HACKER ETICS: HOW TO TEACH THEM, AND WHAT THEY ARE by Hal
Goals of the talk
Notions of hacker ethics
How hacker ethics are learned
Instrumenting your ethics
Goals of the session
To suggest a definition of personal ethics for hackers. This will
reject fixed cultural ethical definitions.
Why do ethics matter? This will help set some larger goals for
Teaching and learning ethics. How hacker ethics are communicated.
Bringing about ethical outcomes by hacking. How to translate your
ethics as a hacker into outcomes you believe in (rather than letting
Notions of Hacker Ethics
Many definitions of ethical behavior...
"Don't hurt others"
"Pursue higher goals"
"Do the right thing"
"Follow the golden rule"
These are personal definitions
Ethics often transcend
norms and laws
People may disagree about what is ethical. For example, civil
disobedience may be considered unethical, as may direct action, or
Ethics is hard to define unambigiously, and very difficult without a
A personal definition of ethical behavior might not be consistent
with action, or even self-consistent. Think of the environmentalist who
doesn't recycle, or the teacher who can't listen.
Ultimately, it's up to individuals to decide what behavior is
ethical, and what is not.
Ethical behavior is thoughtful and reflective, not thoughtless and
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Teaching and Learning Hacker Ethics
Ultimately, we learn from others
Hackers are often self-taught
But we learn from others: their code, writing and actions (as well
as face to face communication, at HAL, etc.)
We've learned what is right and wrong in many situations, but the
background we get from parents, school and friends might not apply
directly to online environments.
We can make up our own ethics, based on feelings and past
experience. (We can interpret without much input from others, but
originally it was other people who taught us how to make ethical
We can assume ethics doesn't apply to the online world. (After
all, it's not real).
We can look for signals for ethical interpretations of behavior.
(For example, reading what people have to say who are in similar
This last situation is something that all hackers can help to
happen: we can communicate our beliefs about ethical behavior through
our writings and our code.
We can help bring about ethics of the sort we desire
"Instrumenting" means we're implementing some sort of mechanism to
bring about ethical thought or behavior:
Through writing (in code and in natural language)
By carefully selecting options and default behavior in our code
By providing value-laden documentation
There are some excellent examples of instrumented ethics. Some
Great examples of modern hacker ethics:
magazine (and Website). Read the
letters, and see how ethics are conveyed consitently and tirelessly --
while freedom of information is stressed above all.
a geek implementation of the UN's human rights documents. Look at
BackOrifice as an example of ethics implemented in code and
documentation; Peekabooty is an even stronger example.
ESR's writings, including On Socially
and The Art of Unix
. Clearly, hacking is an activity of curiousity, drive
and skill -- not one of destruction.
Examples of where ethics could have been added
Freenet. In addition to adding a little ethics, this is a fantastic
platform to educate about copyright.
Most viruses, worms and trojans. We don't really need to be told
that Outlook has security holes (and the people that do need to be told
Towards Instrumented Hacking
Choose a goal. Social change ... education ... impressing your
Engage in hacking behavior consistent with that goal: write some
code, learn, explore, evangelize
In your actions (writing, coding, complaining...) communicate the
ethics behind your behavior
Make it easy for people who want to learn from your example (or just
analyze it) to see what you consider to be ethical behavior, and to
think about it.
Remember that ethics are learned through communication and example.
By communicating your ethics more clearly, you can help to bring about
(your definition of) ethical thought and behavior in others
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