Britain’s new cyber-defense squad–think Sneakers–could be staffed by convicted hackers. “As a matter of policy, the armed forces don’t necessarily exclude people who have criminal convictions,” Philip Hammond told BBC Newsnight. “Each individual case would be looked at on its merits. The conviction would be examined in terms of how long ago it was, how serious it was, what sort of sentence had followed. So I can’t rule it out.”
Hammond announced the $800 million Joint Cyber Reserve Unit project last month. And the Ministry of Defence is actively looking for candidates from former armed forces personnel, as well as civilians with the requisite technical know-how–the latter group probably being of most use to the project. But Edward Snowden’s grand reveal may be making it harder for government officials to recruit.
A former LulzSec hacker, Mustafa al-Bassam, now studying computer science at King’s College London, told the BBC that the surveillance efforts of the state had effectively blown its chances of hiring talented hackers. “I can understand the need for a government to protect itself, but when you go ahead and stomp on everyone’s civil liberties–as we’ve seen with all the mass surveillance stories that have been out over the past year–I think you can rest assured that you’re going to repel talented people,” he said.
It’s not just reformed hackers who might have a crise de foi about working for a government with a cavalier attitude to an individual’s civil liberties and data protection. Can a government agency entrust its biggest secrets to a previous hacker? Snowden, after all, was given security clearance to work on classified information. Perhaps, in effect, that is the leap of faith the British government is making. Perhaps only someone who’s broken the law in the past can be trusted in the future.