TUCoPS :: Cyber Law :: sieze.txt

Feds sieze computer equipment illegally

Sunday, June 3, 1990. New York times
        Drive to counter computer crime aims at invaders
           Legitimate users voice worries over rights
By John Markoff
Transcribed by Dr. Strangelove.

  From Los Angeles to Atlanta, Federal and State law-enforcement
agents have begun an intense battle against computer operators who
break into government and business data systems.
  The agents, under mounting pressure from corporations and
lawmakers, say the crackdown is needed to halt a growing threat to
commerce, research and national security.
  But increasingly, civil liberties experts and even some computer
industry executives say the crackdown is affecting computer users
who are not breaking the law. These experts say such users are
being intimidated and are suffering illegal searches and violations
of their constitutional guarantees to free speech.
                 Crimes `In the blink of an eye'
  In many ways the computer crackdown parallels the campaign
against drugs, with officials responding to an outcry over a
serious problem only to confront another outcry over assaults on
civil rights. 
  "It's a whole new era," said Stephen McNamee, United States
Attorney for Arizona, who has been a central figure in Government
efforts to counter computer crime. "Computer are providing a new
avenue for criminal activities. It is possible to transmit computer
information for an illegal purpose in the blink of an eye."
  But representative Don Edwards, a California Democrat, said the
authorities had gone too far. "every time there is a perceived
crisis, law-enforcement agencies and legislators overreact, and
usually due process and civil liberties suffer," Mr. Edwards said.
"The Fourth Amendment provides strict limits on rummaging though
people's property."
  The largest of several investigations under way around the
country is a two year old federal effort called Operation Sun
Devil, in which about 40 personal computer systems, including
23,000 data disks, have been seized from homes and businesses. 
  The seizures, resulting from 28 search warrants in 14 cities,
haled the operations of some computer bulletin board, telephone-
linked services that permit users to post and read messages. Little
or any of the confiscated equipment had been returned. In all,
seven people have been arrested so far. 
  One computer game maker who has not been charged says he is on
the verge of going out of business since investigators seized his
  In related inquires, the Secret Service has surreptitiously
eavesdropped on computer bulletin boards and telephone
conversations, and in the process agents have entered these
networks posing as legitimate users and traded information.

  In an unrelated investigation of the theft of an important
program from Apple Computer Inc. last year, dozens of experts and
hobbyists have recently been interrogates by the Federal Bureau of

  Civil libertarians and some business executives have begin to
organize defenses, amount them is Mitchell D. Kapor, creator of the
nation's most popular software program, the Lotus 1-2-3-
spreadsheet, who is planning to help finance a legal defense fnud
of several hundred thousand dollars for some of those accused. 

                  Legal protections are unclear

  Harvery Silvergate, a Massachusetts lawyer and civil liberties
expert who is working with Mr. Kapor, said, "You have innocent
people who are being terrorized as well as investigators of people
who have broken the law." He termed the Government action a
"Typical American solutions: throw your best and brightest in
  Officials of the Secret Service, which since 1984 has been the
primary Federal enforcer of computer fraud laws, believe that an
alarming number of bright young computer enthusiasts are using
computer illegally.
  "Often," said Gary M. Jenkins, Secret Service assistant director,
"a progression of criminal activity occurs which involves
telecommunication fraud, unauthorized access to other computers,
credit card fraud, and then moves on to other destructive
activities like computer viruses." [How many buttons can we push in
one sentence? Sheesh!]
                  A 1986 Law on Computer Crime
  A 1986 Federal Law on computer fraud and abuse makes it a crime
to enter computers or take information from them without
  But Mr. Kapor of Lotus said he believes that danger posed by the
computer joy riders has been greatly exaggerates. "Now that the
Communists aren't our enemies anymore, the American psyche has to
end up inventing new ones," he said.
  He and other experts are also alarmed by new investigative
techniques that employ computers. The power of advanced machines
multiplies the risk of search and seizure violations, these experts
say, because they can perform so many simultaneous tasks and absorb
and analyze so much information. 
  Moreover, civil liberties advocates say the perils are greater
because legal precedents are not clear on how the First Amendment
protects against searches and seizures in the electronic world.
                     Government surveillance
  In response to a count-enforceable request under the freedom of
Information Act, the Secret Service has acknowledged that it sa
monitored computer bulletin boards. In its answer to the request,
made my Representative Edwards, the agency said its agents, acting
as legitimate users, had secretly monitored communication on
computer bulletin boards. The agency also disclosed it has a new
Computer Diagnostic Center, in which the data on computer disks
seized in raids is evaluates by machines operation automatically.
  Civil liberties specialists view suck practices a potentially

