I used to be a staunch defender of the right of a person to "hack" under the broadest possible set of definitions for the term "hacker".
"Hacker": 1. A DIY person. 2. An unlicensed repairperson. 3. A person with the needed skills for a situation. 4. An umbrella term conglomerate with the skills of computer programming or scripting, phreaking, cracking, and a host of other skills involving physics, radio usage, metallurgy, anything under the sun, when those skills are applied in a unique fashion.
and then there's the popular definition:
"Hacker" (2) 1. A computer criminal: identity thief, password cracker, malware author.
And the debate is SO old. When I came on the scene in 1992, the debate was SO old.
DIY / engineering people wanted to reserve the term "hacker" with a presumed innocence, so they could call themselves and their friends "hackers".
And, basically, get away with it. Which I add, because the popular term is nothing like the term preferred by the DIY / engineering crowd who enjoy the use of the term.
In popular culture, "hacker" is a purely criminal term. And that includes law enforcement culture and the rest of the legal system.
Fighting the negative might seem like a jolly ride, but consider what you're ultimately doing to yourself by applying that label.
Now, in my life, personally, I stopped using the term for myself after, I dunno, high school? Thereabouts? Because, what's the point of applying the term, or of putting up the fight? Where in the spirit of DIY / engineering, does it say "oh, you should incriminate yourself in front of others, probably for the benefit of nothing more than looking cool and some desperately hoped-for but unlikely street cred."
Then, when I got to college, I found that telling people I'm pursuing a degree in computer engineering led to this statement (or a derivation thereof): "oh, you're a hacker!"
And no, they didn't mean "you're part of the ultra-hip, super-cool DIY / engineering squad of citizens who can do some McGyver shit and who stands up for causes like the misappropriations of terms by mainstream culture! Far out!"
They meant, "oh, wow, I bet you'd like if it I called you a 'hacker' right now, you fucking geek. God, if I was half as smart as you, I think I'd already be in prison. Here's hoping that you'll take the bait and open your stupid cocksucker like a real jabroni."
Or, sometimes, if they're really fucking stupid, they meant, "wow, that Hacking movie I watched last night is STILL kicking in with all this caffeine I can't stop ingesting. I hate my course of study and it bores the shit out of me, so I'll glorify this person's field of study and excite myself vicariously through that exchange, using my imagery from the movie I watched that also excited the hell out of my excitable, stimulant-addled ass. I'll be killing two birds with one frantic stone, I think! Maybe the person really IS a hacker! At the very least, I'll be able to suspend disbelief in Hollywood for a few more hours, perhaps even days!"
In either case, because you're not talking to a fellow member of the small segment of the population who fit in the DIY / Engineer / verbally jousting defender of the proper use and innocence of the term "hacker" / geek crowd, you're getting one of those two social situations, above. Take your pick.
Now, that's just in the context of running into social peers in the amazing world of "higher learning". Let's see what happens when an officer of the law, or a lawyer, or a judge, or a prosecutor, or a victim of computer crime asks if you're a hacker. What they really mean is:
"Are you one of these space-age freaks who's abusing their high priesthood secret knowledge of how the magical computer works, in order to redirect our credit, steal our identities, crack our passwords, read our email, threaten and or blackmail us, watch our laptop webcams, blow up our smart toasters, and to otherwise exploit our weaknesses?"
And the thing is, THAT is the majority of the population. And the other thing is, the peer group scenario outlined previously is also the majority of your peer group, unless you ONLY socialize with DIY / engineering geeks, in which case you're a lost cause, just ... just go hide in the shame of your cheetos belly and KY-besmirched keyboard already. And don't worry about what happens to you. Somebody else will worry about that, for you.
Do you catch my drift? If you're the only one keeping up the fight, and if the fight is meant to be a social fight, then forget it. You're not making any progress. NOBODY has made any progress with this "the innocence of the hackers" battle, ever. It has been downhill, a losing battle the entire fucking time. So give it up.
So, my conclusion on the matter of the arrested hacker is, GOOD. You don't do anything positive for yourself by knowingly associating yourself with the undeniably negative image of hacking that is cast on the term by the mainstream -- meaning, everybody else in the population of your country, except for you and a few denizens of the local IHOP.
As a 2600 fan, that's hard for me to admit, but only a tiny, tiny little bit hard, in a place in my heart that should be drowned like an unwanted puppy, to spare the rest of the litter (the litter of puppies being my heart).
So much so, that last year when I was in an Anthropology course, and we were doing the first week classroom meet and greet, and we had to say what we are going to college for, I got to enjoy two moments of social ostrocisation: being the only person in the classroom who said "computer engineering" (or anything with the word "computer" or with the word "engineering" for that matter), and then the teacher saying out loud, in front of the class: "OH... SO... YOU'RE A HACKER?"
To which I responded with rather frightened silence, which opportunity the teacher took to imply that my silence was admission of guilt.
So you see, it's already TOO MAINSTREAM. You can't WIN that sort of battle against that sort of cultural force.
I wrote to the teacher and explain to her, explicitly, that my silence was due to being shocked and appalled, and that she must never refer to me as a hacker in public again or that we would have to speak with the dean of her department.
I didn't get any more crude "hacker" jokes. But the point is, the battle is already lost. You can't argue without any credibility and credibility is already lost as soon as you admit, socially, that you "do computer stuff". There have been no exciting movies about programming computers, building your own directional antenna, or encrypting codes by hand for sending over HAM radio. There never will be. Society will never see you in the exciting light that you see yourself in.
So grow up! Be a REAL hacker. Stop using society's term for you and use something more specific to your favorite fields of study or areas of expertise. If you want to use several, go ahead, bore the shit out of the other person by listing all the cockamamie things you do that sound like Latin to them. But there's just no real reason to call yourself a "hacker".
I don't know how many other different ways I can say it, so I'm done.