Mr. Ponnuru Says


Julian's excellent article on the Patriot Act yesterday provoked this reaction from National Review's Ramesh Ponnuru:

It would also be nice if someone at Reason were to acknowledge the magazine's own repeated errors of fact in describing the Patriot Act, which I have mentioned in NR.

I wasn't aware that Ponnuru had written such a piece, so I went looking for it. If Lexis-Nexis has steered me correctly, he's referring to an article from NR's print edition (what—he wants us to respond to things that aren't on the Web?), in the June 2 issue. It doesn't mention any "repeated" errors on our part, but it does cite two alleged misstatements in Reason, one from Nick Gillespie and one from me.

I'll let Nick respond to his half of the attack. My purported mistake is described here:

Also in Reason, Jesse Walker writes that Patriot "expands the definition of terrorist to include such non-lethal acts as computer hacking." That's misleading. Pre-Patriot, an al-Qaeda member who hacked the electric company's computers to take out the grid could not be judged guilty of terrorism, even if he would be so judged if he accomplished the same result with a bomb. Hacking per se isn't terrorism, and Patriot doesn't treat it as such.

If anyone's being misleading here, it's Ponnuru. For the Patriot Act's definition of "cyberterrorism," turn to the law itself:

(i) loss to 1 or more persons during any 1-year period (and, for purposes of an investigation, prosecution, or other proceeding brought by the United States only, loss resulting from a related course of conduct affecting 1 or more other protected computers) aggregating at least $5,000 in value;
(ii) the modification or impairment, or potential modification or impairment, of the medical examination, diagnosis, treatment, or care of 1 or more individuals;
(iii) physical injury to any person;
(iv) a threat to public health or safety; or
(v) damage affecting a computer system used by or for a government entity in furtherance of the administration of justice, national defense, or national security

I submit that the first and fifth items on that list include activities far less substantial than taking out an electric grid and far afield from anything any rational observer would call terror. It's true that they don't define "hacking per se" as terrorism, but then, I never claimed that they did.

Update: Well, not quite. Details here.