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TUCoPS :: Cyber Law :: 2600dcrp.txt

Reports of the "Raid" on the 2600 Meeting in DC




Hackers Allege Harassment at Mall; Pentagon City Guards Stop
Meeting, Tell Computer Group to Leave

By Robert O'Harrow Jr.
=Washington Post Staff Writer= There were about 20 of them,
computer hackers mostly in their late teens and early twenties.
They met in the Food Court at the Pentagon City shopping mall,
where they pushed a few tables together, munched on junk food and
began to discuss their hobby: infiltrating private computer net-
works.
 
Suddenly, in a scene that resembled something from a spy novel,
they were surrounded by a few mall security guards and at least
one agent from the Secret Service. The guards demanded identifi-
cation and wrote down the computer hackers' names, authorities
said later.
 
Several bags containing computer books and printouts were confis-
cated, and the group was booted out of the mall. Arlington pol-
ice, who described the incident as a Secret Service matter, were
on the scene but arrested no one.
 
The incident Friday offered a glimpse into a cat-and-mouse game
being played out in malls and train stations and on computer net-
works across the nation by hackers and federal agents who track
them as part of an effort to crack down on computer and telephone
fraud.
 
It's a game in which computer hackers, many of whom take pride in
their ability to snoop through private records, now are complain-
ing that their privacy rights are being violated by law enforce-
ment officers who track them.
 
The Secret Service, which Congress has directed to go after com-
puter hackers who use phone lines to break into computer systems
for free long-distance phone service or other information, ack-
nowledges that its agents often track groups of young hackers who
gather to discuss their passion.
 
Special Agent David Adams, an agency spokesman, would neither
confirm nor deny agency involvement in the Pentagon City in-
cident, which involved a group called the 2600 Meeting, named
after a New York-based magazine for hackers.
 
"We don't make any comments on ongoing investigations," said
Adams, who said the agency believes that hackers across the coun-
try are responsible for computer and telephone fraud costing more
than $1 billion annually.
 
"We're not targeting any group," said Adams, who said that in ad-
dition to following suspected hackers, the agency searches for
them by working computer networks.
 
In general, he said, "We're targeting people who have committed
violations under the (federal) statute."
 
The current issue of 2600 magazine contains articles on such to-
pics as creating computer viruses, using long-distance phone
lines without paying for them and other high-technology tricks.
 
The term "hackers" is used to describe a variety of computer
users, from whizzes who test their skills by scanning private
networks, to those who illegally use computer networks and phone
lines for profit.
 
Most fall somewhere in between. They use sophisticated software
to search telephone systems for on-line computers, collect data
as proof of their exploits and consider hacking a game.
 
Hackers can be costly to governments and businesses, running up
phone bills and altering confidential information.  During the
Persian Gulf War, a group of Dutch teenagers broke into the
Pentagon's computers and modified or copied information about
U.S. war operations.
 
Like members of similarly named groups in New York, San Francisco
and several other cities, the Washington group meets on the first
Friday of each month. Each group's meetings take place in public,
and at least some members apparently are accustomed to scrutiny
by federal agents. A recent advertisement in 2600 promoting a
meeting in New York encouraged members to "come by, drop off ar-
ticles, ask questions, find the undercover agents." Michael Min-
nich, a 17-year-old Arlington resident who organized the local
group, said its members "explore things in technological society
that have not been explored very well."
 
News about Friday's incident quickly spread on electronic bul-
letin boards across the country, and computer users from New York
to California's Silicon Valley have flooded on-line forums with
complaints that the hackers were harassed without being charged
with any crime.
 
Even computer professionals who normally look down on hackers'
illicit techniques have weighed in, raising questions about con-
stitutional rights.
 
"Their concern is, the government is singling out a group and
trampling on their civil liberties," said John McMullen, a
university computer teacher and New York correspondent for News-
bytes, a computer news service.  According to several members of
the hackers' group, Friday's incident began about 6 p.m., shortly
after group members had pushed tables together in the mall's Food
Court.
 
With some members of the group still arriving, mall guards sur-
rounded the group and began asking for identification. Group
member Craig Neidorf, 23, said the guards demanded to know why
one member had a computer keyboard. Neidorf said the guards
seemed to know they were holding a meeting.
 
"They knew what they were doing," he said. "I think it was
harassment."
 
Nathan Newton, 24, another member, said the guards searched
through some of the group's belongings and took several bags con-
taining computer books, magazines and printouts.
 
A third group member, who asked not to be identified, said that
an Arlington police officer asked for his student ID, even though
the group member objected.
 
The officer "said they were working with the Secret Service, and
therefore they had the right to do what they were doing," said
the student, who lives in Arlington.
 
Al Johnson, chief of the mall's security force, said the guards
did not detain anyone and confiscated only some bags that were
left on the tables. Johnson said they moved in on the group be-
cause one group member was carrying handcuffs and because meet-
ings are not allowed in the privately owned mall.
 
"We're not here to make arrests. We're here to keep people mov-
ing," Johnson said.
 
"As far as I'm concerned this whole thing is over."


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