On the afternoon of July 25, 1990, Zenner began to cross-examine a woman named Billie Williams, a service manager for Southern Bell in Atlanta. Ms. Williams had been responsible for the E911 Document. (She was not its author - its original "author" was a Southern Bell staff manager named Richard Helms. However, Mr. Helms should not bear the entire blame; many telco staff people and maintenance personnel had amended the Document. It had not been so much "written" by a single author, as built by committee out of concrete-blocks of jargon.)
Ms. Williams had been called as a witness for the prosecution, and had gamely tried to explain the basic technical structure of the E911 system, aided by charts.
Now it was Zenner's turn. He first established that the "proprietary stamp" that BellSouth had used on the E911 Document was stamped on every single document that BellSouth wrote - thousands of documents. "We do not publish anything other than for our own company," Ms. Williams explained. "Any company document of this nature is considered proprietary." Nobody was in charge of singling out special high-security publications for special high-security protection. They were all special, no matter how trivial, no matter what their subject matter - the stamp was put on as soon as any document was written, and the stamp was never removed.
Zenner now asked whether the charts she had been using to explain the mechanics of E911 system were "proprietary," too. Were they public information, these charts, all about PSAPs, ALIs, nodes, local end switches? Could he take the charts out in the street and show them to anybody, "without violating some proprietary notion that BellSouth has?"
Ms Williams showed some confusion, but finally agreed that the charts were, in fact, public.
"But isn't this what you said was basically what appeared in Phrack?"
Ms. Williams denied this.
Zenner now pointed out that the E911 Document as published in Phrack was only half the size of the original E911 Document (as Prophet had purloined it). Half of it had been deleted - edited by Neidorf.
Ms. Williams countered that "Most of the information that is in the text file is redundant."
Zenner continued to probe. Exactly what bits of knowledge in the Document were, in fact, unknown to the public? Locations of E911 computers? Phone numbers for telco personnel? Ongoing maintenance subcommittees? Hadn't Neidorf removed much of this?
Then he pounced. "Are you familiar with Bellcore Technical Reference Document TR-TSY-000350?" It was, Zenner explained, officially titled "E911 Public Safety Answering Point Interface Between 1-1AESS Switch and Customer Premises Equipment." It contained highly detailed and specific technical information about the E911 System. It was published by Bellcore and publicly available for about $20.
He showed the witness a Bellcore catalog which listed thousands of documents from Bellcore and from all the Baby Bells, BellSouth included. The catalog, Zenner pointed out, was free. Anyone with a credit card could call the Bellcore toll-free 800 number and simply order any of these documents, which would be shipped to any customer without question. Including, for instance, "BellSouth E911 Service Interfaces to Customer Premises Equipment at a Public Safety Answering Point."
Zenner gave the witness a copy of "BellSouth E911 Service Interfaces," which cost, as he pointed out, $13, straight from the catalog. "Look at it carefully," he urged Ms. Williams, "and tell me if it doesn't contain about twice as much detailed information about the E911 system of BellSouth than appeared anywhere in Phrack."
"You want me to..." Ms. Williams trailed off. "I don't understand."
"Take a careful look," Zenner persisted. "Take a look at that document, and tell me when you're done looking at it if, indeed, it doesn't contain much more detailed information about the E911 system than appeared in Phrack."
"Phrack wasn't taken from this," Ms. Williams said.
"Excuse me?" said Zenner.
"Phrack wasn't taken from this."
"I can't hear you," Zenner said.
"Phrack was not taken from this document. I don't understand your question to me."
"I guess you don't," Zenner said.
At this point, the prosecution's case had been gutshot. Ms. Williams was distressed. Her confusion was quite genuine. Phrack had not been taken from any publicly available Bellcore document. Phrack's E911 Document had been stolen from her own company's computers, from her own company's text files, that her own colleagues had written, and revised, with much labor.
But the "value" of the Document had been blown to smithereens. It wasn't worth eighty grand. According to Bellcore it was worth thirteen bucks. And the looming menace that it supposedly posed had been reduced in instants to a scarecrow. Bellcore itself was selling material far more detailed and "dangerous," to anybody with a credit card and a phone.
Actually, Bellcore was not giving this information to just anybody. They gave it to anybody who asked, but not many did ask. Not many people knew that Bellcore had a free catalog and an 800 number. John Nagle knew, but certainly the average teenage phreak didn't know. "Tuc," a friend of Neidorf's and sometime Phrack contributor, knew, and Tuc had been very helpful to the defense, behind the scenes. But the Legion of Doom didn't know - otherwise, they would never have wasted so much time raiding dumpsters. Cook didn't know. Foley didn't know. Kluepfel didn't know. The right hand of Bellcore knew not what the left hand was doing. The right hand was battering hackers without mercy, while the left hand was distributing Bellcore's intellectual property to anybody who was interested in telephone technical trivia - apparently, a pathetic few.
The digital underground was so amateurish and poorly organized that they had never discovered this heap of unguarded riches. The ivory tower of the telcos was so wrapped-up in the fog of its own technical obscurity that it had left all the windows open and flung open the doors. No one had even noticed.
Zenner sank another nail in the coffin. He produced a printed issue of Telephone Engineer & Management, a prominent industry journal that comes out twice a month and costs $27 a year. This particular issue of TE&M, called "Update on 911," featured a galaxy of technical details on 911 service and a glossary far more extensive than Phrack's.
The trial rumbled on, somehow, through its own momentum. Tim Foley testified about his interrogations of Neidorf. Neidorf's written admission that he had known the E911 Document was pilfered was officially read into the court record.
An interesting side issue came up: "Terminus" had once passed Neidorf a piece of UNIX AT&T software, a log-in sequence, that had been cunningly altered so that it could trap passwords. The UNIX software itself was illegally copied AT&T property, and the alterations "Terminus" had made to it, had transformed it into a device for facilitating computer break-ins. Terminus himself would eventually plead guilty to theft of this piece of software, and the Chicago group would send Terminus to prison for it. But it was of dubious relevance in the Neidorf case. Neidorf hadn't written the program. He wasn't accused of ever having used it. And Neidorf wasn't being charged with software theft or owning a password trapper.
On the next day, Zenner took the offensive. The civil libertarians now had their own arcane, untried legal weaponry to launch into action - the Electronic Communications Privacy Act of 1986, 18 US Code, Section 2701 et seq. Section 2701 makes it a crime to intentionally access without authorization a facility in which an electronic communication service is provided - it is, at heart, an anti-bugging and anti-tapping law, intended to carry the traditional protections of telephones into other electronic channels of communication. While providing penalties for amateur snoops, however, Section 2703 of the ECPA also lays some formal difficulties on the bugging and tapping activities of police.
The Secret Service, in the person of Tim Foley, had served Richard Andrews with a federal grand jury subpoena, in their pursuit of Prophet, the E911 Document, and the Terminus software ring. But according to the Electronic Communications Privacy Act, a "provider of remote computing service" was legally entitled to "prior notice" from the government if a subpoena was used. Richard Andrews and his basement UNIX node, Jolnet, had not received any "prior notice." Tim Foley had purportedly violated the ECPA and committed an electronic crime! Zenner now sought the judge's permission to cross-examine Foley on the topic of Foley's own electronic misdeeds.
Cook argued that Richard Andrews' Jolnet was a privately owned bulletin board, and not within the purview of ECPA. Judge Bua granted the motion of the government to prevent cross-examination on that point, and Zenner's offensive fizzled. This, however, was the first direct assault on the legality of the actions of the Computer Fraud and Abuse Task Force itself - the first suggestion that they themselves had broken the law, and might, perhaps, be called to account.
Zenner, in any case, did not really need the ECPA. Instead, he grilled Foley on the glaring contradictions in the supposed value of the E911 Document. He also brought up the embarrassing fact that the supposedly red-hot E911 Document had been sitting around for months, in Jolnet, with Kluepfel's knowledge, while Kluepfel had done nothing about it.
