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, however, was the
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
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.
The outcome of the Neidorf trial changed the EFF
from voices-in-the-wilderness to the media darlings of the
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
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
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
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
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 ъubik'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,
Another early and influential participant in the
controversy was Dorothy Denning. Dr. Denning was
unique among investigators of the computer underground
in that she did not enter the debate with any set of
politicized motives. She was a professional cryptographer
and computer security expert whose primary interest in
hackers was *scholarly.* She had a B.A. and M.A. in
mathematics, and a Ph.D. in computer science from
Purdue. She had worked for SъI International, the
California think-tank that was also the home of computer-
security maven Donn Parker, and had authored an
influential text called *Cryptography and Data Security.*
In 1990, Dr. Denning was working for Digital Equipment
Corporation in their Systems ъeseach Center. Her
husband, Peter Denning, was also a computer security
expert, working for NASA's ъesearch Institute for
Advanced Computer Science. He had edited the well-
received *Computers Under Attack: Intruders, Worms
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
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
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.
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
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 ъealities,* 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
Dorothy Denning is currently the Chair of the
Computer Science Department at Georgetown University
in Washington, DC.
There were many stellar figures in the civil
community. There's no question, however, that its single
most influential figure was Mitchell D. Kapor. Other
people might have formal titles, or governmental
positions, have more experience with crime, or with the
law, or with the arcanities of computer security or
constitutional theory. But by 1991 Kapor had transcended
any such narrow role. Kapor had become "Mitch."
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
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