Chapter 4-1
Hacker Crackdown

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The story of the Hacker Crackdown, as we have followed it thus far,
has been technological, subcultural, criminal and legal.
The story of the Civil Libertarians, though it partakes
of all those other aspects, is profoundly and thoroughly POLITICAL.

In 1990, the obscure, long-simmering struggle over the ownership
and nature of cyberspace became loudly and irretrievably public.
People from some of the oddest corners of American society suddenly
found themselves public figures.  Some of these people found this
situation much more than they had ever bargained for.  They backpedalled,
and tried to retreat back to the mandarin obscurity of their cozy
subcultural niches.  This was generally to prove a mistake.

But the civil libertarians seized the day in 1990.  They found themselves
organizing, propagandizing, podium-pounding, persuading, touring,
negotiating, posing for publicity photos, submitting to interviews,
squinting in the limelight as they tried a tentative, but growingly
sophisticated, buck-and-wing upon the public stage.

It's not hard to see why the civil libertarians should have
this competitive advantage.

The  hackers  of the digital underground are an hermetic elite.
They find it hard to make any remotely convincing case for
their actions in front of the general public.  Actually,
hackers roundly despise the "ignorant" public, and have never
trusted the judgement of "the system."  Hackers do propagandize,
but only among themselves, mostly in giddy, badly spelled manifestos
of class warfare, youth rebellion or naive techie utopianism.
Hackers must strut and boast in order to establish and preserve
their underground reputations.  But if they speak out too loudly
and publicly, they will break the fragile surface-tension of the underground,
and they will be harrassed or arrested.  Over the longer term,
most hackers stumble, get busted, get betrayed, or simply give up.
As a political force, the digital underground is hamstrung.

The telcos, for their part, are an ivory tower under protracted seige.
They have plenty of money with which to push their calculated public image,
but they waste much energy and goodwill attacking one another with
slanderous and demeaning ad campaigns.  The telcos have suffered
at the hands of politicians, and, like hackers, they don't trust
the public's judgement.  And this distrust may be well-founded.
Should the general public of the high-tech 1990s come to understand
its own best interests in telecommunications, that might well pose
a grave threat to the specialized technical power and authority
that the telcos have relished for over a century.  The telcos do
have strong advantages: loyal employees, specialized expertise,
influence in the halls of power, tactical allies in law enforcement,
and unbelievably vast amounts of money.  But politically speaking, they lack
genuine grassroots support; they simply don't seem to have many friends.

Cops know a lot of things other people don't know.
But cops willingly reveal only those aspects of their
knowledge that they feel will meet their institutional
purposes and further public order.  Cops have respect,
they have responsibilities, they have power in the streets
and even power in the home, but cops don't do particularly
well in limelight.  When pressed, they will step out in the
public gaze to threaten bad-guys, or to cajole prominent citizens,
or perhaps to sternly lecture the naive and misguided.
But then they go back within their time-honored fortress
of the station-house, the courtroom and the rule-book.

The electronic civil libertarians, however, have proven to be
born political animals.  They seemed to grasp very early on
the postmodern truism that communication is power.  Publicity is power.
Soundbites are power.  The ability to shove one's issue onto the public
agenda--and KEEP IT THERE--is power.  Fame is power.  Simple personal
fluency and eloquence can be power, if you can somehow catch the
public's eye and ear.

The civil libertarians had no monopoly on "technical power"--
though they all owned computers, most were not particularly
advanced computer experts.  They had a good deal of money,
but nowhere near the earthshaking wealth and the galaxy
of resources possessed by telcos or federal agencies.
They had no ability to arrest people.  They carried
out no phreak and hacker covert dirty-tricks.

But they really knew how to network.

Unlike the other groups in this book, the civil libertarians
have operated very much in the open, more or less right
in the public hurly-burly.  They have lectured audiences galore
and talked to countless journalists, and have learned to
refine their spiels.  They've kept the cameras clicking,
kept those faxes humming, swapped that email,
run those photocopiers on overtime, licked envelopes
and spent small fortunes on airfare and long-distance.
In an information society, this open, overt, obvious activity
has proven to be a profound advantage.

In 1990, the civil libertarians of cyberspace assembled
out of nowhere in particular, at warp speed.  This "group"
(actually, a networking gaggle of interested parties
which scarcely deserves even that loose term) has almost nothing
in the way of formal organization.  Those formal civil libertarian
organizations which did take an interest in cyberspace issues,
mainly the Computer Professionals for Social Responsibility
and the American Civil Liberties Union, were carried along
by events in 1990, and acted mostly as adjuncts,
underwriters or launching-pads.

The civil libertarians nevertheless enjoyed the greatest success
of any of the groups in the Crackdown of 1990.  At this writing,
their future looks rosy and the political initiative is firmly in their hands.
This should be kept in mind as we study the highly unlikely lives
and lifestyles of the people who actually made this happen.