In the afternoon, the Prophet was brought in to testify for the prosecution. (The Prophet, it will be recalled, had also been indicted in the case as partner in a fraud scheme with Neidorf.) In Atlanta, the Prophet had already pled guilty to one charge of conspiracy, one charge of wire fraud and one charge of interstate transportation of stolen property. The wire fraud charge, and the stolen property charge, were both directly based on the E911 Document.
The twenty-year-old Prophet proved a sorry customer, answering questions politely but in a barely audible mumble, his voice trailing off at the ends of sentences. He was constantly urged to speak up.
Cook, examining Prophet, forced him to admit that he had once had a "drug problem," abusing amphetamines, marijuana, cocaine, and LSD. This may have established to the jury that "hackers" are, or can be, seedy lowlife characters, but it may have damaged Prophet's credibility somewhat. Zenner later suggested that drugs might have damaged Prophet's memory. The interesting fact also surfaced that Prophet had never physically met Craig Neidorf. He didn't even know Neidorf's last name - at least, not until the trial.
Prophet confirmed the basic facts of his hacker career. He was a member of the Legion of Doom. He had abused codes, he had broken into switching stations and re-routed calls, he had hung out on pirate bulletin boards. He had raided the BellSouth AIMSX computer, copied the E911 Document, stored it on Jolnet, mailed it to Neidorf. He and Neidorf had edited it, and Neidorf had known where it came from.
Zenner, however, had Prophet confirm that Neidorf was not a member of the Legion of Doom, and had not urged Prophet to break into BellSouth computers. Neidorf had never urged Prophet to defraud anyone, or to steal anything. Prophet also admitted that he had never known Neidorf to break in to any computer. Prophet said that no one in the Legion of Doom considered Craig Neidorf a "hacker" at all. Neidorf was not a UNIX maven, and simply lacked the necessary skill and ability to break into computers. Neidorf just published a magazine.
On Friday, July 27, 1990, the case against Neidorf collapsed. Cook moved to dismiss the indictment, citing "information currently available to us that was not available to us at the inception of the trial." Judge Bua praised the prosecution for this action, which he described as "very responsible," then dismissed a juror and declared a mistrial.
Neidorf was a free man. His defense, however, had cost himself and his family dearly. Months of his life had been consumed in anguish; he had seen his closest friends shun him as a federal criminal. He owed his lawyers over a hundred thousand dollars, despite a generous payment to the defense by Mitch Kapor.
Neidorf was not found innocent. The trial was simply dropped. Nevertheless, on September 9, 1991, Judge Bua granted Neidorf's motion for the "expungement and sealing" of his indictment record. The United States Secret Service was ordered to delete and destroy all fingerprints, photographs, and other records of arrest or processing relating to Neidorf's indictment, including their paper documents and their computer records.
Neidorf went back to school, blazingly determined to become a lawyer. Having seen the justice system at work, Neidorf lost much of his enthusiasm for merely technical power. At this writing, Craig Neidorf is working in Washington as a salaried researcher for the American Civil Liberties Union.
Legally speaking, the Neidorf case was not a sweeping triumph for anyone concerned. No constitutional principles had been established. The issues of "freedom of the press" for electronic publishers remained in legal limbo. There were public misconceptions about the case. Many people thought Neidorf had been found innocent and relieved of all his legal debts by Kapor. The truth was that the government had simply dropped the case, and Neidorf's family had gone deeply into hock to support him.
But the Neidorf case did provide a single, devastating, public sound-bite: The feds said it was worth eighty grand, and it was only worth thirteen bucks.
This is the Neidorf case's single most memorable element. No serious report of the case missed this particular element. Even cops could not read this without a wince and a shake of the head. It left the public credibility of the crackdown agents in tatters.
The crackdown, in fact, continued, however. Those two charges against Prophet, which had been based on the E911 Document, were quietly forgotten at his sentencing - even though Prophet had already pled guilty to them. Georgia federal prosecutors strongly argued for jail time for the Atlanta Three, insisting on "the need to send a message to the community," "the message that hackers around the country need to hear."
There was a great deal in their sentencing memorandum about the awful things that various other hackers had done (though the Atlanta Three themselves had not, in fact, actually committed these crimes). There was also much speculation about the awful things that the Atlanta Three might have done and were capable of doing (even though they had not, in fact, actually done them). The prosecution's argument carried the day. The Atlanta Three were sent to prison: Urvile and Leftist both got 14 months each, while Prophet (a second offender) got 21 months.
The Atlanta Three were also assessed staggering fines as "restitution": $233,000 each. BellSouth claimed that the defendants had "stolen" "approximately $233,880 worth" of "proprietary computer access information" - specifically, $233,880 worth of computer passwords and connect addresses. BellSouth's astonishing claim of the extreme value of its own computer passwords and addresses was accepted at face value by the Georgia court. Furthermore (as if to emphasize its theoretical nature) this enormous sum was not divvied up among the Atlanta Three, but each of them had to pay all of it.
A striking aspect of the sentence was that the Atlanta Three were specifically forbidden to use computers, except for work or under supervision. Depriving hackers of home computers and modems makes some sense if one considers hackers as "computer addicts," but EFF, filing an amicus brief in the case, protested that this punishment was unconstitutional - it deprived the Atlanta Three of their rights of free association and free expression through electronic media.
Terminus, the "ultimate hacker," was finally sent to prison for a year through the dogged efforts of the Chicago Task Force. His crime, to which he pled guilty, was the transfer of the UNIX password trapper, which was officially valued by AT&T at $77,000, a figure which aroused intense skepticism among those familiar with UNIX "login.c" programs.
The jailing of Terminus and the Atlanta Legionnaires of Doom, however, did not cause the EFF any sense of embarrassment or defeat. On the contrary, the civil libertarians were rapidly gathering strength.
An early and potent supporter was Senator Patrick Leahy, Democrat from Vermont, who had been a Senate sponsor of the Electronic Communications Privacy Act. Even before the Neidorf trial, Leahy had spoken out in defense of hacker-power and freedom of the keyboard: "We cannot unduly inhibit the inquisitive 13-year-old who, if left to experiment today, may tomorrow develop the telecommunications or computer technology to lead the United States into the 21st century. He represents our future and our best hope to remain a technologically competitive nation."
It was a handsome statement, rendered perhaps rather more effective by the fact that the crackdown raiders did not have any Senators speaking out for them. On the contrary, their highly secretive actions and tactics, all "sealed search warrants" here and "confidential ongoing investigations" there, might have won them a burst of glamorous publicity at first, but were crippling them in the on-going propaganda war. Gail Thackeray was reduced to unsupported bluster: "Some of these people who are loudest on the bandwagon may just slink into the background," she predicted in Newsweek - when all the facts came out, and the cops were vindicated.
But all the facts did not come out. Those facts that did, were not very flattering. And the cops were not vindicated. And Gail Thackeray lost her job. By the end of 1991, William Cook had also left public employment.
1990 had belonged to the crackdown, but by '91 its agents were in severe disarray, and the libertarians were on a roll. People were flocking to the cause.
A particularly interesting ally had been Mike Godwin of Austin, Texas. Godwin was an individual almost as difficult to describe as Barlow; he had been editor of the student newspaper of the University of Texas, and a computer salesman, and a programmer, and in 1990 was back in law school, looking for a law degree.
Godwin was also a bulletin board maven. He was very well-known in the Austin board community under his handle "Johnny Mnemonic," which he adopted from a cyberpunk science fiction story by William Gibson. Godwin was an ardent cyberpunk science fiction fan. As a fellow Austinite of similar age and similar interests, I myself had known Godwin socially for many years. When William Gibson and myself had been writing our collaborative SF novel, The Difference Engine, Godwin had been our technical advisor in our effort to link our Apple word-processors from Austin to Vancouver. Gibson and I were so pleased by his generous expert help that we named a character in the novel "Michael Godwin" in his honor.
