Bruce Sterling's Speech to the High Technology Crime Investigation Association - Lake Tahoe, Nov. 1994
Literary Freeware -- Not for Commercial Use
Good morning, my name's Bruce Sterling, and I'm a sometime computer
crime journalist and longtime science fiction writer from Austin
Texas. I'm the guy who wrote HACKER CRACKDOWN, which is the book
you're getting on one of those floppy disks that are being distributed
at this gig like party favors.
People in law enforcement often ask me, Mr Sterling, if you're a
science fiction writer like you say you are, then why should you care
about American computer police and private security? And also, how
come my kids can never find any copies of your sci-fi novels? Well,
my publishers do their best. The truth of the matter is that I've
survived my brief career as a computer-crime journalist. I'm now
back to writing science fiction full time, like I want to do and like
I ought to do. I really can't help the rest of it.
It's true that HACKER CRACKDOWN is still available on the stands at
your friendly local bookstore --maybe a better chance if it's a
computer bookstore. In fact it's in its second paperback printing,
which is considered pretty good news in my business. The critics have
been very kind about that book. But even though I'm sure I could
write another book like HACKER CRACKDOWN every year for the rest of my
life, I'm just not gonna do that.
Instead, let me show you some items out of this bag. This is HACKER
CRACKDOWN, the paperback. And see, this is a book of my short stories
that has come out since I published HACKER CRACKDOWN! And here's a
brand new hardback novel of mine which came out just last month! Hard
physical evidence of my career as a fiction writer! I know these
wacko cyberpunk sci-fi books are of basically zero relevance to you
guys, but I'm absurdly proud of them, so I just had to show them off.
So why did I write HACKER CRACKDOWN in the first place? Well, I
figured that somebody ought to do it, and nobody else was willing,
that's why. When I first got interested in Operation Sundevil and
the Legion of Doom and the raid on Steve Jackson Games and so forth,
it was 1990. All these issues were very obscure. It was the middle
of the Bush Administration. There was no information superhighway
vice president. There was no WIRED magazine. There was no Electronic
Frontier Foundation. There was no Clipper Chip and no Digital
Telephony Initiative. There was no PGP and no World Wide Web. There
were a few books around, and a couple of movies, that glamorized
computer crackers, but there had never been a popular book written
about American computer cops.
When I got started researching HACKER CRACKDOWN, my first and only
nonfiction book, I didn't even think I was going to write any such
book. There were four other journalists hot on the case who were all
rather better qualified than I was. But one by one they all dropped
out. Eventually I realized that either I was going to write it, or
nobody was ever going to tell the story. All those strange events
and peculiar happenings would have passed, and left no public record.
I couldn't help but feel that if I didn't take the trouble and effort
to tell people what had happened, it would probably all have to happen
all over again. And again and again, until people finally noticed it
and were willing to talk about it publicly.
Nowadays it's very different. There are about a million journalists
with Internet addresses now. There are other books around, like for
instance Hafner and Markoff's CYBERPUNK OUTLAWS AND HACKERS, which is
a far better book about hackers than my book is. Mungo and Clough's
book APPROACHING ZERO has a pretty interesting take on the European
virus scene. Joshua Quittner has a book coming out on the Masters of
Deception hacking group. Then there's this other very recent book I
have here, CYBERSPACE AND THE LAW by Cavazos and Morin, which is a
pretty good practical handbook on digital civil liberties issues.
This book explains in pretty good legal detail exactly what kind of
stunts with your modem are likely to get you into trouble. This is a
useful service for keeping people out of hot water, which is pretty
much what my book was intended to do, only this book does it better.
And there have been a lot of magazine and newspaper articles
Basically, I'm no longer needed as a computer crime journalist. The
world is full of computer journalists now, and the stuff I was writing
about four years ago, is hot and sexy and popular now. That's why I
don't have to write it any more. I was ahead of my time. I'm
supposed to be ahead of my time. I'm a science fiction writer.
Believe it or not, I'm needed to write science fiction. Taking a
science fiction writer and turning him into a journalist is like
stealing pencils from a blind man's cup.
