Thirteen high school students in Kutztown, Pennsylvania have been criminally charged for “hacking” their high school provided laptops. Some relatives of the teenagers have set up a website to tell their side of the story.
The kids maybe deserve some disciplining…maybe. The laptops the school provided them were set up to limit what they could do with them. They were told not to circumvent the security. The school put the admin passwords that allowed them to circumvent said security on a piece of tape on the laptops. The kids then installed software that allowed them to get access again when the password was changed in the future.
I’m a computer “hacker”. I don’t do bad things, but I like to see how the computer works. Throughout highschool back in the early ’80s, I was years ahead of anything my teachers knew. I was regularly doing things far outside the normal curriculum- some of it questionable. Things like figuring out how to make the lights on the peripheral sharing hub we had (no networks back in 1981) blink in certain patterns.
Probably the closest I came to being a “bad” hacker was when I was given a career aptitude test on a teletype in 1982. The career counsellor gave me the printout- according to the assessment program, I was too creative for programming and should be an engineer instead. I ignored the advice, but the process bugged me- I distinctly recall the counsellor saying that programming was all mathematics and didn’t have room for much creativity- since I was already a pretty decent programmer at the time, this just didn’t seem rational.
Later that year, after school was out and while I was waiting to go into university, I noticed there was a login password on the printout. I figured out how to log into the data sharing network of the day with my Apple II, and how to log into the school board network, and how to run the career counselling program. I took the test again, trying to figure out how in the name of all that is holy the career program figured that Engineering was more creative than computer programming. I figured out the sequence of questions and answers (it was an Elisa-like model) that reached a particular career determination. My conclusion was that that the people who fed the software data were ignorant. About as ignorant as the educators in the topic story for this post.
I’m pretty sure that, if I found an admin password taped to the back of my school-provided laptop, I’d probably have had an incredibly hard time when I was 18 or so resisting typing it in. I’d want to figure out what kind of security the school had installed, how it worked, and what it was doing. Based on what is happening to these high school kids in the states, if I did that today I’d not only be expelled from high school, but I’d likely be charged with criminal trespass and sent to jail. All because I’m smarter than the teachers, and curious.
That, to me, is a bigger crime than anything the kids in this case might have committed.