Leaving it to the Officials, Whenever Possible

Cliff Stoll’s love, Martha, addressed his ethical concerns as he tracked down a hacker in his book, “The Cuckoo’s Egg.” Most people value privacy. Martha personally wouldn’t care to invade anyone’s privacy, but she encouraged Cliff to compromise the privacy of several users when it allowed him to find one hacker. She minimized concern for punishment by saying, “the worst it would be is invasion of privacy … so I don’t see why you can’t” (Stoll 23). Later, she suggested that – depending on the circumstances – the hacker might even be the “good guy.” The ethical implications of Cliff’s attempts are challenged as she says, “maybe this hacker is closer to us politically than those security people. What if you’re chasing someone on your own side?” (Stoll 82). Loyalty and the importance of privacy are two of the ethical issues addressed by Martha.

Loyalty to one side also means commitment in fighting the opposition. If the hacker shared the same political agendas with Cliff, and was hoping to improve the world through such hacking attempts, then it would relatively be ethically right for Cliff to support the hacker. Being in favor of the U.S. government, however, it was Cliff’s ethical responsibility to fight the hacker.

Sometimes it would be too difficult, or impossible, to enforce a law without invading privacy. In this situation, the privacy of several users was compromised at the cost of watching a hacker. If everyone was legally allowed to watch what anyone else was doing at any time, then there would be no assurance of privacy. However, it’s important that some law enforcers are permitted to breach privacy, on certain grounds, for detective work to progress. To keep individual privacy, citizens should be punished for invading the privacy of others unless such law enforcers refuse to take action. In Cliff’s situation, he is justified in watching the activity of all users, and in tracing phone calls, because the FBI wouldn’t look into the case themselves.

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