Managing Editor's Note: Last week we ran a post from a police officer who is also an autism Dad on autism and police interaction with those on the spectrum. Here's a pressing question asked by a blog site called Naked Security: Should having autism be a legal defence to hacking charges?
Last summer, Julian Assange was quoted in an unauthorised autobiography saying, "I am - like all hackers - a little bit autistic".
He coined the term "Hackers Disease" meaning a "bottomless curiosity, single-mindedness, and an obsession with precision" and notes its similarities with autistic spectrum disorders.
And a recent news broadcast from Channel 4 also raised the issue, asking whether autism be a defence for hacking?
While Assange made a sweeping generalisation about a sensitive issue, there are nevertheless UK examples of indicted hackers having autism, particularly Asperger syndrome. Gary McKinnon and Ryan Cleary have also been reported to have this condition.
The National Autistic Society (NAS) defines autism as a spectrum condition with common characteristics including difficulty with social communication, interaction and imagination. It impacts each person differently and other conditions can exacerbate effects.
The NAS states that those on the spectrum with high-functioning autism, and Asperger syndrome, will have above average intelligence and an obsessive interest in a hobby as a common trait.
Hacker Gary McKinnon, wanting to prove the existence of UFOs, hacked into NASA and Pentagon databases and allegedly caused $700,000 of damage.
According to Wikipedia, Gary McKinnon "was diagnosed by three of the world's leading experts...as suffering from an autism spectrum disorder compounded with clinical depression."
Director of the Autism Research Centre at Cambridge University, Professor Simon Baron-Cohen, was an expert witness during Gary McKinnon's trial and claimed that he suffers from his theory of "mind-blindness", meaning that Gary McKinnon was so focused on finding the truth, he lost sight of the consequences of his actions.
In another UK case last summer, alleged LulzSec hacker Ryan Cleary was diagnosed with Asperger syndrome.
Mr Cleary was charged with five counts under the Computer Misuse Act 1990, including a Distributed Denial-of-Service (DDoS) attack on the UK Serious Organised Crime Agency (SOCA).
Looking at this from a legal perspective, should a defendant's autism have an effect on the charges? There are convincing arguments on both sides. Read more at Should having autism be a legal defence to hacking charges?