Kevin Mitnick supporters plan rallies

Fellow hackers organize Friday protests of his imprisonment, in hopes of winning him a room at a halfway house.

Published June 4, 1999 4:00PM (EDT)

Since his 1995 arrest for wire and computer fraud, famed hacker Kevin Mitnick has been behind bars. In March a judge sentenced him to a 46-month prison term after he pleaded guilty to a handful of the 25 charges filed against him. But on Friday, demonstrators in 15 U.S. cities and Moscow plan to protest what they see as the unjust treatment of Mitnick and ask for his parole to a halfway house.

"The guy's been in there for something like four years and four months," says Emmanuel Goldstein, editor of "2600: the Hacker Quarterly." (Actually, 2600's Kevin Mitnick Lockdown Clock put it at exactly 4 years, 3 months, 16 days, 11 hours, 19 minutes and 41 seconds at that moment, but who's counting?)

It's a heavy sentence for just looking at other people's software, says Goldstein: "The federal government is using him to send a message."

"Even if Kevin were guilty of everything he was charged with," the 2600 site says, "the fact remains that there was no documented damage, no evidence of malicious activity, and nothing to suggest that Mitnick profited in any way by reading the software he is accused of accessing." The journal says it has uncovered letters showing that companies like Sun Microsystems and Nokia have claimed a combined total of $300 million in damages resulting from Mitnick's hacks. "This is a case of corporate vengeance, aided and abetted by a federal government seeking to intimidate hackers," the 2600 site argues. "We think Kevin Mitnick's suffering has gone on way too long."

2600 is encouraging demonstrators to meet at federal courthouses across the country and the U.S. Embassy in Moscow. The protest will coincide with the monthly 2600 meeting, which brings hackers together in various cities on the first Friday of the month. ("That way the people who spy on us have to spread themselves thin," says Goldstein, explaining the same-time, multiple-locations approach.)

On June 14 a judge will formally sentence Mitnick and determine the damages he owes. The hacker group hopes to influence the court to go lightly on Mitnick. "The judge has the opportunity to sentence him to a halfway house," says Goldstein, "which is a whole lot better than a prison with murderers and rapists."

By Kaitlin Quistgaard

Kaitlin Quistgaard, Salon's former technology editor, writes frequently about the arts and South America, where she once lived.

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