberlibertarian view believe that the public has a right and need for information freedom (Shirky 2008). Hence, there is a struggle for hackers such as Assange who feel that in the reality it is the individual versus the institution (Khatchadourian 2010).

The ethical dilemma of whether global citizens have the right to transparency or whether organisations and governments have the right to security is a sticky one which is likely to remain such for a long time to come.



Benkler, Y 2011, ‘A free irresponsible press: Wikileaks and the battle over the soul of the networked fourth estate’, Harvard Civil Rights – Civil Liberties Law Review, pp. 1-33, viewed 10 October 2014, <https://moodle.uowplatform.edu.au/pluginfile.php/245677/mod_resource/content/2/Benkler%2C%20Y.%20-%20A%20free%20irresponsible%20press.pdf&gt;.

Khatchadourian, R 2010, ‘No Secrets: Julian Assange’s mission for total transparency’, New Yorker, 7 June, viewed 10 October 2014, <http://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2010/06/07/no-secrets>.

Shirky, C 2008, Here comes everybody, Penguin Group, London.

Sterling, B 2013, The Ecuadorian library or, the blast shack after three years, Medium, weblog post, 2 August, viewed 10 October 2014, <https://medium.com/@bruces/the-ecuadorian-library-a1ebd2b4a0e5>.


13 thoughts on “Hacking: The Ethical Dilemma

  1. The ultimate battle with the Internet is with security and privacy. Because it is perceived as a cyber paradigm of democratic flow of information, what’s stopping the hackers? Nothing. With such access to importing information it can be seen globally, and once it’s up, to up there, there’s no going back. There’s a conflict between safety through lies and truth through lack of security, but we have to ask which one we really want.

  2. The debate will go on as the government believed that their actions was to enforce the national security while the global citizens thinks that they have rights for freedom of information and political transparency. In both the cases of Snowden and Assange, the government condemned them for disclosing private information which are not meant for the public while they themselves believed that they are practising responsible journalism. From the journalistic perspective, do you think the works of Snowden and Assange are ethical? On the other hand, what are your opinions on their work from your personal point-of-view? If you have access to a piece of important information that could possibly change the fate of a country, would you disclose it to public just like what Assange and Snowden did? Why?

  3. Well said, the challenging matter is that there are people sitting on either sides of the fence, and you have justly reflected each of these viewpoints. I think that it is difficult for us Australians to take a side with vigour as we haven’t got much to complain about. Nations like China who have a very rigid Internet policy may actually benefit better from a non-liberal stance. Mathias Klang suggested that perhaps a ‘relativistic position’ should be taken up regarding the freedom of information, ‘where the effect of the Internet on the state depends very much upon the state in question’. Suggesting that Liberal democracies would be improved by the Internet, while autocratic states might be threatened by it. I think that the Ethical dilemma stems from our misunderstanding of contrasting cultures, and our attempts to generalise a rule for the use of Internet for the entire world (see http://www.kus.uu.se/pdf/publications/ICT/klang_03_oct.pdf).

  4. I think you raised a very interesting point about this ethical dilemma between transparency and security in regards to hacking, and I think it is a valuable to discuss it, however I feel the institution will ultimately win every time purely based on their pose and authority.
    You used a lot of resources and linked them to back up your points, except I felt your post could of been executed better as I found some of the sentences didn’t flow nicely together making it a bit difficult to read.

  5. Great job. I liked how you covered both sides of the argument as I found it insightful and informative. I agree with you that this debate is unlikely to end soon as everyone has different opinions. How do we find the line between the iCloud nude leaks and Wikileaks? Or is there a difference between the two? It is questions like these that make this debate even more complicated. Nevertheless, the fact that hacking has the ability to affect us all is what I find most daunting.

  6. It’s quite hypocritical for News Corp journalists to demonise hackers given their own culture of phone hacking and the invaded privacy of both celebrities and of kidnapping/murder victims. It’s true that there’s ethical concerns regarding hacker culture though, although rather than the privacy of organisations and institutions I worry about the private lives of people who are having their private, intimate photos leaked from iCloud and Snapchat. The distribution of nude photos against the will of those depicted in the picture is a disgusting form of online sexual violation and serves as an ugly reminder that not everyone in the hacker communities are cut from the same moral cloth, even if broadly speaking they are guided by the same cyberlibertarian philosophies.

  7. I found it interesting how you related this back to the idea of cyberlibertarians, which we focused on a few weeks ago. Mostly how you tied it in with the current views of information sharing and how it can be considered as, whistleblowing on one end of the spectrum and treason on other. Depending on where you stand on the line, between the publics good (and the right to freely share information online, thought by the cyberlibertarians) or for that of big corporations and governments.

  8. Your blog was both insightful and interesting. This week there has been such a big debate on the ideas presented this idea that everyones blogs took a different approach. You mentioned the ethical dilemna about hacking and mentioned great examples including Assange, Snowden and Sterling which were good examples for your ideas. I feel you could have delved deeper into the idea of cyber-libertarianism and the hacking scandels themselves which woould have provided a greater knowledge of the hacking individuals including Assange and Snowden. Overall a good post though.

  9. A really interesting read. This topic fascinates me and your blog post certainly did it justice!
    Hacking and privacy are all really interesting to discuss. I have convered this in a previous class in which we actually went through some of the files released by wikileaks and boy oh boy they are actually REALLY hard to understand. They use jargon and stats that mean nothing to the average reader. The point I am trying to make is that while some things are important other things could just be considered to be an information saturation, that leaves the readers and viewers unsure of where exactly to go next. In theory wikileaks is a great idea but I think in practice, it has its flaws. I would recommend going and checking out the site and having a look at some of the files! https://wikileaks.org/

  10. I agree that the ethical dilemma of whether global citizens have the right to transparency or whether organisations and governments have the right to security is a sticky one so is likely to stick around for a long time to come. A lot of people believe that Assange is an darkside hacker who is a self-appointed, self-anointed, self-educated global dissident, but I believe he is a cyber-libertarian who just wants the freedom of information. You raised an interesting point about ethical dilemma’s between transparency and security in regards to hacking but I agree I think that the institution will win based on authority. Overall, this was a very interesting and well-written post!

  11. I agree that there is a serious ethical dilemma in whether we have the right to know and access certain information. However i would’ve would have loved to see you bring up a your own point of view on the issue as well than just pointing out the theory and facts behind it. Overall, a concise well written post.

  12. I like the question you raise about people having the right to know what their government is doing or do governments have the right to their privacy? I would say that people do have the right to know what is going on with their government, but, at the same time, governments do have the right hold information from the public. Some information could tear whole countries apart and cause wars. But I feel that if the government wants the ability to monitor peoples private ongoings on their mobile phones and other devices, then the government should expect people to want to know what is going on with them.

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