The handle "Mnemonic" suited Godwin very well. His erudition and his mastery of trivia were impressive to the point of stupor; his ardent curiosity seemed insatiable, and his desire to debate and argue seemed the central drive of his life. Godwin had even started his own Austin debating society, wryly known as the "Dull Men's Club." In person, Godwin could be overwhelming; a flypaper-brained polymath who could not seem to let any idea go. On bulletin boards, however, Godwin's closely reasoned, highly grammatical, erudite posts suited the medium well, and he became a local board celebrity.
Mike Godwin was the man most responsible for the public national exposure of the Steve Jackson case. The Izenberg seizure in Austin had received no press coverage at all. The March 1 raids on Mentor, Bloodaxe, and Steve Jackson Games had received a brief front-page splash in the front page of the Austin American-Statesman, but it was confused and ill-informed: the warrants were sealed, and the Secret Service wasn't talking. Steve Jackson seemed doomed to obscurity. Jackson had not been arrested; he was not charged with any crime; he was not on trial. He had lost some computers in an ongoing investigation - so what? Jackson tried hard to attract attention to the true extent of his plight, but he was drawing a blank; no one in a position to help him seemed able to get a mental grip on the issues.
Godwin, however, was uniquely, almost magically, qualified to carry Jackson's case to the outside world. Godwin was a board enthusiast, a science fiction fan, a former journalist, a computer salesman, a lawyer-to-be, and an Austinite. Through a coincidence yet more amazing, in his last year of law school Godwin had specialized in federal prosecutions and criminal procedure. Acting entirely on his own, Godwin made up a press packet which summarized the issues and provided useful contacts for reporters. Godwin's behind-the-scenes effort (which he carried out mostly to prove a point in a local board debate) broke the story again in the Austin American-Statesman and then in Newsweek.
Life was never the same for Mike Godwin after that. As he joined the growing civil liberties debate on the Internet, it was obvious to all parties involved that here was one guy who, in the midst of complete murk and confusion, genuinely understood everything he was talking about. The disparate elements of Godwin's dilettantish existence suddenly fell together as neatly as the facets of a Rubik's cube.
When the time came to hire a full-time EFF staff attorney, Godwin was the obvious choice. He took the Texas bar exam, left Austin, moved to Cambridge, became a full-time, professional, computer civil libertarian, and was soon touring the nation on behalf of EFF, delivering well-received addresses on the issues to crowds as disparate as academics, industrialists, science fiction fans, and federal cops.
Michael Godwin is currently the chief legal counsel of the Electronic Frontier Foundation in Cambridge, Massachusetts.
Dr. Denning took it upon herself to contact the digital underground, more or less with an anthropological interest. There she discovered that these computer-intruding hackers, who had been characterized as unethical, irresponsible, and a serious danger to society, did in fact have their own subculture and their own rules. They were not particularly well-considered rules, but they were, in fact, rules. Basically, they didn't take money and they didn't break anything.
Her dispassionate reports on her researches did a great deal to influence serious-minded computer professionals - the sort of people who merely rolled their eyes at the cyberspace rhapsodies of a John Perry Barlow.
For young hackers of the digital underground, meeting Dorothy Denning was a genuinely mind-boggling experience. Here was this neatly coiffed, conservatively dressed, dainty little personage, who reminded most hackers of their moms or their aunts. And yet she was an IBM systems programmer with profound expertise in computer architectures and high-security information flow, who had personal friends in the FBI and the National Security Agency.
Dorothy Denning was a shining example of the American mathematical intelligentsia, a genuinely brilliant person from the central ranks of the computer-science elite. And here she was, gently questioning twenty-year-old hairy-eyed phone-phreaks over the deeper ethical implications of their behavior.
Confronted by this genuinely nice lady, most hackers sat up very straight and did their best to keep the anarchy-file stuff down to a faint whiff of brimstone. Nevertheless, the hackers were in fact prepared to seriously discuss serious issues with Dorothy Denning. They were willing to speak the unspeakable and defend the indefensible, to blurt out their convictions that information cannot be owned, that the databases of governments and large corporations were a threat to the rights and privacy of individuals.
Denning's articles made it clear to many that "hacking" was not simple vandalism by some evil clique of psychotics. "Hacking" was not an aberrant menace that could be charmed away by ignoring it, or swept out of existence by jailing a few ringleaders. Instead, "hacking" was symptomatic of a growing, primal struggle over knowledge and power in the age of information.
Denning pointed out that the attitude of hackers were at least partially shared by forward-looking management theorists in the business community: people like Peter Drucker and Tom Peters. Peter Drucker, in his book The New Realities, had stated that "control of information by the government is no longer possible. Indeed, information is now transnational. Like money, it has no `fatherland.' "
And management maven Tom Peters had chided large corporations for uptight, proprietary attitudes in his bestseller, Thriving on Chaos: "Information hoarding, especially by politically motivated, power-seeking staffs, had been commonplace throughout American industry, service and manufacturing alike. It will be an impossible millstone aroung the neck of tomorrow's organizations."
Dorothy Denning had shattered the social membrane of the digital underground. She attended the Neidorf trial, where she was prepared to testify for the defense as an expert witness. She was a behind-the-scenes organizer of two of the most important national meetings of the computer civil libertarians. Though not a zealot of any description, she brought disparate elements of the electronic community into a surprising and fruitful collusion.
Dorothy Denning is currently the Chair of the Computer Science Department at Georgetown University in Washington, DC.
Mitch had become the central civil-libertarian ad-hocrat. Mitch had stood up first, he had spoken out loudly, directly, vigorously and angrily, he had put his own reputation, and his very considerable personal fortune, on the line. By mid-'91 Kapor was the best-known advocate of his cause and was known personally by almost every single human being in America with any direct influence on the question of civil liberties in cyberspace. Mitch had built bridges, crossed voids, changed paradigms, forged metaphors, made phone-calls and swapped business cards to such spectacular effect that it had become impossible for anyone to take any action in the "hacker question" without wondering what Mitch might think - and say - and tell his friends.
The EFF had simply networked the situation into an entirely new status quo. And in fact this had been EFF's deliberate strategy from the beginning. Both Barlow and Kapor loathed bureaucracies and had deliberately chosen to work almost entirely through the electronic spiderweb of "valuable personal contacts."
After a year of EFF, both Barlow and Kapor had every reason to look back with satisfaction. EFF had established its own Internet node, "eff.org," with a well-stocked electronic archive of documents on electronic civil rights, privacy issues, and academic freedom. EFF was also publishing EFFector, a quarterly printed journal, as well as EFFector Online, an electronic newsletter with over 1,200 subscribers. And EFF was thriving on the Well.
EFF had a national headquarters in Cambridge and a full-time staff. It had become a membership organization and was attracting grass roots support. It had also attracted the support of some thirty civil-rights lawyers, ready and eager to do pro bono work in defense of the Constitution in Cyberspace.
EFF had lobbied successfully in Washington and in Massachusetts to change state and federal legislation on computer networking. Kapor in particular had become a veteran expert witness, and had joined the Computer Science and Telecommunications Board of the National Academy of Science and Engineering.
EFF had sponsored meetings such as "Computers, Freedom and Privacy" and the CPSR Roundtable. It had carried out a press offensive that, in the words of EFFector, "has affected the climate of opinion about computer networking and begun to reverse the slide into `hacker hysteria' that was beginning to grip the nation."
It had helped Craig Neidorf avoid prison.
And, last but certainly not least, the Electronic Frontier Foundation had filed a federal lawsuit in the name of Steve Jackson, Steve Jackson Games Inc., and three users of the Illuminati bulletin board system. The defendants were, and are, the United States Secret Service, William Cook, Tim Foley, Barbara Golden and Henry Kleupfel.
The case, which is in pre-trial procedures in an Austin federal court as of this writing, is a civil action for damages to redress alleged violations of the First and Fourth Amendments to the United States Constitution, as well as the Privacy Protection Act of 1980 (42 USC 2000aa et seq.), and the Electronic Communications Privacy Act (18 USC 2510 et seq and 2701 et seq).
