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Are booby-trapped computers legal?

(I've changed the name of this thread.)

At 2:30 AM 9/6/95, Lucky Green wrote:

>I am wondering about the legalities of booby trapped computer equipment.
>Would it be legal if a clear warning to the fact was posted on the

There are two types of "booby traps" to consider:

* Type 1 Booby Trap: a shotgun is placed inside a home, set to fire if and
when a burglar enters. Or an electrified region of a room is set to "get
energized" when an intruder enters. These are "surprises" and are canonical
booby traps.

These have been found to be illegal in several court cases. (I'm not a
lawyer, but I've been reading about them for 20 years. Famous cases where a
burglar sued, and won, because he was injured when breaking into a house.)

* Type 2 Booby Trap: electrified perimeter fences. So long as these are
adequately marked ("If you touch this fence, you will probably die"), and
are not public nuisances where children and pets will inadvertently
validate Darwin's theory, these are--I think--legal. There may be license
fees required, to build an electrified fence, but I think it is possible to
build a lethal voltage electrified fence on one's property.

Thus, I suspect it is fully legal to build an electrified fence around
one's PC, providing suitable warnings are included.

I would not call the second type a real booby trap, though some courts
might, depending. A properly labelled electrified fence seems legal, on
one's own property, but may not be. And certainly I think any
explosive-rigged system is illegal, for explosives reasons if not for booby
trap reasons.

I know of no case law on this, and suspect that if an FBI agent were to be
electrocuted or blown up upon trying to open/use/disconnect the PC, even
with clear warnings, that a prosecution would happen. Results are unclear
(to me).

(I think that if an FBI agent were to be electrocuted while climbing on a
clearly labelled electrified fence, no prosecution would result.)

Of course, if a PC were to be clearly labelled as being rigged, then steps
could presumably be taken to defuse the arrangement.

>Interesting side note: a few months ago, several hundred 5 gallon
>containers of insecticide were stolen from the lot of an agricultural
>supply dealer here in California.  The incident made a small note in the SF
>Chronicle. It was mentioned that the FBI is taking part in the
>What wasn't mentioned was that this insecticide is an ideal precursor to
>various forms of neuro toxins, namely Tabun and Soman, two types of nerve
>gas so vicious and toxic that even Hitler refused to approve their use. I
>predict that eventful times are just around the corner.

As Lucky knows, I live out in the country. I agree that some "muckers"
(R.I.P. John Brunner) are likely to mount assaults on urban centers.

Bad news for some. But then the good news is that the threat of nuclear
annihilation has all but gone away completely, and that cancels out an
awful lot of the minor bad news items the scribblers keep telling us are so

--Tim May

Timothy C. May              | Crypto Anarchy: encryption, digital money,
[email protected]  408-728-0152 | anonymous networks, digital pseudonyms, zero
Corralitos, CA              | knowledge, reputations, information markets,
Higher Power: 2^756839      | black markets, collapse of governments.
"National borders are just speed bumps on the information superhighway."