Student hacker wins first round
School officials were confused by 'tech' jargon in paper, defense says
WISCONSIN — Greenfield School District is making a second attempt to suspend a student for writing an article about computer “hacking” that the school claims violates its computer use policies.
U.S. District Court Judge John Reynolds called the suspension an “extreme response” and issued a preliminary injunction on Sept. 19 to prevent the school from enforcing the punishment.
Greenfield’s computer policy provides that “good behavior on school computers” must be maintained.
Judge Reynolds found no evidence that the student had used the computers in a manner that would violate school policy, only that he had authored an article describing such improper use.
Justin Boucher was expelled on July 10 for his article, “So You Want to be a Hacker” in the alternative, non-school sponsored newspaper, The Last.
The American Civil Liberties Union of Wisconsin filed a lawsuit on behalf of Boucher in Milwaukee Circuit Court, which was then removed to U.S. District Court by the school district.
Boucher’s profanity-laden article instructed students how to access the school’s computer programs by “guessing” user passwords.
Boucher’s actions “endangered school property” and caused “disruptions in school processes” by requiring Greenfield to employ costly technology experts to assess damage to school’s computers, Greenfield claimed in its court filing.
Court decisions allow school officials to limit students’ free speech rights if it can be shown that the speech will “materially disrupt” the school.
Minimal computer damage was found. None of it could be attributed to Boucher. Greenfield’s superintendent Bill Larkin conceded that no problems had occurred as a result of Boucher’s article, but was firm that Greenfield wants the 17-year-old “out of school” because Boucher’s “hacking” article “allowed information to students that could have destroyed the computer system.”
In a Wisconsin ACLU press release, executive director Chris Ahmuty said, “Greenfield school officials apparently are not conversant with either the culture of cyberspace nor the idea of free speech.”
“‘Hacking’ is now considered benign. Hackers do not cause damage to computers. It’s unfortunate the school officials and board members have not kept up with the changes in the culture of cyberspace. Their misunderstanding makes them look foolish.”
“Hacking” is computer slang that generally refers to the process of using programs and accessing information by unconventional means. It is not considered a destructive method.
Boucher’s article did not contain any “hacking” information that was not easily or readily available to any computer novice testified Ross Kodner, president of Micro Law, Inc., a technology services provider at Boucher’s expulsion hearing.
Greenfield’s technology support expert, Minnie Young, agreed with Kodner’s evaluation.
The school district filed an appeal to the decision on Sept. 22.
reports, Winter 1997-98