EFF had established that it had credibility. It had also established that it had teeth.
In the fall of 1991 I travelled to Massachusetts to speak personally with Mitch Kapor. It was my final interview for this book.
The Battle of Bunker Hill, one of the first and bitterest armed clashes of the American Revolution, was fought in Boston's environs. Today there is a monumental spire on Bunker Hill, visible throughout much of the city. The willingness of the republican revolutionaries to take up arms and fire on their oppressors has left a cultural legacy that two full centuries have not effaced. Bunker Hill is still a potent center of American political symbolism, and the Spirit of '76 is still a potent image for those who seek to mold public opinion.
Of course, not everyone who wraps himself in the flag is necessarily a patriot. When I visited the spire in September 1991, it bore a huge, badly-erased, spray-can grafitto around its bottom reading "BRITS OUT - IRA PROVOS." Inside this hallowed edifice was a glass-cased diorama of thousands of tiny toy soldiers, rebels and redcoats, fighting and dying over the green hill, the riverside marshes, the rebel trenchworks. Plaques indicated the movement of troops, the shiftings of strategy. The Bunker Hill Monument is occupied at its very center by the toy soldiers of a military war-game simulation.
The Boston metroplex is a place of great universities, prominent among the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, where the term "computer hacker" was first coined. The Hacker Crackdown of 1990 might be interpreted as a political struggle among American cities: traditional strongholds of longhair intellectual liberalism, such as Boston, San Francisco, and Austin, versus the bare-knuckle industrial pragmatism of Chicago and Phoenix (with Atlanta and New York wrapped in internal struggle).
The headquarters of the Electronic Frontier Foundation is on 155 Second Street in Cambridge, a Bostonian suburb north of the River Charles. Second Street has weedy sidewalks of dented, sagging brick and elderly cracked asphalt; large street-signs warn "NO PARKING DURING DECLARED SNOW EMERGENCY." This is an old area of modest manufacturing industries; the EFF is catecorner from the Greene Rubber Company. EFF's building is two stories of red brick; its large wooden windows feature gracefully arched tops and stone sills.
The glass window beside the Second Street entrance bears three sheets of neatly laser-printed paper, taped against the glass. They read: ON Technology. EFF. KEI.
"ON Technology" is Kapor's software company, which currently specializes in "groupware" for the Apple Macintosh computer. "Groupware" is intended to promote efficient social interaction among office-workers linked by computers. ON Technology's most successful software products to date are "Meeting Maker" and "Instant Update."
"KEI" is Kapor Enterprises Inc., Kapor's personal holding company, the commercial entity that formally controls his extensive investments in other hardware and software corporations.
"EFF" is a political action group - of a special sort.
Inside, someone's bike has been chained to the handrails of a modest flight of stairs. A wall of modish glass brick separates this anteroom from the offices. Beyond the brick, there's an alarm system mounted on the wall, a sleek, complex little number that resembles a cross between a thermostat and a CD player. Piled against the wall are box after box of a recent special issue of Scientific American, "How to Work, Play, and Thrive in Cyberspace," with extensive coverage of electronic networking techniques and political issues, including an article by Kapor himself. These boxes are addressed to Gerard Van der Leun, EFF's Director of Communications, who will shortly mail those magazines to every member of the EFF.
The joint headquarters of EFF, KEI, and ON Technology, which Kapor currently rents, is a modestly bustling place. It's very much the same physical size as Steve Jackson's gaming company. It's certainly a far cry from the gigantic gray steel-sided railway shipping barn, on the Monsignor O'Brien Highway, that is owned by Lotus Development Corporation.
Lotus is, of course, the software giant that Mitchell Kapor founded in the late 70s. The software program Kapor co-authored, "Lotus 1-2-3," is still that company's most profitable product. "Lotus 1-2-3" also bears a singular distinction in the digital underground: it's probably the most pirated piece of application software in world history.
Kapor greets me cordially in his own office, down a hall. Kapor, whose name is pronounced KAY-por, is in his early forties, married and the father of two. He has a round face, high forehead, straight nose, a slightly tousled mop of black hair peppered with gray. His large brown eyes are wideset, reflective, one might almost say soulful. He disdains ties, and commonly wears Hawaiian shirts and tropical prints, not so much garish as simply cheerful and just that little bit anomalous.
There is just the whiff of hacker brimstone about Mitch Kapor. He may not have the hard-riding, hell-for-leather, guitar-strumming charisma of his Wyoming colleague John Perry Barlow, but there's something about the guy that still stops one short. He has the air of the Eastern city dude in the bowler hat, the dreamy, Longfellow-quoting poker shark who only happens to know the exact mathematical odds against drawing to an inside straight. Even among his computer-community colleagues, who are hardly known for mental sluggishness, Kapor strikes one forcefully as a very intelligent man. He speaks rapidly, with vigorous gestures, his Boston accent sometimes slipping to the sharp nasal tang of his youth in Long Island.
Kapor, whose Kapor Family Foundation does much of his philanthropic work, is a strong supporter of Boston's Computer Museum. Kapor's interest in the history of his industry has brought him some remarkable curios, such as the "byte" just outside his office door. This "byte" - eight digital bits - has been salvaged from the wreck of an electronic computer of the pre-transistor age. It's a standing gunmetal rack about the size of a small toaster-oven: with eight slots of hand-soldered breadboarding featuring thumb-sized vacuum tubes. If it fell off a table it could easily break your foot, but it was state-of-the-art computation in the 1940s. (It would take exactly 157,184 of these primordial toasters to hold the first part of this book.)
There's also a coiling, multicolored, scaly dragon that some inspired techno-punk artist has cobbled up entirely out of transistors, capacitors, and brightly plastic-coated wiring.
Inside the office, Kapor excuses himself briefly to do a little mouse-whizzing housekeeping on his personal Macintosh IIfx. If its giant screen were an open window, an agile person could climb through it without much trouble at all. There's a coffee-cup at Kapor's elbow, a memento of his recent trip to Eastern Europe, which has a black-and-white stencilled photo and the legend CAPITALIST FOOLS TOUR. It's Kapor, Barlow, and two California venture-capitalist luminaries of their acquaintance, four windblown, grinning Baby Boomer dudes in leather jackets, boots, denim, travel bags, standing on airport tarmac somewhere behind the formerly Iron Curtain. They look as if they're having the absolute time of their lives.
Kapor is in a reminiscent mood. We talk a bit about his youth - high school days as a "math nerd," Saturdays attending Columbia University's high-school science honors program, where he had his first experience programming computers. IBM 1620s, in 1965 and '66. "I was very interested," says Kapor, "and then I went off to college and got distracted by drugs, sex and rock and roll, like anybody with half a brain would have then!" After college he was a progressive-rock DJ in Hartford, Connecticut, for a couple of years.
I ask him if he ever misses his rock and roll days - if he ever wished he could go back to radio work.
He shakes his head flatly. "I stopped thinking about going back to be a DJ the day after Altamont."
Kapor moved to Boston in 1974 and got a job programming mainframes in COBOL. He hated it. He quit and became a teacher of transcendental meditation. (It was Kapor's long flirtation with Eastern mysticism that gave the world "Lotus.")
In 1976 Kapor went to Switzerland, where the Transcendental Meditation movement had rented a gigantic Victorian hotel in St-Moritz. It was an all-male group - a hundred and twenty of them - determined upon Enlightenment or Bust. Kapor had given the transcendant his best shot. He was becoming disenchanted by "the nuttiness in the organization." "They were teaching people to levitate," he says, staring at the floor. His voice drops an octave, becomes flat. "They don't levitate."
Kapor chose Bust. He went back to the States and acquired a degree in counselling psychology. He worked a while in a hospital, couldn't stand that either. "My rep was," he says "a very bright kid with a lot of potential who hasn't found himself. Almost thirty. Sort of lost."
Kapor was unemployed when he bought his first personal computer - an Apple II. He sold his stereo to raise cash and drove to New Hampshire to avoid the sales tax.