So frankly, I haven't been keeping up with you guys, and your odd and
unusual world, with the same gusto I did in 90 and 91. Nowadays, I
spend all my time researching science fiction. I spent most of 92 and
93 learning about tornadoes and the Greenhouse Effect. At the moment,
I'm really interested in photography, cosmetics and computer
interfaces. In 95 and 96 I'll be interested in something else. That
may seem kind of odd and dilettantish on my part. It doesn't show
much intellectual staying power. But my intellectual life doesn't
have to make any sense. Because I'm a science fiction writer.
Even though I'm not in the computer crime game any more, I do maintain
an interest. For a lot of pretty good reasons. I still read most
of the computer crime journalism that's out there. And I'll tell you
one thing about it. There's way, way too much blather about teenage
computer intruders, and nowhere near enough coverage of computer cops.
Computer cops are a hundred times more interesting than sneaky
teenagers with kodes and kards. A guy like Carlton Fitzpatrick should
be a hundred times more famous than some wretched hacker kid like Mark
Abene. A group like the FCIC is a hundred times more influential and
important and interesting than the Chaos Computer Club, Hack-Tic, and
the 2600 group all put together.
The United States Secret Service is a heavy outfit. It's astounding
how little has ever been written or published about Secret Service
people, and their lives, and their history, and how life really looks
to them. Cops are really good material for a journalist or a fiction
writer. Cops see things most human beings never see. Even private
security people have a lot to say for themselves. Computer-intrusion
hackers and phone phreaks, by contrast, are basically pretty damned
You know, I used to go actively looking for hackers, but I don't
bother any more. I don't have to. Hackers come looking for me these
days. And they find me, because I make no particular effort to hide.
I get these phone calls -- I mean, I know a lot of you have gotten
these hacker phone calls -- but for me they go a lot like this:
Ring ring. "Hello?"
"Is this Bruce Sterling?"
"Yeah, you got him."
"Are you the guy who wrote HACKER CRACKDOWN?"
"Yeah, that's me, dude. What's on your mind?"
"Uh, nothing -- I just wanted to know if you were there!"
"Well, okay, I'm here. If you ever get anything on your mind, you
let me know." Click, buzz. I get dozens of calls like that.
And, pretty often, I'll get another call about 24 hours later, and
it'll be the same kid, only this time he has ten hacker buddies with
him on some illegal bridge call. They're the Scarlet Scorpion and the
Electric Ninja and the Flaming Rutabaga, and they really want me to
log onto their pirate bulletin board system, the Smurfs in Hell BBS
somewhere in Wisconsin or Ohio or Idaho. I thank them politely for
the invitation and I tell them I kind of have a lot of previous
engagements, and then they leave me alone.
I also get a lot of call from journalists. Journalists doing
computer crime stories. I've somehow acquired a reputation as a guy
who knows something about computer crime and who is willing to talk to
journalists. And I do that, too. Because I have nothing to lose.
Why shouldn't I talk to another journalist? He's got a boss, I don't.
He's got a deadline, I don't. I know more or less what I'm talking
about, he usually doesn't have a ghost of a clue. And suppose I say
something really rude or tactless or crazy, and it gets printed in
public. So what? I'm a science fiction writer! What are they
supposed to do to me -- take away my tenure?
Hackers will also talk to journalists. Hackers brag all the time.
Computer cops, however, have not had a stellar record in their press
relations. I think this is sad. I understand that there's a genuine
need for operational discretion and so forth, but since a lot of
computer cops are experts in telecommunications, you'd think they'd
come up with some neat trick to get around these limitations.
Let's consider, for instance, the Kevin Mitnick problem. We all know
who this guy Mitnick is. If you don't know who Kevin Mitnick is,
raise your hand.... Right, I thought so. Kevin Mitnick is a hacker
and he's on the lam at the moment, he's a wanted fugitive. The FBI
tried to nab Kevin a few months back at a computer civil liberties
convention in Chicago and apprehended the wrong guy. That was pretty
embarrassing, frankly. I was there, I saw it, I also saw the FBI
trying to explain later to about five hundred enraged self-righteous
liberals, and it was pretty sad. The local FBI office came a
cropper because they didn't really know what Kevin Mitnick looked
I don't know what Mitnick looks like either, even though I've written
about him a little bit, and my question is, how come? How come
there's no publicly accessible WorldWideWeb page with mugshots of
wanted computer-crime fugitives? Even the US Postal Service has got
this much together, and they don't even have modems. Why don't the
FBI and the USSS have public relations stations in cyberspace? For
that matter, why doesn't the HTCIA have its own Internet site? All
the computer businesses have Internet sites now, unless they're
totally out of it. Why aren't computer cops in much, much better
rapport with the computer community through computer networks? You
don't have to grant live interviews with every journalist in sight if
you don't want to, I can understand that that can create a big mess
sometimes. But just put some data up in public, for heaven's sake.
