January 19, 2021 Litigation Section

Zero Dark Data: Hacktivism, Cybersecurity, and Social Change

Hacktivists operate communication technologies to improve democracy by translating civil disobedience into cyberspace. However, the current regulatory regime seeks to repress, rather than permit, exposing injustice. It must be reformed to allow civic engagement to flourish.

By Robert Sweet


As interconnected network technologies dominate all aspects of civil life, people increasingly rely on the internet to navigate and effectuate social change. In effectuating social change, the novel legal issue is whether the First Amendment should protect “hacktivism” for hacktivist actions that are narrowly tailored toward matters of public concern. Hacktivist actions and motives are distinguishable from variegated sources of harmful cyber-related activities, with terrorism, espionage, and crime, among many examples.

This article argues that a reform of the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act (CFAA) is necessary to permit an exception for activists in cyberspace that commit acts of civil disobedience for social change, consistent with the First Amendment’s policy considerations.

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