"The day after I purchased it," Kapor tells me, "I was hanging out in a computer store and I saw another guy, a man in his forties, well-dressed guy, and eavesdropped on his conversation with the salesman. He didn't know anything about computers. I'd had a year programming. And I could program in BASIC. I'd taught myself. So I went up to him, and I actually sold myself to him as a consultant." He pauses. "I don't know where I got the nerve to do this. It was uncharacteristic. I just said, `I think I can help you, I've been listening, this is what you need to do and I think I can do it for you.' And he took me on! He was my first client! I became a computer consultant the first day after I bought the Apple II."
Kapor had found his true vocation. He attracted more clients for his consultant service, and started an Apple users' group.
A friend of Kapor's, Eric Rosenfeld, a graduate student at MIT, had a problem. He was doing a thesis on an arcane form of financial statistics, but could not wedge himself into the crowded queue for time on MIT's mainframes. (One might note at this point that if Mr. Rosenfeld had dishonestly broken into the MIT mainframes, Kapor himself might have never invented Lotus 1-2-3 and the PC business might have been set back for years!) Eric Rosenfeld did have an Apple II, however, and he thought it might be possible to scale the problem down. Kapor, as favor, wrote a program for him in BASIC that did the job.
It then occurred to the two of them, out of the blue, that it might be possible to sell this program. They marketed it themselves, in plastic baggies, for about a hundred bucks a pop, mail order. "This was a total cottage industry by a marginal consultant," Kapor says proudly. "That's how I got started, honest to God."
Rosenfeld, who later became a very prominent figure on Wall Street, urged Kapor to go to MIT's business school for an MBA. Kapor did seven months there, but never got his MBA. He picked up some useful tools - mainly a firm grasp of the principles of accounting - and, in his own words, "learned to talk MBA." Then he dropped out and went to Silicon Valley.
The inventors of VisiCalc, the Apple computer's premier business program, had shown an interest in Mitch Kapor. Kapor worked diligently for them for six months, got tired of California, and went back to Boston where they had better bookstores. The VisiCalc group had made the critical error of bringing in "professional management." "That drove them into the ground," Kapor says.
"Yeah, you don't hear a lot about VisiCalc these days," I muse.
Kapor looks surprised. "Well, Lotus... we bought it."
"Oh. You bought it?"
"Sort of like the Bell System buying Western Union?"
Kapor grins. "Yep! Yep! Yeah, exactly!"
Mitch Kapor was not in full command of the destiny of himself or his industry. The hottest software commodities of the early 1980s were computer games - the Atari seemed destined to enter every teenage home in America. Kapor got into business software simply because he didn't have any particular feeling for computer games. But he was supremely fast on his feet, open to new ideas and inclined to trust his instincts. And his instincts were good. He chose good people to deal with - gifted programmer Jonathan Sachs (the co-author of Lotus 1-2-3). Financial wizard Eric Rosenfeld, canny Wall Street analyst and venture capitalist Ben Rosen. Kapor was the founder and CEO of Lotus, one of the most spectacularly successful business ventures of the later twentieth century.
He is now an extremely wealthy man. I ask him if he actually knows how much money he has.
"Yeah," he says. "Within a percent or two."
How much does he actually have, then?
He shakes his head. "A lot. A lot. Not something I talk about. Issues of money and class are things that cut pretty close to the bone."
I don't pry. It's beside the point. One might presume, impolitely, that Kapor has at least forty million - that's what he got the year he left Lotus. People who ought to know claim Kapor has about a hundred and fifty million, give or take a market swing in his stock holdings. If Kapor had stuck with Lotus, as his colleague friend and rival Bill Gates has stuck with his own software start-up, Microsoft, then Kapor would likely have much the same fortune Gates has - somewhere in the neighborhood of three billion, give or take a few hundred million. Mitch Kapor has all the money he wants. Money has lost whatever charm it ever held for him - probably not much in the first place. When Lotus became too uptight, too bureaucratic, too far from the true sources of his own satisfaction, Kapor walked. He simply severed all connections with the company and went out the door. It stunned everyone - except those who knew him best.
Kapor has not had to strain his resources to wreak a thorough transformation in cyberspace politics. In its first year, EFF's budget was about a quarter of a million dollars. Kapor is running EFF out of his pocket change.
Kapor takes pains to tell me that he does not consider himself a civil libertarian per se. He has spent quite some time with true-blue civil libertarians lately, and there's a political-correctness to them that bugs him. They seem to him to spend entirely too much time in legal nitpicking and not enough vigorously exercising civil rights in the everyday real world.
Kapor is an entrepreneur. Like all hackers, he prefers his involvements direct, personal, and hands-on. "The fact that EFF has a node on the Internet is a great thing. We're a publisher. We're a distributor of information." Among the items the eff.org Internet node carries is back issues of Phrack. They had an internal debate about that in EFF, and finally decided to take the plunge. They might carry other digital underground publications - but if they do, he says, "we'll certainly carry Donn Parker, and anything Gail Thackeray wants to put up. We'll turn it into a public library, that has the whole spectrum of use. Evolve in the direction of people making up their own minds." He grins. "We'll try to label all the editorials."
Kapor is determined to tackle the technicalities of the Internet in the service of the public interest. "The problem with being a node on the Net today is that you've got to have a captive technical specialist. We have Chris Davis around, for the care and feeding of the balky beast! We couldn't do it ourselves!"
He pauses. "So one direction in which technology has to evolve is much more standardized units, that a non-technical person can feel comfortable with. It's the same shift as from minicomputers to PCs. I can see a future in which any person can have a Node on the Net. Any person can be a publisher. It's better than the media we now have. It's possible. We're working actively."
Kapor is in his element now, fluent, thoroughly in command in his material. "You go tell a hardware Internet hacker that everyone should have a node on the Net," he says, "and the first thing they're going to say is, `IP doesn't scale!"' ("IP" is the interface protocol for the Internet. As it currently exists, the IP software is simply not capable of indefinite expansion; it will run out of usable addresses, it will saturate.) "The answer," Kapor says, "is: evolve the protocol! Get the smart people together and figure out what to do. Do we add ID? Do we add new protocol? Don't just say, we can't do it."
Getting smart people together to figure out what to do is a skill at which Kapor clearly excels. I counter that people on the Internet rather enjoy their elite technical status, and don't seem particularly anxious to democratize the Net.
Kapor agrees, with a show of scorn. "I tell them that this is the snobbery of the people on the Mayflower looking down their noses at the people who came over on the second boat! Just because they got here a year, or five years, or ten years before everybody else, that doesn't give them ownership of cyberspace! By what right?"
I remark that the telcos are an electronic network, too, and they seem to guard their specialized knowledge pretty closely.
Kapor ripostes that the telcos and the Internet are entirely different animals. "The Internet is an open system, everything is published, everything gets argued about, basically by anybody who can get in. Mostly, it's exclusive and elitist just because it's so difficult. Let's make it easier to use."
On the other hand, he allows with a swift change of emphasis, the so-called elitists do have a point as well. "Before people start coming in, who are new, who want to make suggestions, and criticize the Net as `all screwed up'... They should at least take the time to understand the culture on its own terms. It has its own history - show some respect for it. I'm a conservative, to that extent."
The Internet is Kapor's paradigm for the future of telecommunications. The Internet is decentralized, non-hierarchical, almost anarchic. There are no bosses, no chain of command, no secret data. If each node obeys the general interface standards, there's simply no need for any central network authority.
Wouldn't that spell the doom of AT&T as an institution? I ask.
That prospect doesn't faze Kapor for a moment. "Their big advantage, that they have now, is that they have all of the wiring. But two things are happening. Anyone with right-of-way is putting down fiber - Southern Pacific Railroad, people like that - there's enormous `dark fiber' laid in." ("Dark Fiber" is fiber-optic cable, whose enormous capacity so exceeds the demands of current usage that much of the fiber still has no light-signals on it - it's still `dark,' awaiting future use.)