Crime statistics. Wanted posters. Security advice. Antivirus
programs, whatever. Stuff that will help the cyberspace community
that you are supposed to be protecting and serving.
I know there are people in computer law enforcement who are ready and
willing and able to do this, but they can't make it happen because of
too much bureaucracy and, frankly, too much useless hermetic secrecy.
Computer cops ought to publicly walk the beat in cyberspace a lot
more, and stop hiding your light under a bushel. What is your
problem, exactly? Are you afraid somebody might find out that you
I think that this is an amazing oversight and a total no-brainer on
your part, to be the cops in an information society and not be willing
to get online big-time and really push your information -- but maybe
that's just me. I enjoy publicity, personally. I think it's good for
people. I talk a lot, because I'm just an opinionated guy. I can't
help it. A writer without an opinion is like a farmer without a plow,
or a professor without a chalkboard, or a cop without a computer
--it's just something basically useless and unnatural.
I don't mind talking to you this morning, I'm perfectly willing to
talk to you, but since I'm not a cop or a prosecutor, I don't really
have much of genuine nuts-and-bolts value to offer to you ladies and
gentlemen. It's sheer arrogance on my part to lecture you on how to
do your jobs. But since I was asked to come here, I can at least
offer you my opinions. Since they're probably not worth much, I
figure I ought to at least be frank about them.
First the good part. Let me tell you about a few recent events in
your milieu that I have no conceptual difficulties with. Case in
point. Some guy up around San Francisco is cloning off cellphones,
and he's burning EPROMs and pirating cellular ID's, and he's moved
about a thousand of these hot phones to his running buddies in the mob
in Singapore, and they've bought him a real nice sports car with the
proceeds. The Secret Service shows up at the guy's house, catches
him with his little soldering irons in hand, busts him, hauls him
downtown, calls a press conference after the bust, says that this
activity is a big problem for cellphone companies and they're gonna
turn up the heat on people who do this stuff. I have no problem with
this situation. I even take a certain grim satisfaction in it. Is
this a crime? Yes. Is this guy a bad guy with evil intent? Yes. Is
law enforcement performing its basic duty here? Yes it is. Do I
mind if corporate private security is kinda pitching in behind the
scenes and protecting their own commercial interests here? No, not
really. Is there some major civil liberties and free expression angle
involved in this guy's ripping off cellular companies? No. Is there
a threat to privacy here? Yeah -- him, the perpetrator. Is the
Secret Service emptily boasting and grandstanding when they hang this
guy out to dry in public? No, this looks like legitimate deterrence
to me, and if they want a little glory out of it, well hell we all
want a little glory sometimes. We can't survive without a little
glory. Take the dumb bastard away with my blessing.
Okay, some group of Vietnamese Triad types hijack a truckload of chips
in Silicon Valley, then move the loot overseas to the Asian black
market through some smuggling network that got bored with running
heroin. Are these guys "Robin Hoods of the Electronic Frontier?" I
don't think so. Am I all impressed because some warlord in the
Golden Triangle may be getting free computation services, and
information wants to be free? No, this doesn't strike me as a
positive development, frankly. Is organized crime a menace to our
society? Yeah! It is!
I can't say I've ever had anything much to do --knowingly that is
--with wiseguy types, but I spent a little time in Moscow recently,
and in Italy too at the height of their Tangentopoly kickback scandal,
and you know, organized crime and endemic corruption are very serious
problems indeed. You get enough of that evil crap going on in your
society and it's like nobody can breathe. A protection racket -- I
never quite grasped how that worked and what it meant to victims, till
I spent a couple of weeks in Moscow last December. That's a nasty
piece of work, that stuff.
