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 published.
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 boring.
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 like.
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 exist?
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 computer networks.
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 expendable.
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 volatile scene.
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 and hysteria.
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 faster.
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.