"The other thing that's happening is the local-loop stuff is going to go wireless. Everyone from Bellcore to the cable TV companies to AT&T wants to put in these things called `personal communication systems.' So you could have local competition - you could have multiplicity of people, a bunch of neighborhoods, sticking stuff up on poles. And a bunch of other people laying in dark fiber. So what happens to the telephone companies? There's enormous pressure on them from both sides.
"The more I look at this, the more I believe that in a post-industrial, digital world, the idea of regulated monopolies is bad. People will look back on it and say that in the 19th and 20th centuries the idea of public utilities was an okay compromise. You needed one set of wires in the ground. It was too economically inefficient, otherwise. And that meant one entity running it. But now, with pieces being wireless - the connections are going to be via high-level interfaces, not via wires. I mean, ultimately there are going to be wires - but the wires are just a commodity. Fiber, wireless. You no longer need a utility."
Water utilities? Gas utilities?
Of course we still need those, he agrees. "But when what you're moving is information, instead of physical substances, then you can play by a different set of rules. We're evolving those rules now! Hopefully you can have a much more decentralized system, and one in which there's more competition in the marketplace.
"The role of government will be to make sure that nobody cheats. The proverbial `level playing field.' A policy that prevents monopolization. It should result in better service, lower prices, more choices, and local empowerment." He smiles. "I'm very big on local empowerment."
Kapor is a man with a vision. It's a very novel vision which he and his allies are working out in considerable detail and with great energy. Dark, cynical, morbid cyberpunk that I am, I cannot avoid considering some of the darker implications of "decentralized, nonhierarchical, locally empowered" networking.
I remark that some pundits have suggested that electronic networking - faxes, phones, small-scale photocopiers - played a strong role in dissolving the power of centralized communism and causing the collapse of the Warsaw Pact.
Socialism is totally discredited, says Kapor, fresh back from the Eastern Bloc. The idea that faxes did it, all by themselves, is rather wishful thinking.
Has it occurred to him that electronic networking might corrode America's industrial and political infrastructure to the point where the whole thing becomes untenable, unworkable - and the old order just collapses headlong, like in Eastern Europe?
"No," Kapor says flatly. "I think that's extraordinarily unlikely. In part, because ten or fifteen years ago, I had similar hopes about personal computers - which utterly failed to materialize." He grins wryly, then his eyes narrow. "I'm very opposed to techno-utopias. Every time I see one, I either run away, or try to kill it."
It dawns on me then that Mitch Kapor is not trying to make the world safe for democracy. He certainly is not trying to make it safe for anarchists or utopians - least of all for computer intruders or electronic rip-off artists. What he really hopes to do is make the world safe for future Mitch Kapors. This world of decentralized, small-scale nodes, with instant global access for the best and brightest, would be a perfect milieu for the shoestring attic capitalism that made Mitch Kapor what he is today.
Kapor is a very bright man. He has a rare combination of visionary intensity with a strong practical streak. The Board of the EFF: John Barlow, Jerry Berman of the ACLU, Stewart Brand, John Gilmore, Steve Wozniak, and Esther Dyson, the doyenne of East-West computer entrepreneurism - share his gift, his vision, and his formidable networking talents. They are people of the 1960s, winnowed-out by its turbulence and rewarded with wealth and influence. They are some of the best and the brightest that the electronic community has to offer. But can they do it, in the real world? Or are they only dreaming? They are so few. And there is so much against them.
I leave Kapor and his networking employees struggling cheerfully with the promising intricacies of their newly installed Macintosh System 7 software. The next day is Saturday. EFF is closed. I pay a few visits to points of interest downtown.
One of them is the birthplace of the telephone.
It's marked by a bronze plaque in a plinth of black-and-white speckled granite. It sits in the plaza of the John F. Kennedy Federal Building, the very place where Kapor was once fingerprinted by the FBI.
The plaque has a bas-relief picture of Bell's original telephone. "BIRTHPLACE OF THE TELEPHONE," it reads. "Here, on June 2, 1875, Alexander Graham Bell and Thomas A. Watson first transmitted sound over wires.
"This successful experiment was completed in a fifth floor garret at what was then 109 Court Street and marked the beginning of world-wide telephone service."
109 Court Street is long gone. Within sight of Bell's plaque, across a street, is one of the central offices of NYNEX, the local Bell RBOC, on 6 Bowdoin Square.
I cross the street and circle the telco building, slowly, hands in my jacket pockets. It's a bright, windy, New England autumn day. The central office is a handsome 1940s-era megalith in late Art Deco, eight stories high.
Parked outside the back is a power-generation truck. The generator strikes me as rather anomalous. Don't they already have their own generators in this eight-story monster? Then the suspicion strikes me that NYNEX must have heard of the September 17 AT&T power-outage which crashed New York City. Belt-and-suspenders, this generator. Very telco.
Over the glass doors of the front entrance is a handsome bronze bas-relief of Art Deco vines, sunflowers, and birds, entwining the Bell logo and the legend NEW ENGLAND TELEPHONE AND TELEGRAPH COMPANY - an entity which no longer officially exists.
The doors are locked securely. I peer through the shadowed glass. Inside is an official poster reading:
"New England Telephone a NYNEX Company
"All persons while on New England Telephone Company premises are required to visibly wear their identification cards (C.C.P. Section 2, Page 1).
"Visitors, vendors, contractors, and all others are required to visibly wear a daily pass.
"Thank you. Kevin C. Stanton. Building Security Coordinator."
Outside, around the corner, is a pull-down ribbed metal security door, a locked delivery entrance. Some passing stranger has grafitti-tagged this door, with a single word in red spray-painted cursive:
In February 1991, I attended the CPSR Public Policy Roundtable, in Washington, DC. CPSR, Computer Professionals for Social Responsibility, was a sister organization of EFF, or perhaps its aunt, being older and perhaps somewhat wiser in the ways of the world of politics.
Computer Professionals for Social Responsibility began in 1981 in Palo Alto, as an informal discussion group of Californian computer scientists and technicians, united by nothing more than an electronic mailing list. This typical high-tech ad-hocracy received the dignity of its own acronym in 1982, and was formally incorporated in 1983.
CPSR lobbied government and public alike with an educational outreach effort, sternly warning against any foolish and unthinking trust in complex computer systems. CPSR insisted that mere computers should never be considered a magic panacea for humanity's social, ethical or political problems. CPSR members were especially troubled about the stability, safety, and dependability of military computer systems, and very especially troubled by those systems controlling nuclear arsenals. CPSR was best-known for its persistent and well-publicized attacks on the scientific credibility of the Strategic Defense Initiative ("Star Wars").
In 1990, CPSR was the nation's veteran cyber-political activist group, with over two thousand members in twenty-one local chapters across the US. It was especially active in Boston, Silicon Valley, and Washington DC, where its Washington office sponsored the Public Policy Roundtable.
The Roundtable, however, had been funded by EFF, which had passed CPSR an extensive grant for operations. This was the first large-scale, official meeting of what was to become the electronic civil libertarian community.
Sixty people attended, myself included - in this instance, not so much as a journalist as a cyberpunk author. Many of the luminaries of the field took part: Kapor and Godwin as a matter of course. Richard Civille and Marc Rotenberg of CPSR. Jerry Berman of the ACLU. John Quarterman, author of The Matrix. Steven Levy, author of Hackers. George Perry and Sandy Weiss of Prodigy Services, there to network about the civil-liberties troubles their young commercial network was experiencing. Dr. Dorothy Denning. Cliff Figallo, manager of the Well. Steve Jackson was there, having finally found his ideal target audience, and so was Craig Neidorf, "Knight Lightning" himself, with his attorney, Sheldon Zenner. Katie Hafner, science journalist, and co-author of Cyberpunk: Outlaws and Hackers on the Computer Frontier. Dave Farber, ARPAnet pioneer and fabled Internet guru. Janlori Goldman of the ACLU's Project on Privacy and Technology. John Nagle of Autodesk and the Well. Don Goldberg of the House Judiciary Committee. Tom Guidoboni, the defense attorney in the Internet Worm case. Lance Hoffman, computer-science professor at The George Washington University. Eli Noam of Columbia. And a host of others no less distinguished.
