Is having autism a defense for hacking? | Ambitious about Autism
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Is having autism a defense for hacking?

MikeS's picture

Is having autism a defense for hacking?

Mon 26 Sep 2011 1:44pm

There was an article in the Huffington Post about this issue and I thought it would be a great one to discuss on here. I sent this out on the social networks and a lawyer replied saying "The answer seems to be, not usually a defence, but it can be powerful mitigation. In less serious cases, every effort should be made to get ASD defendants diverted from the crim justice system, ie dropped."

What do people think about this and where do you draw the line in relation to autism as a cause vs personal responsibility?

Mike - Former Community Manager

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  • amberlight's picture

    Hi Mike,

    Yes, it's been discussed in various places with a lot of very strong opinions voiced.  The most sensible viewpoint tends to be exactly what you've described - that it's not a defence, but it can be very important for courts and police etc to consider.  When I've worked with the Crown Prosecution Service to improve their service for people on the autism spectrum, they were honest about how little they knew about autism at that stage. 

    Let's say you have a 16 yr old who is in the middle of the autism spectrum, very high IQ, loads of computer skills.  They might spend all day learning how to amend computer code on a games program...then try those same skills to amend code on a program elsewhere.  If it turns out that the program belongs to the military or the government, they could be accused of anything up to and including terrorism.  But did they realise the consequence?  Did it seem like just any other computer program?

    A non-autistic person might hack in because they wished to destroy a government.  Someone on the autism spectrum ios more likely to hack in to prove it can be done, or to show the organisation that their software is faulty and needs correcting.  There may not be the same motive.  Or the same understanding of consequences to people afterwards.  How we are questioned can make a big difference - we're often very very literal and tend to be very honest, which isn't what police would expect.  We can also be naive enough for some of us to be used by real criminals who tell us they'll be our friends if we just do this one little programming task...without ever revealing what's really happening.  Can happen that way.

    It's definitely not a question of evading justice - more a question of what is the right thing to do to ensure they don't do stuff like that again.  Prison may be an experience so terrifying for us (sensory stuff etc) that we would literally rather die than experience it, for example, so autism has to be taken into account at every stage.

     It takes a lot of thought and a lot of knowledge to get to the right answer, that's for sure.

    Ann - Community Champion

  • damo73's picture

    I agree with Ann - each individual case is different.

    Of course the issue of criminal responsibility is a deeply confusing philosophical conundrum.  The law is socially constructed, historically specific, and unjust in terms of its treatment of various social groups/categories.  Then there is the issue of responsibility and causation - and even whether free will exists at all.

    I don't think one should make generalised one-size-fits-all assertions about such issues.

    Damian - Community Champion

    Damian - Retired Community Champion
  • michaelz's picture

    think you can hack?

    GCHQ wants YOU!!


    GCHQ has unveiled a surprising approach to finding the next generation of British intelligence workers: a code-cracking site designed to attract a different breed of techie to the agency.

    The site,, features a single-page numerical puzzle, with a field where successful code-breakers are asked to 'enter keyword'.

    Rather than the traditional graduates that GCHQ recruits, the agency is hoping to find "candidates who may be self taught, but have a keen interest in code-breaking and ethical hacking" through the campaign...

  • michaelz's picture

    celebrated aspie hacker (alleged) gives his 2 cents worth on spreading ransomware :


  • michaelz's picture

    free the lauri love one - says times reporter jessie hewitson, mother of an autistic son :

  • michaelz's picture

    useful info for any autist seeking a lawyer :

    In particular Karen represents those most vulnerable including those on the autistic spectrum.

    Karen Todner, a consultant at GSG Law, acted for Lauri Love, the FBI hacking suspect who won his appeal against extradition to America.

    Two High Court judges ruled that his extradition would be “oppressive by reason of his physical and mental condition”...

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