Another case. Some joker gets himself a job in a long distance
provider, and he writes a PIN-trapping network program and he gets his
mitts on about eight zillion PINs and he sells them for a buck apiece
to his hacker buddies all over the US and Europe. Do I think this is
clever? Yeah, it's pretty ingenious. Do I think it's a crime? Yes,
I think this is a criminal act. I think this guy is basically
corrupt. Do I think free or cheap long distance is a good idea?
Yeah I do actually; I think if there were a very low flat rate on long
distance, then you would see usage skyrocket so drastically that long
distance providers would actually make more money in the long run.
I'd like to see them try that experiment some time; I don't think the
way they run phone companies in 1994 is the only possible way to run
them successfully. I think phone companies are probably gonna have to
change their act pretty drastically if they expect to survive in the
21st century's media environment.
But you know, that's not this guy's lookout. He's not the one to make
that business decision. Theft is not an act of reform. He's abusing
a position of trust as an employee in order to illegally line his own
pockets. I think this guy is a crook.
So I have no problems with those recent law enforcement operations. I
wish they'd gotten more publicity, and I'm kinda sorry that I wasn't
able to give them more publicity myself, but at least I've heard of
them, and I was paying some attention when they happened. Now I want
to talk about some stuff that bugs me.
I'm an author and I'm interested in free expression, and it's only
natural because that's my bailiwick. Free expression is a problem for
writers, and it's always been a problem, and it's probably always
gonna be a problem. We in the West have these ancient and honored
tradition of Western free speech and freedom of the press, and in the
US we have this rather more up-to-date concept of "freedom of
information." But even so, there is an enormous amount of
"information" today which is highly problematic. Just because
freedom of the press was in the Constitution didn't mean that people
were able to stop thinking about what press-freedom really means in
real life, and fighting about it and suing each other about it. We
Americans have lots of problems with our freedom of the press and our
freedom of speech. Problems like libel and slander. Incitement to
riot. Obscenity. Child pornography. Flag-burning. Cross-burning.
Race-hate propaganda. Political correctness. Sexist language. Mrs.
Gore's Parents Music Resource Council. Movie ratings. Plagiarism.
Photocopying rights. A journalist's so-called right to protect his
sources. Fair-use doctrine. Lawyer-client confidentiality. Paid
political announcements. Banning ads for liquor and cigarettes. The
fairness doctrine for broadcasters. School textbook censors.
National security. Military secrets. Industrial trade secrets. Arts
funding for so-called obscenity. Even religious blasphemy such as
Salman Rushdie's famous novel SATANIC VERSES, which is hated so
violently by the kind of people who like to blow up the World Trade
Center. All these huge problems about what people can say to each
other, under what circumstances. And that's without computers and
Every single one of those problems is applicable to cyberspace.
Computers don't make any of these old free-expression problems go
away; on the contrary, they intensify them, and they introduce a bunch
of new problems. Problems like software piracy. Encryption.
Wire-fraud. Interstate transportation of stolen digital property.
Free expression on privately owned networks. So-called "data-mining"
to invade personal privacy. Employers spying on employee e-mail.
Intellectual rights over electronic publications. Computer search and
seizure practice. Legal liability for network crashes. Computer
intrusion, and on and on and on. These are real problems. They're
out there. They're out there now. And in the future they're only
going to get worse. And there's going to be a bunch of new problems
that nobody's even imagined yet.
I worry about these issues because guys in a position like mine ought
to worry about these issues. I can't say I've ever suffered much
personally because of censorship, or through my government's
objections to what I have to say. On the contrary, the current US
government likes me so much that it kind of makes me nervous. But
I've written ten books, and I don't think I've ever written a book
that could have been legally published in its entirety fifty years
ago. Because my books talk about things that people just didn't talk
about much fifty years ago, like sex for instance. In my books, my
characters talk like normal people talk nowadays, which is to say that
they cuss a lot. Even in HACKER CRACKDOWN there are sections where
people use obscenities in conversations, and by the way the people I
was quoting were computer cops.
I'm forty years old; I can remember when people didn't use the word
"condom" in public. Nowadays, if you don't know what a condom is and
how to use it, there's a pretty good chance you're gonna die.