Senator Patrick Leahy delivered the keynote address, expressing his determination to keep ahead of the curve on the issue of electronic free speech. The address was well-received, and the sense of excitement was palpable. Every panel discussion was interesting - some were entirely compelling. People networked with an almost frantic interest.
I myself had a most interesting and cordial lunch discussion with Noel and Jeanne Gayler, Admiral Gayler being a former director of the National Security Agency. As this was the first known encounter between an actual no-kidding cyberpunk and a chief executive of America's largest and best-financed electronic espionage apparat, there was naturally a bit of eyebrow-raising on both sides.
Unfortunately, our discussion was off-the-record. In fact all the discussions at the CPSR were officially off-the-record, the idea being to do some serious networking in an atmosphere of complete frankness, rather than to stage a media circus.
In any case, CPSR Roundtable, though interesting and intensely valuable, was as nothing compared to the truly mind-boggling event that transpired a mere month later.
The "electronic community" had reached an apogee. Almost every principal in this book is in attendance. Civil Libertarians. Computer Cops. The Digital Underground. Even a few discreet telco people. Colorcoded dots for lapel tags are distributed. Free Expression issues. Law Enforcement. Computer Security. Privacy. Journalists. Lawyers. Educators. Librarians. Programmers. Stylish punk-black dots for the hackers and phone phreaks. Almost everyone here seems to wear eight or nine dots, to have six or seven professional hats.
It is a community. Something like Lebanon perhaps, but a digital nation. People who had feuded all year in the national press, people who entertained the deepest suspicions of one another's motives and ethics, are now in each others' laps. "Computers, Freedom and Privacy" had every reason in the world to turn ugly, and yet except for small irruptions of puzzling nonsense from the convention's token lunatic, a surprising bonhomie reigned. CFP was like a wedding-party in which two lovers, unstable bride and charlatan groom, tie the knot in a clearly disastrous matrimony.
It is clear to both families - even to neighbors and random guests - that this is not a workable relationship, and yet the young couple's desperate attraction can brook no further delay. They simply cannot help themselves. Crockery will fly, shrieks from their newly wed home will wake the city block, divorce waits in the wings like a vulture over the Kalahari, and yet this is a wedding, and there is going to be a child from it. Tragedies end in death; comedies in marriage. The Hacker Crackdown is ending in marriage. And there will be a child.
From the beginning, anomalies reign. John Perry Barlow, cyberspace ranger, is here. His color photo in The New York Times Magazine, Barlow scowling in a grim Wyoming snowscape, with long black coat, dark hat, a Macintosh SE30 propped on a fencepost and an awesome frontier rifle tucked under one arm, will be the single most striking visual image of the Hacker Crackdown. And he is CFP's guest of honor - along with Gail Thackeray of the FCIC! What on earth do they expect these dual guests to do with each other? Waltz?
Barlow delivers the first address. Uncharacteristically, he is hoarse - the sheer volume of roadwork has worn him down. He speaks briefly, congenially, in a plea for conciliation, and takes his leave to a storm of applause.
Then Gail Thackeray takes the stage. She's visibly nervous. She's been on the Well a lot lately. Reading those Barlow posts. Following Barlow is a challenge to anyone. In honor of the famous lyricist for the Grateful Dead, she announces reedily, she is going to read - a poem. A poem she has composed herself.
It's an awful poem, doggerel in the rollicking meter of Robert W. Service's The Cremation of Sam McGee, but it is in fact, a poem. It's the Ballad of the Electronic Frontier! A poem about the Hacker Crackdown and the sheer unlikelihood of CFP. It's full of in-jokes. The score or so cops in the audience, who are sitting together in a nervous claque, are absolutely cracking-up. Gail's poem is the funniest goddamn thing they've ever heard. The hackers and civil-libs, who had this woman figured for Ilsa She-Wolf of the SS, are staring with their jaws hanging loosely. Never in the wildest reaches of their imagination had they figured Gail Thackeray was capable of such a totally off-the-wall move. You can see them punching their mental CONTROL-RESET buttons. Jesus! This woman's a hacker weirdo! She's just like us! God, this changes everything!
Al Bayse, computer technician for the FBI, had been the only cop at the CPSR Roundtable, dragged there with his arm bent by Dorothy Denning. He was guarded and tightlipped at CPSR Roundtable; a "lion thrown to the Christians."
At CFP, backed by a claque of cops, Bayse suddenly waxes eloquent and even droll, describing the FBI's "NCIC 2000", a gigantic digital catalog of criminal records, as if he has suddenly become some weird hybrid of George Orwell and George Gobel. Tentatively, he makes an arcane joke about statistical analysis. At least a third of the crowd laughs aloud.
"They didn't laugh at that at my last speech," Bayse observes. He had been addressing cops - straight cops, not computer people. It had been a worthy meeting, useful one supposes, but nothing like this. There has never been anything like this. Without any prodding, without any preparation, people in the audience simply begin to ask questions. Longhairs, freaky people, mathematicians. Bayse is answering, politely, frankly, fully, like a man walking on air. The ballroom's atmosphere crackles with surreality. A female lawyer behind me breaks into a sweat and a hot waft of surprisingly potent and musky perfume flows off her pulse-points.
People are giddy with laughter. People are interested, fascinated, their eyes so wide and dark that they seem eroticized. Unlikely daisy-chains form in the halls, around the bar, on the escalators: cops with hackers, civil rights with FBI, Secret Service with phone phreaks.
Gail Thackeray is at her crispest in a white wool sweater with a tiny Secret Service logo. "I found Phiber Optik at the payphones, and when he saw my sweater, he turned into a pillar of salt!" she chortles.
Phiber discusses his case at much length with his arresting officer, Don Delaney of the New York State Police. After an hour's chat, the two of them look ready to begin singing "Auld Lang Syne." Phiber finally finds the courage to get his worst complaint off his chest. It isn't so much the arrest. It was the charge. Pirating service off 900 numbers. I'm a programmer, Phiber insists. This lame charge is going to hurt my reputation. It would have been cool to be busted for something happening, like Section 1030 computer intrusion. Maybe some kind of crime that's scarcely been invented yet. Not lousy phone fraud. Phooey.
Delaney seems regretful. He had a mountain of possible criminal charges against Phiber Optik. The kid's gonna plead guilty anyway. He's a first timer, they always plead. Coulda charged the kid with most anything, and gotten the same result in the end. Delaney seems genuinely sorry not to have gratified Phiber in this harmless fashion. Too late now. Phiber's pled already. All water under the bridge. Whaddya gonna do?
Delaney's got a good grasp on the hacker mentality. He held a press conference after he busted a bunch of Masters of Deception kids. Some journo had asked him: "Would you describe these people as geniuses?" Delaney's deadpan answer, perfect: "No, I would describe these people as defendants." Delaney busts a kid for hacking codes with repeated random dialling. Tells the press that NYNEX can track this stuff in no time flat nowadays, and a kid has to be stupid to do something so easy to catch. Dead on again: hackers don't mind being thought of as Genghis Khan by the straights, but if there's anything that really gets 'em where they live, it's being called dumb.
Won't be as much fun for Phiber next time around. As a second offender he's gonna see prison. Hackers break the law. They're not geniuses, either. They're gonna be defendants. And yet, Delaney muses over a drink in the hotel bar, he has found it impossible to treat them as common criminals. Delaney knows criminals. These kids, by comparison, are clueless - there is just no crook vibe off of them, they don't smell right, they're just not bad.
Delaney has seen a lot of action. He did Vietnam. He's been shot at, he has shot people. He's a homicide cop from New York. He has the appearance of a man who has not only seen the shit hit the fan but has seen it splattered across whole city blocks and left to ferment for years. This guy has been around.