  "Computer mail unrelated to an investigation could be swept up in
the Government's electronic dragnet if the law is not carefully
tailored to a well defined purpose," said Marc Torenberg, the
Washington director for the Computer Professional for Social
  The Government's Operation Sun Devil was set up primarily to
fight a loose association of several dozen computer hobbyists,
including teenagers, who referred to themselves as the Legion of
Doom. [Publicity hogs incarnate] Members in various cities stayed
in touch through computer networks and bulletin board and exchanged
technical information of how to break into computer systems.

  In February a federal grand jury in Chicago indicted two members,
Craig Neidorf, 20 years old, and Robert J. Riggs, 21, for
exchanging a six-page document describing the operation of the
Southern Bell 911 emergency system.
                  Private Document Distributed

  The indictment, under the 1986 computer fraud law charges that in
December 1988 Mr. Rigs broke into a company computer and stole the
document, which the company valued at more than $76,000. He
transferred it to Mr. Niedorf by electronic mail on a bulletin
board in Lockport, Ill., the indictment said, and Mr. Niedorf later
reproduces it in an electronic newspaper. [I bet anything that
document is somewhere on this system. A lolly for anyone who finds
it - Dr. Strangelove] 
  Computer security experts say documents like the 911 description
are usually not taken for profit, but rather for the challenge of
doing it. Some members of the computer underground create elaborate
manuals on how to violate computer security as a sport or hobby.
  But law enforcement officials do no se it as a game. Because
modern society has come to depend on computer for so much of it's
government and commercial business, officials view intrusions as
threats not only to private property, but also to the very
operations of the systems.
  In another part of the Sun Devil investigation, Secret Service
agents in March confiscated from steve Jackson Games, a small
Austin, Tex., company. 
  Mr. Jackson, the company's president, sad the agents were seeking
a rule book for a fantasy game that deal with "cyberpunk," the
science fiction world where high technology and outlaw society

  Mr. Jackson said he still did not know why his company had been
searched. He said the Secret Service officials had promised three
times to return his equipment and software but still had not done
so. He said he had been forced to lay off 8 of his 17 employees and
the that company was on the verge of going out of business. 
  "It raises first amendment questions," said Mr. Jackson. "it's a
frightening precedent. I don't think they would have done it to
  Law enforcement officials say they have difficulty returning
seized computers and software promptly. 
                      A Sweep in 14 Cities
The largest operation in the Sun Devil investigation came on May 8
when more than 150 Secret Service agents, plus state and local law-
enforcement officers, served the 28 search warrants in 14 cities:
Chicago, Cincinnati, Detroit, Los Angeles, Miami, Newark, Ne York,
Phoenix, Pittsburgh, Plano, Tex.; Richmond, Va.; San Diego; San
Jose, Calif., and Tuscon, Ariz. In all, seven people, including me.
riggs and Mr. Niedorf, have been arrested.

  In a separate investigation, the F.B.I. has been searching for a
year for members of a group that stole basic programming
information from Apple Computer and mailed coped to people in the
press and the computer industry. The group said that it stole the
software which is fundamental to the operation of Macintosh
computers, to protect apple's refusal to let other makers copy the
Macintosh. [Sounds like a dissambly of either the ROMs or the OS]
  The group calls itself the Neopromethus League, from the
character in Greek Mythology who stole fire from the gods. 
  Organizers of an annual West Coast computer meeting known as the
Hackers' conference said at least a dozen of the several hundred
people who atteneded last year's even had reported being recent;y
by the F.B.I. agents about the Apple theft.
  The Hackers' conference began in 1984 after the publication of
the book "Hackers" by Steven Levy, an account of computer industry
pioneer at M.I.T. and in Silicon Valley. 
  There is no evidence that the Apple theft was linger to people
who atteneded the Hacker's conference and Leo Cunningham, assistant
United States Attorney in San Jose, Calif., wound not comment on
any facet of the case. 

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