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Opinion: Not All Hackers Should Be Locked Away

There is something about harboring a confessed criminal in your house that can bring new excitement to your life. Within minutes of meeting the so-called "homeless hacker" Adrian Lamo, he was showing me how to reprogram my cell phone. That is the kind of guy he is -- someone who has broken into numerous computer systems around the world and knows his way around the cell phone firmware, yet isn't afraid to share his knowledge with the common reporter.

You could say he is a criminal with a conscience, and I mean that in just the nicest way. When I told him to help himself to whatever he could forage in my fridge (which is always a risky proposition in even the best of times), he told me he boosted a yogurt. No, you didn't steal it, I offered it to you, I said. Then he told me his credo: "If you are going to be a criminal, you might as well be a trustworthy one." I completely agree. So have all the yogurts you can find, Adrian. In the meantime, I got to watch him in action and spend more time with him doing normal (i.e., non-computer-related) activities. It was a gas.

I guess a more prudent person wouldn't have offered his own sofa as a hacker crash pad, but there was something about my conversations with Lamo through the years that endeared him to me, and yes, made me trust him. Maybe it is his youthful exuberance. He is only 22 and still has that starry-eyed look about him. Maybe I find in him some of the same personality traits that I recall in the younger edition of myself long ago and in a galaxy far, far away. Maybe it was all of his storied exploits into various computer networks that he has helped himself to during the years. Maybe it was the same quality that attracted me to many of my high school students when I was teaching them about how to break into the school network and use hacker tools. After all, Lamo wasn't much older than my students when he got his start.

Above all, I was impressed with his intensity. He has to be that way to deal with what he's done over the past couple of years. He is completely self-trained, which is even more impressive given the knowledge that he has about computer networks and security practices.

I've corresponded with Lamo for about two years now. I finally got a chance to meet him and break bread with him this week, while he was in town to cop a plea. He has admitted to stealing information from the New York Times computer network and continues to be harassed by the FBI, (I'd add: despite his subsequent offer to show the Times how to protect itself from hackers like him)

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