He listens to Steve Jackson tell his story. The dreamy game strategist has been dealt a bad hand. He has played it for all he is worth. Under his nerdish SF-fan exterior is a core of iron. Friends of his say Steve Jackson believes in the rules, believes in fair play. He will never compromise his principles, never give up. "Steve," Delaney says to Steve Jackson, "they had some balls, whoever busted you. You're all right!" Jackson, stunned, falls silent and actually blushes with pleasure.
Neidorf has grown up a lot in the past year. The kid is a quick study, you gotta give him that. Dressed by his mom, the fashion manager for a national clothing chain, Missouri college techie-frat Craig Neidorf out-dappers everyone at this gig but the toniest East Coast lawyers. The iron jaws of prison clanged shut without him and now law school beckons for Neidorf. He looks like a larval Congressman.
Not a "hacker," our Mr. Neidorf. He's not interested in computer science. Why should he be? He's not interested in writing C code the rest of his life, and besides, he's seen where the chips fall. To the world of computer science he and Phrack were just a curiosity. But to the world of law... The kid has learned where the bodies are buried. He carries his notebook of press clippings wherever he goes.
Phiber Optik makes fun of Neidorf for a Midwestern geek, for believing that "Acid Phreak" does acid and listens to acid rock. Hell no. Acid's never done acid! Acid's into acid house music. Jesus. The very idea of doing LSD. Our parents did LSD, ya clown.
Thackeray suddenly turns upon Craig Neidorf the full lighthouse glare of her attention and begins a determined half-hour attempt to win the boy over. The Joan of Arc of Computer Crime is giving career advice to Knight Lightning! "Your experience would be very valuable - a real asset," she tells him with unmistakeable sixty-thousand-watt sincerity. Neidorf is fascinated. He listens with unfeigned attention. He's nodding and saying yes ma'am. Yes, Craig, you too can forget all about money and enter the glamorous and horribly underpaid world of PROSECUTING COMPUTER CRIME! You can put your former friends in prison - ooops...
You cannot go on dueling at modem's length indefinitely. You cannot beat one another senseless with rolled-up press-clippings. Sooner or later you have to come directly to grips. And yet the very act of assembling here has changed the entire situation drastically. John Quarterman, author of The Matrix, explains the Internet at his symposium. It is the largest news network in the world, it is growing by leaps and bounds, and yet you cannot measure Internet because you cannot stop it in place. It cannot stop, because there is no one anywhere in the world with the authority to stop Internet. It changes, yes, it grows, it embeds itself across the post-industrial, postmodern world and it generates community wherever it touches, and it is doing this all by itself.
Phiber is different. A very fin de siecle kid, Phiber Optik. Barlow says he looks like an Edwardian dandy. He does rather. Shaven neck, the sides of his skull cropped hip-hop close, unruly tangle of black hair on top that looks pomaded, he stays up till four a.m. and misses all the sessions, then hangs out in payphone booths with his acoustic coupler gutsily CRACKING SYSTEMS RIGHT IN THE MIDST OF THE HEAVIEST LAW ENFORCEMENT DUDES IN THE U.S., or at least pretending to... Unlike "Frank Drake." Drake, who wrote Dorothy Denning out of nowhere, and asked for an interview for his cheapo cyberpunk fanzine, and then started grilling her on her ethics. She was squirmin', too... Drake, scarecrow-tall with his floppy blond mohawk, rotting tennis shoes and black leather jacket lettered ILLUMINATI in red, gives off an unmistakeable air of the bohemian literatus. Drake is the kind of guy who reads British industrial design magazines and appreciates William Gibson because the quality of the prose is so tasty. Drake could never touch a phone or a keyboard again, and he'd still have the nose-ring and the blurry photocopied fanzines and the sampled industrial music. He's a radical punk with a desktop-publishing rig and an Internet address. Standing next to Drake, the diminutive Phiber looks like he's been physically coagulated out of phone-lines. Born to phreak.
Dorothy Denning approaches Phiber suddenly. The two of them are about the same height and body-build. Denning's blue eyes flash behind the round window-frames of her glasses. "Why did you say I was `quaint?' " she asks Phiber, quaintly.
It's a perfect description but Phiber is nonplussed... "Well, I uh, you know..."
"I also think you're quaint, Dorothy," I say, novelist to the rescue, the journo gift of gab... She is neat and dapper and yet there's an arcane quality to her, something like a Pilgrim Maiden behind leaded glass; if she were six inches high Dorothy Denning would look great inside a china cabinet... The Cryptographeress... The Cryptographrix... whatever... Weirdly, Peter Denning looks just like his wife, you could pick this gentleman out of a thousand guys as the soulmate of Dorothy Denning. Wearing tailored slacks, a spotless fuzzy varsity sweater, and a neatly knotted academician's tie... This fineboned, exquisitely polite, utterly civilized and hyperintelligent couple seem to have emerged from some cleaner and finer parallel universe, where humanity exists to do the Brain Teasers column in Scientific American. Why does this Nice Lady hang out with these unsavory characters?
Because the time has come for it, that's why. Because she's the best there is at what she does.
Donn Parker is here, the Great Bald Eagle of Computer Crime... With his bald dome, great height, and enormous Lincoln-like hands, the great visionary pioneer of the field plows through the lesser mortals like an icebreaker... His eyes are fixed on the future with the rigidity of a bronze statue... Eventually, he tells his audience, all business crime will be computer crime, because businesses will do everything through computers. "Computer crime" as a category will vanish.
In the meantime, passing fads will flourish and fail and evaporate... Parker's commanding, resonant voice is sphinxlike, everything is viewed from some eldritch valley of deep historical abstraction... Yes, they've come and they've gone, these passing flaps in the world of digital computation... The radio-frequency emanation scandal... KGB and MI5 and CIA do it every day, it's easy, but nobody else ever has... The salami-slice fraud, mostly mythical... "Crimoids," he calls them... Computer viruses are the current crimoid champ, a lot less dangerous than most people let on, but the novelty is fading and there's a crimoid vacuum at the moment, the press is visibly hungering for something more outrageous... The Great Man shares with us a few speculations on the coming crimoids... Desktop Forgery! Wow... Computers stolen just for the sake of the information within them - data-napping! Happened in Britain a while ago, could be the coming thing... Phantom nodes in the Internet!
Parker handles his overhead projector sheets with an ecclesiastical air... He wears a grey double-breasted suit, a light blue shirt, and a very quiet tie of understated maroon and blue paisley... Aphorisms emerge from him with slow, leaden emphasis... There is no such thing as an adequately secure computer when one faces a sufficiently powerful adversary... Deterrence is the most socially useful aspect of security... People are the primary weakness in all information systems... The entire baseline of computer security must be shifted upward... Don't ever violate your security by publicly describing your security measures...
People in the audience are beginning to squirm, and yet there is something about the elemental purity of this guy's philosophy that compels uneasy respect... Parker sounds like the only sane guy left in the lifeboat, sometimes. The guy who can prove rigorously, from deep moral principles, that Harvey there, the one with the broken leg and the checkered past, is the one who has to be, err... that is, Mr. Harvey is best placed to make the necessary sacrifice for the security and indeed the very survival of the rest of this lifeboat's crew... Computer security, Parker informs us mournfully, is a nasty topic, and we wish we didn't have to have it... The security expert, armed with method and logic, must think - imagine - everything that the adversary might do before the adversary might actually do it. It is as if the criminal's dark brain were an extensive subprogram within the shining cranium of Donn Parker. He is a Holmes whose Moriarty does not quite yet exist and so must be perfectly simulated.
CFP is a stellar gathering, with the giddiness of a wedding. It is a happy time, a happy ending, they know their world is changing forever tonight, and they're proud to have been there to see it happen, to talk, to think, to help.
And yet as night falls, a certain elegiac quality manifests itself, as the crowd gathers beneath the chandeliers with their wineglasses and dessert plates. Something is ending here, gone forever, and it takes a while to pinpoint it.
It is the End of the Amateurs.
Copyright (c) 1992, 1994 Bruce Sterling - firstname.lastname@example.org.
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