No freedom to hack access into the Internet, says US judge

Information wants to be free. But, helping people to steal access to it is still a crime as an Oregon man just found out after being convicted of wire fraud for helping thousands steal internet service.

The defendant, Ryan Harris, ran a company called TCNISO. It distributed software and hardware tools that enabled customers to modify their cable modems to mask themselves as paying customers. In his defense Harris claimed assisting customers in their cable modem hacking activities was justified because it facilitated access to the internet. According to a report:

“Mr. Harris tried to hide behind the banner of freedom of access to the Internet, but the evidence established that he built a million dollar business helping customers steal Internet service”.

What a surprise.

One wonders whether some Internet activist advocacy organization will rush to help in any appeal. Heck couldn’t it borrow from the anti-copyright playbook and argue that the theft can be justified on First Amendment grounds? Or how about that hacking cable modems is a fundamental right arising from the ownership of the cable modem? Or how about justifying the hacking because a free and open Internet can only be preserved if individuals have the right to hack their way into every Internet access point? Or that it is unconstitutional to provide legal protection for technical measures that protect theft of Internet access? Better still, why not argue that cable operators ought to change their outmoded business models and give up relying on monthly access fees? If copyright content should be “free” for the taking on the Internet, why shouldn’t access also be free? Not.

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