If the SMU law student who hacked into his professor’s account was not a Russian but a Singaporean, would we still consider two months jail fair? Would we say he deserves more or less?
Both Straits Times and CNA reported his nationality. CNA emphasised it in its opening sentence while Straits Times mentioned it several times. It is as if being a Russian is a crucial fact in the story.
What he did was certainly a serious offence. He stole his professor’s password, used it to hack into his account, then tried to spy on his classmate’s answers, and finally he tried to delete everyone’s exam scripts.
If he had succeeded, everyone would have to retake their exams and it would be a huge inconvenience. However, he did not succeed because the school had a backup system. In this sense, the harm was limited.
If not for the IT system’s detection capabilities, his professor might have been forced to take the blame. But since the case was resolved quickly, it looks like no serious harm was done to the professor’s reputation and career.
So although it was a serious offence, the harm was limited and it is difficult to justify giving the SMU student a longer sentence.
But to deter others, a harsher punishment may sometimes be necessary. This may be why he was given a custodial sentence. Since this is a new type of crime, there is concern among the authorities that others will try to mimic this.
However, what if he was a Singaporean? Would we say that he deserves a harsher punishment? It is commonly said that everyone should be equal in the eyes of the law. Russian or Singaporean, the punishment should depend on the seriousness of the crime and the harm that it did to others.
In this case, the Deputy Public Prosecutor’s words sound are strangely worded. He said that the accused’s actions “spits in the face of the education system”. I am not sure if there is a hidden message there that plays on his Russian origins.