Terminal anarchist subjected to strip-search

November 3, 1995

Jesse Hirsh had a great time publishing a political newsletter, using the email accounts of his stepbrother and a friend at the University of Toronto - until the day police officers came to haul him away, strip-search him, and charge him with "unauthorised" use of university computers.

In a ground-breaking Canadian computer crimes case, Hirsh was charged under a new and virtually unused section of Canada's criminal code which prohibits "unauthorised" use of a computer, carrying a penalty of up to ten years in jail.

Since Hirsh was using university provided accounts that were not his own, he was not authorised to use them. It did not matter that Hirsh's stepbrother and friend had given permission to use their accounts. Because the university provided the account, it was the only authority allowed to hand out access - and it had not.

Legalists say Hirsh's case is the first of its kind, and they worry that it could set a dangerous precedent, criminalising hundreds of innocuous uses of computer systems - particularly at universities, which provide thousands of Internet accounts every year.

"I thought this was a free-speech thing," says the 20-year-old Hirsh. "But you're only as free at they let you be."

Hirsh's problems began last autumn when Peter Gorrie, a Toronto professor who oversees student Internet access, received complaints about Hirsh's political newsletter. Called The Anarchives, it was openly anarchist and included fiery broadsides criticising big business and the mass media.

It also included some harmless but ominous sounding code for computer programs, such as one that "totally wipes all presence of you on a UNIX system".

"We got complaints from a couple of universities," Professor Gorrie said. "They were asking why someone from our site was publishing this anarchist newsletter, what we were doing using taxpayers' money to fund this kind of stuff."

He approached Hirsh's friend, from whose account the newsletter had originated. The friend panicked and denied knowing Hirsh - leading Professor Gorrie to believe that Hirsh was a hacker breaking into the university's system.

Police monitored the account for two months. Eventually, Professor Gorrie said, they found Hirsh's name on one of the newsletters, and subsequently arrested him.

This autumn, however, the case ended without going to a trial, after Hirsh's friend confessed that she had given Hirsh permission to use her account. As a result, the police dropped the charges, demanding instead that Hirsh pay the university CAN$400 (Pounds 200) for the computer time he had used.

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