Standards change a lot. Culture changes a lot. The laws supposedly
governing this behavior are very gray and riddled with contradictions
and compromises. There are some people who don't want our culture to
change, or they want to change it even faster in some direction
they've got their own ideas about. When police get involved in
cultural struggles it's always very highly politicized. The chances
of its ending well are not good.
It's been quite a while since there was a really good ripping
computer-intrusion scandal in the news. Nowadays the hotbutton issue
is porn. Kidporn and other porn. I don't have much sympathy for
kidporn people, I think the exploitation of children is a vile and
grotesque criminal act, but I've seen some computer porn cases lately
that look pretty problematic and peculiar to me. I don't think
there's a lot to be gained by playing up the terrifying menace of porn
on networks. Porn is just too treacherous an issue to be of much use
to anybody. It's not a firm and dependable place in which to take a
stand on how we ought to run our networks.
For instance, there's this Amateur Action case. We've got this guy
and his wife in California, and they're selling some pretty seriously
vile material off their bulletin board. They get indicted in
Tennessee. What is that about? Do we really think that people in
Memphis can enforce their pornographic community standards on people
in California? I'd be genuinely impressed if a prosecutor got a jury
in California to indict and convict some pornographer in Tennessee.
I'd figure that Tennessee guy had to be some kind of pretty heavy-duty
pornographer. Doing that in the other direction is like shooting
fish in a barrel. There's something cheap about it. This doesn't
smell like an airtight criminal case to me. This smells to me like
some guy from Tennessee trying to enforce his own local cultural
standards via a long-distance phone line. That may not be the actual
truth about the case, but that's what the case looks like. It's real
hard to make a porn case look good at any time. If it's a weak case,
then the prosecutor looks like a bluenosed goody-goody wimp. If it's
a strong case, then the whole mess is so disgusting that nobody even
wants to think about it or even look hard at the evidence. Porn is a
no-win situation when it comes to the basic social purpose of
instilling law and order on networks.
I think you could make a pretty good case in Tennessee that people in
California are a bunch of flakey perverted lunatics, but I also think
that in California you can make a pretty good case that people from
Tennessee are a bunch of hillbilly fundamentalist wackos. You start
playing off one community against another, pretty soon you're out of
the realm of criminal law, and into the realm of trying to control
people's cultural behavior with a nightstick. There's not a lot to
be gained by this fight. You may intimidate a few pornographers here
and there, but you're also likely to seriously infuriate a bunch of
bystanders. It's not a fight you can win, even if you win a case, or
two cases, or ten cases. People in California are never gonna behave
in a way that satisfies people in Tennessee. People in California
have more money and more power and more influence than people in
Tennessee. People in California invented Hollywood and Silicon
Valley, and people in Tennessee invented ways to put smut labels on
rock and roll albums.
This is what Pat Buchanan and Newt Gingrich are talking about when
they talk about cultural war in America. And this is what politically
correct people talk about when they launch eighteen harassment
lawsuits because some kid on some campus computer network said
something that some ultrafeminist radical found demeaning. If I were
a cop, I would be very careful of looking like a pawn in some cultural
warfare by ambitious radical politicians. The country's infested
with zealots now, zealots to the left and right. A lot of these
people are fanatics motivated by fear and anger, and they don't care
two pins about public order, or the people who maintain it and keep
the peace in our society. They don't give a damn about justice, they
have their own agendas. They'll seize on any chance they can get to
make the other side shut up and knuckle under. They don't want a
debate. They just want to crush their enemies by whatever means
necessary. If they can use cops to do it, great! Cops are
There's another porn case that bugs me even more. There's this guy in
Oklahoma City who had a big FidoNet bulletin board, and a storefront
where he sold CD-ROMs. Some of them, a few, were porn CD-ROMs. The
Oklahoma City police catch this local hacker kid and of course he
squeals like they always do, and he says don't nail me, nail this
other adult guy, he's a pornographer. So off the police go to raid
this guy's place of business, and while they're at it they carry some
minicams and they broadcast their raid on that night's Oklahoma City
evening news. This was a really high-tech and innovative thing to
do, but it was also a really reckless cowboy thing to do, because it
left no political fallback position. They were now utterly committed
to crucifying this guy, because otherwise it was too much of a
political embarrassment. They couldn't just shrug and say, "Well
we've just busted this guy for selling a few lousy CD-ROMs that
anybody in the country can mail-order with impunity out of the back of
a computer magazine." They had to assemble a jury, with a couple of
fundamentalist ministers on it, and show the most rancid graphic image
files to the twelve good people and true. And you know, sure enough
it was judged in a court to be pornography. I don't think there was
much doubt that it was pornography, and I don't doubt that any jury in
Oklahoma City would have called it pornography by the local Oklahoma
City community standards. This guy got convicted. Lost the trial.
