The Corner

Jesse Walker, Wrong Again

The Reason scribe has complained that the Patriot Act “expands the definition of terrorist to include such non-lethal acts as computer hacking.” I wrote in NR that Walker was misleading: “Pre-Patriot, an al-Qaeda member who hacked the electric company’s computers to take out the grid could not be judged guilty of terrorism, even if he would be so judged if he accomplished the same result with a bomb. Hacking per se isn’t terrorism, and Patriot doesn’t treat it as such.” Now Walker says that I’m the one being misleading.

To prove his case, Walker quotes what he thinks is the Patriot act’s “definition of cyberterrorism.” Actually, the quoted passage is not a definition of anything at all.

Here’s what happened. Patriot includes amendments to the computer hacking statute. Most of what Walker quotes has been on the books since 1986, just in a slightly different section of the code and in slightly different language. This is a little (but only a little) easier to see here.

The chief addition to the law in this section is that it adds “damage affecting a computer system used by or for a government entity in furtherance of the administration of justice, national defense, or national security” to the list of types of intentional damage to computers covered by the hacking statute. Even though this change appears in a section of the law including the word “cyberterrorism” in the title, the law does not say that this act amounts to terrorism. So, for example, the procedures and penalties that would apply to someone who, say, hijacks an airplane to ram it into a building would not apply here.

Ramesh Ponnuru is a senior editor for National Review, a columnist for Bloomberg Opinion, a visiting fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, and a senior fellow at the National Review Institute.


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