A federal court has ruled that a software developer's computer be seized and copied after he described himself as a hacker on his website. In an order published last week, the US District Court for Idaho ruled that the computer of developer Corey Thuen be confiscated in connection with an intellectual property dispute with his former employer. The court ordered the seizure of the computer without first informing Thuen, saying his background as a "hacker" made it likely that he would delete evidence. Southfork's website read in part: "We like hacking things and we don't want to stop."
The case, Battelle Energy Alliance v. Southfork Security, centers around software created by both entities for the purpose of preventing cyber attacks on the nation's infrastructure. Thuen, a former Battelle employee, left the company to start his own. Battelle alleges that he copied the company's software before he left with the intention of turning it into an open-source project, and it is suing to prevent him from releasing the code.
The court said there are national security implications
In its ruling, the court said there are "national security implications" if the code is released publicly. But it was the discussion of hacking on Southfork's website that sent the court over the edge: "The tipping point for the court comes from evidence that the defendants — in their own words — are hackers," the court wrote. "By labeling themselves this way, they have essentially announced that they have the necessary computer skills and intent to simultaneously release the code publicly and conceal their role in that act."
Critics have since disputed the court's logic in calling the case a national-security matter, saying there's nothing that Battelle's software can do that isn't already done by a variety of commercially available programs. And should calling yourself a "hacker" mean opening yourself up to the search and seizure of your possessions? Even the court was conflicted: "The court has struggled over the issue of allowing the copying of the hard drive," it wrote. "This is a serious invasion of privacy and is certainly not a standard remedy."