Gary Mckinnon Extradition To US Blocked By UK Home Secretary | Techdirt

I was planning on making a quick comment on the Gary McKinnon case but the Techdirt article linked is one of the few I’ve seen actually making most of the valid points about this whole mess so deserved a special mention.

The question here is not whether McKinnon is criminally culpable for his actions (that can be established later), but whether it’s right to send him to a country he’s never been to stand trial when he already falls within the jurisdiction of UK courts and is obviously suffering health issues. I made a more flippant point previously on the questions of jurisdiction in these types of cases and, assuming the act is a crime in the place where a person is physically located it’s best left to be handled in that country. To do otherwise means we can end in a situation where a crime can be simultaneously committed in multiple territories (think of accessing data from cloud based services), or for someone to not know where they have committed a crime, or even if their actions are illegal in that location. That’s no way for the law to work. Extradition is a perfectly valid process in cases where a person has left the prosecuting jurisdiction and certainly has a place in the world; just not here.

I hope that, whatever the truth here, justice prevails and I believe that this is a good step towards making that happen. It also seems that we have a chance of doing something about the one-side extradition process we have with the USA.

As an aside I was forced to draw parallels with recent extradition cases (Abu Hamza et al) and reconcile differing views. I think there are some valid points in discussion but ultimately we look at questions of citizenship and the nation’s duty of care to those people; more importantly in those cases it is a fact that no trial could ever happen here in the UK; extradition was required for any real criminal proceedings.

Hacking Tools and Intent

EU ministers seek to ban creation of ‘hacking tools’

As I read this story on various sites this morning I was reminded of the old quote – “If cryptography is outlawed, only outlaws will have cryptography”. Attempting to ban tools that may be used for “hacking” is quite extraordinary – as with many of these things, the devil is in the details.

Generally with many tools there are multiple uses – the tool itself does not determine intent. Outside of the IT world, people may own guns for hunting, sport, or even self defence. The argument that every gun is bad is quite specious (no matter what an individuals thoughts on the matter are).

The same is true of a security tool – things that may be used to secure, may also be used to break in, whether in the physical world, or in IT. The comment in the article regarding password cracking/recovery tools is a good one, but the situation is exacerbated when we look at testing.

The whole point about security testing is to check whether the “bad guys” can perform certain activities, but under a controlled and known scenario – the risk can be understood without having the impact of real malicious activity. There’s a simple question of how a valid test can be done without using tools designed for “hacking”.

It’s already a criminal offence in the UK to supply or make something that is likely to be used in offences – including “hacking”, DoS (‘denial of service’) or data modification under the Computer Misuse Act 1990 (‘CMA’) (as amended). Unfortunately this leaves a lot open to interpretation and confusion. There have been successful prosecutions under the act, but they include such crimes as sending too many emails, thereby creating a DoS attack (in the case in question ‘R v Lennon’, the defendant had deliberately set out to achieve this, but the tool in question was merely one designed to send emails.)

Although not directly in the CMA, the prosecutor’s guidance notes do point out that a legitimate security industry exists that may create and publish such applications (articles in the wording of the act) and that tools may have dual use. This does give a situation where a tool may be created and possessed by someone for legitimate reasons, distributed to a second person for apparent similar reasons, but then used by the second person for unlawful purposes (who may then be prosecuted).

Based on this guidance, things may not be all bad, but there’s still a lot of work to do in legitimising the concepts of testing in the law. If correctly written and applied then this may actually help and an EU-wide standard may reduce some of the problems seen with discrepancies and difficulties in interpretation across member states.


Feds Really Do Seem To Think That Linking To Infringing Content Can Be A Jailable Offense | Techdirt

The story reminded me of a point I made a while ago – regardless of anything else, you (my reader), or me (as the author) has absolutely no idea what will be displayed if you click on the link. At the time of writing, using the particular DNS servers currently provided on the wireless network I am using it is an interesting story about how linking to infringing content shouldn’t really be an offence. Of course, given the way the Internet works, that may not be true for you (your own hosts file may resolve that name to a completely different address) and I guess the people at Techdirt could also change the story at any time which would make this post somewhat non-sensical.

There’s a current trend of using URL shorteners, which seems to be related to the stupid and arbitrary 140 character limit on twitter (which is derived from the limit on SMS message length, despite the fact that every modern phone can concatenate messages into one, making the whole thing even more absurd, but I digress…), which introduce another level of abstraction and make it utterly impossible to know what will happen if a link is clicked. Here’s an example, just to drive the point home…

For a start… notice the CTLD is .ly. That means that this service is controlled by Libya, so obviously nothing wrong there. Secondly, you don’t know what site that links to. Thirdly, you don’t know how the people who control your DNS servers will resolve that name to an address. Fourthly, you don’t know what the http server at that address actually serves as content (malware, porn, movies, live sport). Yet, people click these things all the time.

There’s a major disconnect between the way the law wants to work and the way that things actually do work.