Former computer hacker Jake Davis (aka Topiary) believes sending Jeremy Hammond to prison won't achieve anything.  

Jeremy Hammond Sentencing
Jeremy Hammond (aka anarchaos) has pleaded guilty to attacking Stratfor and leaking sensitive emails, credit card details and client lists. (Credit: Jim Newberry)

A €5000 fine. Charity work and probation.

These were the respective punishments handed out to Darren Martyn and Mustafa Al-Bassam, two computer hackers charged with political attacks on various corporate and government websites, or as we call it here in the UK, "conspiracy to commit computer misuse with intent to disrupt or impair the operation of a computer or computer(s)."

I was charged with this very conspiracy for my role within hacking groups Anonymous and LulzSec. I received a two year prison sentence, of which I served 37 days due to being electronically tagged, curfewed, and banned from the Internet while awaiting trial - which, as it turned out, took nearly two years.

Solitary

Today, a US hacker, Jeremy Hammond, will be sentenced for his part in a computer misuse conspiracy: involvement in an allegedly FBI-led hack on private intelligence firm Stratfor.

He's spent 18 months in prison, he's spent time in solitary confinement, now he's facing up to 10 more years behind bars. Why? Because he's a protester, an Internet activist and a musician - a combination no government knows how to deal with.

And when governments don't have complete control over a free and blank canvas such as the internet, the only choice, it seems, is to threaten whichever punishment seems like the biggest deterrent. This isn't to say there should be no law in place to deal with computer hacking - we, the LulzSec conspirators, deserved to be brought to justice for some of the things we did. And we were. But is banning a young mind from society for 10 years really justice?

Tier 1 threat

Back to Mustafa Al-Bassam. A cyber-criminal arrested at the age of 16 and given a suspended prison sentence at the age of 18.

A Tier 1 threat to British national security (the highest).

My co-defendant. I can't legally communicate with Mustafa until June 2014 as some parties consider him to be very, very dangerous. However, a quick look at his Twitter feed (which he only recently created due to also being banned from the Internet for two years while studying for his exams) tells us the following: he is now a computer science student at one of London's best colleges.

He expresses deep regret for his activities. He has given timid, yet highly eloquent, interviews on both Russia Today and Newsnight, in the latter meeting the very man that forensically examined his computer and compiled evidence against him; hacker meeting tracker.

Mercy

He looks like a new man, one that's ready to become a functioning, tax-paying member of society, all thanks to the clear-thinking mercy of a UK judge.

Like Jeremy, Mustafa also faced 10 years in prison. If he had been given anywhere near the full sentence, all of his remarkable progress would have vanished. The same can be said of Irish hackers Donncha O'Cearbhaill and Darren Martyn, two students charged with hacking Fine Gael's website.

Both avoided jail and were fined €5000. Of them, the judge said "such expertise should be used in the right way and I hope you do that in the future because you have a lot to give society."

Dangerous men

Jeremy Hammond has a lot to give society too. Prisons are for dangerous people that need to be segmented from the general population.

Hackers are not dangerous, they are misunderstood, and while disciplinary action is of course necessary, there is nothing disciplined about locking the door on a young man's life for 10 years.

Jake Davis is a former computer hacker recently released from prison for his part in Anonymous and LulzSec. You can follow him on Twitter here.

This article was updated November 30, -0001 00:00 AM
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