This is the unedited ver­sion of a piece pub­lished on The Lowy Insti­tute for Inter­na­tional Policy’s Lowy Inter­preter blog.

I have a great deal of respect for the Lowy Insti­tute. But when one of their staff writes a fun­da­men­tally flawed, badly mis­in­formed piece on hacker cul­ture, it really is time to scratch one’s head and ask why the view­point within pub­lic pol­icy think tanks seems so nar­row. I sus­pect it’s to do with where they do their hir­ing — ex-​​military, ex-​​intelligence, ex-​​policy wonks, largely from a nar­row set of fields. Their will­ing­ness to extend the set of view­points into the wider, pro­gres­sive and non-​​insider arena seems to let them down.

James Brown’s piece, Democ­racy and the hacker men­tal­ity, pub­lished today at Lowy Inter­preter, is so mis­in­formed and fun­da­men­tally flawed, I have to won­der whether there’s any research or fact-​​checking going on. Let me make an attempt at coun­ter­ing some of the mis­in­for­ma­tion Brown puts forth.

Brown opens with a state­ment, “Hack­ers like Julian Assange and many of his sup­port­ers have no patience.” He then goes on to posit that the hacker vs sys­tem process is a one-​​on-​​one process. Let’s just pick this apart.

Brown first fails to under­stand what a hacker is. Per­haps he didn’t bother to read the Hacker Man­i­festo (which would have taken all of a cou­ple of min­utes research to find), the 1986 sem­i­nal doc­u­ment that forms the basis for eth­i­cal hack­ing. He con­flates, by mis­un­der­stand­ing hack­ing, the actions of those who attack sys­tems and organ­i­sa­tions (what hack­ers would refer to as script kid­dies) with a desire to bet­ter under­stand the world and what makes it tick.

He also mis­un­der­stands the actions of those who protested online last week. What we saw was nei­ther hack­ing nor crack­ing, rather some­thing more like the online equiv­a­lent to march­ing on the offices of an organisation.

He seems to think that those with a hacker men­tal­ity (to which I proudly raise my hand) aren’t inter­ested in work­ing on the inside. Or hand-​​in-​​hand with gov­ern­ment. Has he looked at Defence Sig­nals Direc­torate lately? Or CERT Aus­tralia? I’m guess­ing those folks would be delighted to be tagged as (white hat) hackers.

Brown also fails to under­stand the true hacker men­tal­ity and its deep con­nec­tions to open democ­racy and open gov­ern­ment. Hacker cul­ture is per­haps the most demo­c­ra­tic I know. Author­ity and, for want of a bet­ter word, power, are accorded based on knowl­edge and abil­ity, on capac­ity to work with oth­ers, rather than on any arti­fi­cial organ­i­sa­tional con­struct. Those with the hacker men­tal­ity are patient, highly coop­er­a­tive, strong col­lab­o­ra­tors who seek to expand and share their knowl­edge, rather than peo­ple who “want quick results for lit­tle invest­ment, and they work alone”.

Many of those work­ing at the fore­front of open gov­ern­ment, both as pub­lic ser­vants and on the out­side of the pub­lic sec­tor, are pos­sessed of a rich vein of the hacker men­tal­ity. They seek, through their insa­tiable curios­ity, to chip away at the edges of a closed sys­tem and break the door ajar to enable the col­lab­o­ra­tion and coop­er­a­tion of gov­ern­ment with its citizenry.

Brown also seems to think that hacker cul­ture is dis­in­clined to thor­ough­ness and fact check­ing. In the con­text of his piece, this is an inter­est­ing asser­tion, given he gets so much wrong in so few words.

As to Brown’s asser­tions that Wik­iLeaks is out­side the world of jour­nal­ism, some­how dif­fer­ent to any other organ­i­sa­tion who might get leaked infor­ma­tion dropped on his lap, per­haps he is unfa­mil­iar with the debate in the media sec­tor on the rapidly chang­ing nature of the jour­nal­ist; how jour­nal­ism is no longer lim­ited to those who are employed by “media out­lets”. Per­haps he should talk to the ABC’s Mark Scott, or NYU pro­fes­sor, Jay Rosen, or look a tthe way pro­gres­sive media out­fits such as The Guardian and The Huff­in­g­ton Post are doing their work.

Brown’s last para­graph shows he sim­ply didn’t bother to look about very hard. While many peo­ple work­ing in and around gov­ern­ment have been quiet on the mat­ter of Wik­iLeaks, very many oth­ers in sev­eral forums have been quite vocif­er­ous, both in Aus­tralia and over­seas. A sim­ple search will reveal com­ment on blogs, in the tra­di­tional media, in forums where pub­lic sec­tor work­ers gather to dis­cuss the issues they face in their work.