Lost his business. Went to jail. His wife sued for divorce. He
lost custody of his kids. He's a convict. His life is in ruins.
The hell of it, I don't think this guy was a pornographer by any
genuine definition. He had no previous convictions. Never been in
trouble, didn't have a bad character. Had an honorable war record in
Vietnam. Paid his taxes. People who knew him personally spoke very
highly of him. He wasn't some loony sleazebag. He was just a guy
selling disks that other people just like him sell all over the
country, without anyone blinking an eye. As far as I can figure it,
the Oklahoma City police and an Oklahoma prosecutor skinned this guy
and nailed his hide to the side of a barn, just because they didn't
want to look bad. I think a serious injustice was done here.
I also think it was a terrible public relations move. There's a
magazine out called BOARDWATCH, practically everybody who runs a
bulletin board system in this country reads it. When the editor of
this magazine heard about the outcome of this case, he basically went
nonlinear. He wrote this scorching furious editorial berating the
authorities. The Oklahoma City prosecutor sent his little message
all right, and it went over the Oklahoma City evening news, and
probably made him look pretty good, locally, personally. But this
magazine sent a much bigger and much angrier message, which went all
over the country to a perfect target computer-industry audience of BBS
sysops. This editor's message was that the Oklahoma City police are
a bunch of crazed no-neck gestapo, who don't know nothing about
nothing, and hate anybody who does. I think that the genuine cause
of computer law and order was very much harmed by this case.
It seems to me that there are a couple of useful lessons to be learned
here. The first, of course, is don't sell porn in Oklahoma City.
And the second lesson is, if your city's on an antiporn crusade and
you're a cop, it's a good idea to drop by the local porn outlets and
openly tell the merchants that porn is illegal. Tell them straight
out that you know they have some porn, and they'd better knock it off.
If they've got any sense, they'll take this word from the wise and
stop breaking the local community standards forthwith. If they go on
doing it, well, presumably they're hardened porn merchants of some
kind, and when they get into trouble with ambitious local prosecutors
they'll have no one to blame but themselves. Don't jump in headfirst
with an agenda and a videocam. Because it's real easy to wade hip
deep into a blaze of publicity, but it's real hard to wade back out
without getting the sticky stuff all over you.
Well, it's generally a thankless lot being an American computer cop.
You know this, I know this. I even regret having to bring these
matters up, though I feel that I ought to, given the circumstances. I
do, however, see one large ray of light in the American computer law
enforcement scene, and that is the behavior of computer cops in other
countries. American computer cops have had to suffer under the
spotlights because they were the first people in the world doing this
sort of activity. But now we're starting to see other law enforcement
people weighing in in other countries. To judge by early indications,
the situation's going to be a lot worse overseas.
Italy, for instance. The Italian finance police recently decided that
everybody on FidoNet was a software pirate, so they went out and
seized somewhere between fifty and a hundred bulletin boards.
Accounts are confused, not least because most of the accounts are in
Italian. Nothing much has appeared in the way of charges or
convictions, and there's been a lot of anguished squawling from deeply
alienated and radicalized Italian computer people. Italy is a
country where entire political parties have been annihilated because
of endemic corruption and bribery scandals. A country where organized
crime shoots judges and blows up churches with car bombs. They got a
guy running the country now who is basically Ted Turner in Italian
drag --he owns a bunch of television stations -- and here his federal
cops have gone out and busted a bunch of left-wing bulletin board
systems. It's not doing much good for the software piracy problem
and it's sure not helping the local political situation. In Italy
politics are so weird that the Italian Communist Party has a national
reputation as the party of honest government. The Communists hate
the guts of this new Prime Minister, and he's in bed with the
neo-fascist ultra-right and a bunch of local ethnic separatists who
want to cut the country in half. That's a very strange and
The hell of it is, in the long run I think the Italians are going to
turn out to be one of the better countries at handling computer crime.
