Since I couldn't make it in person...
Assume the existence of intelligent computers that can make autonomous
decisions, which many folks believe will become a reality in the near
Alice Analyst publishes virus source code in an online computer security
publication. So far that's clearly protected speech, nobody here would
Bob Badguy reads the article and types the code manually into a
computer, with the overt or covert intent for the computer to broadcast
the virus and infect other computers.
Does it matter whether the computer into which Bob enters the virus
source code, is an ordinary computer that does what it's told, vs. an
intelligent computer that has the capacity to make autonomous decisions?
Clearly if the computer is an ordinary one that is not capable of
autonomous decisions, then Bob's typing of the virus code into it would
constitute an "action" rather than "speech," and would not be
protected. He could be successfully prosecuted for unleashing the virus
upon the world.
But if the computer is an intelligent one that can make autonomous
decisions, then could Bob rightfully claim that his typing of the virus
code into that intelligent computer was _also_ protected speech, merely
an exercise in communication with another sentient being, the same as
Alice's original publication?
On 13-03-01-Fri 8:22 AM, Eddan Katz wrote:
Dear Kopimists and the People who Love Them.
For the featured Filo delicacy for Friday Filosophy, we will have
I propose we talk about the difference between source code, object
code, and executable code in regards to 1st Amendment protection. In
other words, when is code speech and when is it a speech-act subject
to less legal protection?
Below is an excerpt from an essay by Lee Tien, a brilliant EFF
attorney for more than a decade, on Software as Speech (2000). These
two paragraphs are in the section: Viruses and other "dangerous" software.
Of course, as always, we can talk about whatever else. Such as
conscience and the unconscionable, perhaps.
Lee Tien, Publishing Software as a Speech Act, Vol. 15 Berkeley Tech.
Law Journal (2000)
Let's return to the virus hypothetical.^^192
The main concern lies in the fact that the software may be
"diverted" toward unlawful purposes, regardless of the speaker's
intent. This concern is, however, not unique to software. It also
applies to other types of information usable for mischief or
harassment, whether highly technical like information about nuclear
weapons, or utterly mundane like a person's name, address or
Even if the virus author merely posts the source code and fails to
release it in active form, the issue remains whether the posting was
done with an intent to communicate. If the author claims that she
intended it to communicate, we would need to examine the context to
decide the plausibility of that claim. There will often be a
plausible claim. There is no question that people study viruses and
other dangerous software in order to prevent or relieve harm.^^193
One way to control a virus is to publish its source code so that
systems operators can disable or protect against it. Communicating a
virus' source code as part of such an effort qualifies as a speech
act because the publisher intends to communicate how the virus works
in a conventional way. In fact, one could imagine entire journals or
Internet sites devoted to viruses and other dangerous software.^^194
When such publications aim to alert the world to these dangers,
their intent is clearly communicative.
sent from eddan.com
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