The Responsibilities of IT (and lawyers too)

Well, it would appear that the lawyer for one of the students charged in Pennsylvania (the so-called “Kutztown 13”) has commented on my post about the “IT Responsibilities” in cases like these.

I assume it’s the lawyer – it may or may not be. I don’t really have much identity verification. The IP Address is a Pennsylvania IP Address though, and searching google for his name shows him quoted in a Washington Post story about the case.

What I assume is that he’s blanket posting in blogs his side of the story. I don’t necessarily blame him, he’s representing a teenager charged with a felony. It’s his job as a lawyer to get his client off or at least bargain the punishment down to something more acceptable to his client and to those charging his client.

But I really wish he had read my post. To be fair, I really don’t present a position in the matter (other than saying that an opinion column in the USA Today seemed to have the clearest explanation). So in the absence of a definite position, if you have a bias one way or another, you are going to take my words and twist them to whatever opinion you think I have. It’s life. I really would hope for better from an officer of the court (as well as having the comment written better, if he actually wrote it)

But I doubt he’s actually reading the post. Which did nothing but try and generate discussion about the responsibilities of the IT staff in these cases. This is why I don’t have all that much respect for lawyers.

But, Mike, since you accused me of calling the kids criminals. Here’s my view on the matter.

I think it is absolutely and positively ludicrous that teenage and college students are accused of felonies in matters like these. I think that more often than not, the IT staff or the programmers, or similar screw up, those screwups are taken advantage of, the organization in which they work gets embarassed, and that organization’s administration completely overreacts. Maybe because educators don’t like to be embarassed, probably because they do not understand the technology.

The reactions are not the same when the maintenance dude leaves the paint out, and one gets graffiti all over their building.

I also think it’s ludicrous that “computer trespass” in North Carolina is treated as a felony when it involves a government computer. But that’s a matter for the legislature and a whole other discussion another day.

That being said, I have little respect for students that try (and continue) to play the system, and cry foul when they get their metaphorical hand slapped. But they don’t deserve felony charges.

I don’t know the facts in this case, and I’m not going to editorialize any further about it. I don’t know whether the kids are right, or the school is right. I imagine both sides are doing whatever they can right now to cover their behinds.

What I do care about is three things:

1) I think this is what happens when the IT staffs and administrations, especially in educational institutions, try and control the student desktop. It’s a losing game. Turn over the computer to the student, teach him or her how to use it, or more, how to find the information that they can teach themselves how to use it. When they screw the system up and can’t complete their assignment? Call the Waahmbulance. The problem is, the students are often smarter than the IT staffs which leads me to…

2) I’m very keen on seeing that the IT staff start talking about what they can do, and how they can seek training opportunities that keeps them a step ahead of the technologies, and work with those that they support. I was unable to get discussion about this generated on our campus mailing list. But my core tenet was:

So, mistakes that we make are leading to felony charges and identity theft. This isn’t just “I can’t print my word document” anymore.

Which is serious business. I do not ever want to see a mistake that I make escalate into felony charges for students (unless they have malicious intent) or identity theft. It’s my responsibility to do my best with data and information and the systems that store that, to keep that from happening. It might happen anyway. But if I’m the one that screwed up, I don’t want to see an over-reactive administration go after students. And in the identity theft case, I better be treating that data like it’s the data of my family.

3) People turn their brains off when it comes to computers. It’s high damn time to start teaching the users of the system that they have a responsibility for the use of that system too (which goes back to (1) – when you control things tightly, the users of the system don’t take responsibility for their own use of it – because they think someone is always “taking care of it”)

I hope he gets his client off, or better, the charges reduced.

But what I really hope is that overall IT industry starts getting their act together here.

[update] It appears, from the aforementioned Washington Post article that the felony charges might be dropped, in a deal. I have no opinion on whether the punishment in the deal fits in this case or not.