Wait till we start hearing from the Poles, the Romanians, the Chinese,
the Serbs, the Turks, the Pakistanis, the Saudis.
Here in America we're actually getting used to this stuff, a little
bit, sort of. We have a White House with its own Internet address and
its own World Wide Web page. Owning and using a modem is fashionable
in the USA. American law enforcement agencies are increasingly
equipped with a clue. In Europe you have computers all over the
place, but they are imbedded in a patchwork of PTTs and peculiar local
jurisdictions and even more peculiar and archaic local laws. I think
the chances of some social toxic reaction from computing and
telecommunications are much higher in Europe and Asia than in the USA.
I think that in a few more years, American cops are going to earn a
global reputation as being very much on top of this stuff. I think
there's a fairly good chance that the various interested parties in
the USA can find some kind of workable accommodation and common ground
on most of the important social issues. There won't be so much
blundering around, not so many unpleasant surprises, not so much panic
As for the computer crime scene, I think it's pretty likely that
American computer crime is going to look relatively low-key, compared
to the eventual rise of ex-Soviet computer crime, and Eastern European
computer crime, and Southeast Asian computer crime.
I'm a science fiction writer, and I like to speculate about the
future. I think American computer police are going to have a hard row
to hoe, because they are almost always going to be the first in the
world to catch hell from these issues. Certain bad things are
naturally going to happen here first, because we're the people who are
inventing almost all the possibilities. But I also feel that it's
not very likely that bad things will reach their full extremity of
awfulness here. It's quite possible that American computer police
will make some really awful mistakes, but I can almost guarantee that
other people's police will make mistakes worse by an order of
magnitude. American police may hit people with sticks, but other
people's police are going to hit people with axes and cattle prods.
Computers will probably help people manage better in those countries
where people can actually manage. In countries that are falling
apart, overcrowded countries with degraded environments and deep
social problems, computers might well make things fall apart even
Countries that have offshore money-laundries are gonna have
offshore data laundries. Countries that now have lousy oppressive
governments and smart, determined terrorist revolutionaries, are
gonna have lousy oppressive governments and smart determined terrorist
revolutionaries with computers. Not too long after that, they're
going to have tyrannical revolutionary governments run by zealots
with computers, and then we're likely to see just how close to Big
Brother a government can really get. Dealing with these people is
going to be a big problem for us.
Other people have worse problems than we do, and I suppose that's some
comfort to us in a way. But we've got our problems here, too. It's
no use hiding from them. Since 1980 the American prison population
has risen by one hundred and eighty eight percent. In 1993 we had
948,881 prisoners in federal or state correctional facilities. I
appreciate the hard work it took to put these nearly one million
people into American prisons, but you know, I can't say that the
knowledge that there are a million people in prison in my country
really makes me feel much safer. Quite the contrary, really. Does
it make keeping public order easier when there are so many people
around with no future and no stake in the status quo and nothing left
to lose? I don't think it does.
We've got a governor's race in my state that's a nasty piece of work
-- the incumbent and the challenger are practically wrestling in
public for the privilege of putting on a black hood and jabbing people
with the needle. That's not a pretty sight. I hear a lot about
vengeance and punishment lately, but I don't hear a lot about
justice. I hear a lot about rights and lawsuits, but I don't hear a
lot about debate and public goodwill and public civility. I think
it's past time in this country that we stopped demonizing one another,
and tried to see each other as human beings and listen seriously to
each other. And personally, I think I've talked enough this morning.
It's time for me to listen to you guys for a while.
I confess that in my weaker moments I've had the bad taste to become a
journalist. But I didn't come here to write anything about you, I've
given that up for now. I'm here as a citizen and an interested party.
I was glad to be invited to come here, because I was sure I'd learn
something that I ought to know. I appreciate your patience and
attention very much, and I hope you'll see that I mean to return the
favor. Thanks. Thanks a lot.
Steve Jackson Games | SJ Games vs. the Secret Service