Page 171


Undergound. Go to Table of Contents.

   new legislation. It was a test case--the test case for computer

   hacking in Australia--and the DPP was going in hard. The case had

   generated seventeen volumes of evidence, totalling some 25000 pages,

   and Crown prosecutor Lisa West planned to call up to twenty expert

   witnesses from Australia, Europe and the US.

  

   Those witnesses had some tales to tell about the Australian hackers,

   who had caused havoc in systems around the world. Phoenix had

   accidentally deleted a Texas-based company's inventory of assets--the

   only copy in existence according to Execucom Systems Corporation. The

   hackers had also baffled security personnel at the US Naval Research

   Labs. They had bragged to the New York Times. And they forced NASA to

   cut off its computer network for 24 hours.

  

   AFP Detective Sergeant Ken Day had flown halfway around the world to

   obtain a witness statement from none other than NASA Langley computer

   manager Sharon Beskenis--the admin Phoenix had accidentally kicked off

   her own system when he was trying to get Deszip. Beskenis had been

   more than happy to oblige and on 24 July 1990 she signed a statement

   in Virginia, witnessed by Day. Her statement said that, as a result of

   the hackers' intrusion, `the entire NASA computer system was

   disconnected from any external communications with the rest of the

   world' for about 24 hours on 22 February 1990.

  

   In short, Electron thought, there didn't seem to be much chance of

   winning at the committal hearing. Nom seemed to feel the same way. He

   faced two counts, both `knowingly concerned' with Phoenix obtaining

   unauthorised access. One was for NASA Langley, the other for

   CSIRO--the Zardoz file. Nom didn't fight his committal either,

   although Legal Aid's refusal

   to fund a lawyer for the procedure no doubt weighed in his

   decision.

  

   On 6 March 1991, Magistrate Robert Langton committed Electron and Nom

   to stand trial in the Victorian County Court.

  

   Phoenix, however, didn't agree with his fellow hackers' point of view.

   With financial help from his family, he had decided to fight his

   committal. He wasn't going to hand this case to the prosecution on a

   silver platter, and they would have to fight him every step of the

   way, dragging him forward from proceeding to proceeding. His

   barrister, Felicity Hampel, argued the court should throw out 47 of

   the 48 charges against her client on jurisdictional grounds. All but

   one charge--breaking into the CSIRO machine in order to steal

   Zardoz--related to hacking activities outside Australia. How could an

   Australian court claim jurisdiction over a hacked computer in Texas?

  

   Privately, Phoenix worried more about being extradited to the US than

   dealing with the Australian courts, but publicly he was going into the

   committal with all guns blazing. It was a test case in many ways; not

   only the first major hacking case in Australia but also the first time

   a hacker had fought Australian committal proceedings for computer

   crimes.

  

   The prosecution agreed to drop one of the 48 counts, noting it was a

   duplicate charge, but the backdown was a pyrrhic victory for Phoenix.

   After a two-day committal hearing, Magistrate John Wilkinson decided

   Hampel's jurisdictional argument didn't hold water and on 14 August

   1991 he committed Phoenix to stand trial in the County Court.