Should Virus Creators Be Punished?

I and Don Rittenburg of Groove Networks went in to intense arguments over lunch whether person who creates viruses be punished. I took the side that they shouldn’t be. My point of view was that cyberspace isn’t exactly the real world. It’s man-made, designed to be anonymous and most importantly by it’s inherent nature it’s not supposed to be limited by laws. It gives you immense freedom and if you can be stopped by creating bunch of laws by old fat ignorant politicians then it isn’t the same. Of course, freedom isn’t a free lunch and you have to accept the associated risk and responsibility. I put the virus creation activities as the inherent part of cyber culture and implicit right of cyber-citizens just like free-speech. Don happens to be really good logician and put some really good arguments. His central idea was that just because it’s possible, it can’t be just allowed. If your car tires are not secured by lock and key, would you let a person to blow air out of them just to demonstrate that it is not secured or just for fun? Is it worth to live under constant fear that your stuff is not really secured and someone somewhere is gonna come and get you and may destroy your life time of work and get away with it without getting punished or even detected? And multiply the hassle by millions who gets affected, loss of hours, possibly life or career threatening consequences to many and lots of not-so-geeky people who just won’t be able to get their computers back to normal. Would that be acceptable? From Don’s argument, I think I see the aftermath that typical virus author would fail to see or doesn’t won’t to. I realized that cyberworld isn’t just the world of universities and nerds any more but is now married to the real world and is inseparable part of it. And that marriage would mean loss of inherent freedom and bring the laws in. I’m now in agreement that they might be allowed to be punished but still believe that punishment shouldn’t be stiff: just few months of community services would suffice. That did settle our 40 mins long logical wrestling (or I lost, to put it correctly). My apologies to cyber-citizens for my failure to defend this supposed-to-be law free culture, however :(.

Shital Shah

A program trying to understand what it’s computing.

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