Making the punishment fit the crime

John Tierney at the New York Times has a modest proposal for dealing with hackers convicted of unleashing worms and viruses. When an adolescent vandal like Sven Jaschan is caught for releasing the Sasser worm, which has consumed hundreds of thousands of hours of users’ time around the globe, he should be sentenced to more than 30 hours of community service. In the opinion of many beleaguered users, he should receive a punishment Worse Than Death.

Make the hacker spend 16 hours a day fielding help-desk inquiries in an AOL chat room for computer novices. Force him to do this with a user name at least as uncool as KoolDude and to work on a vintage IBM PC with a 2400-baud dial-up connection. Most painful of all for any geek, make him use Windows 95 for the rest of his life.

Hackers are the Internet equivalent of Richard Reid, the shoe-bomber who didn’t manage to hurt anyone on his airplane but has been annoying travelers ever since. When I join the line of passengers taking off their shoes at the airport, I get little satisfaction in thinking that the man responsible for this ritual is sitting somewhere by himself in a prison cell, probably with his shoes on.

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