My friend, Kaja Perina, is Editor-in-Chief of Psychology Today. She spent some time at HOPE with me and is considering doing something about hackers in a future issue considering that Psychology Today has a history of writing about hackers.
I suggested she try to interview some hackers, but foremost of all, Kevin Mitnick. She asked if there is anything I'd like to know about him or questions I'd ask if I could. Indeed, I've always wanted to meet Kevin and I have some questions about the results of his jail time and his effect on the hacking community. I know the media often asks him about his jail time and there is more to him than that part of his past, but I'd like to ask about how it changed him and, a bigger question, if he thinks that his experience with law enforcement and the judicial system changed the hacker community world-wide.
In my e-mail to Kaja, I wrote the following:
In my blog, I wrote a bit more about why his jail time was so egregious; I cannot imagine the kind of abuse he endured there. And being in jail for so long without even being charged? From the perspective of a lawyer, I feel embarrassed and compelled to say "sorry" to him for the lot of attorneys (excluding Jennifer Granick) who didn't understand the technical aspects of his case. But honestly, most lawyers and law enforcement to whom I've spoken believe that he got what he deserved.
As you know, I was inspired to go to law school and study technology and cyber criminal law because of his case, so it has obviously effected me a great deal. I suppose, from a psychological standpoint, I feel that if the legal system mismanaged his case it could happen to anyone--even me--which is frightening. This is especially true of people with extraordinary technical skills or intelligence whom the criminal justice system considers to have an "extra" skill which, in their minds, makes computer criminals more dangerous and thus are permitted to give them extra punishments for improperly wielding their intelligence.
So, in turn, if you're a defendant and smarter than the lawyers, judges, and jury in your trial and no one can really explain or understand your exploits because of a lack of technical comprehension of the facts or forensic evidence, you're at a serious disadvantage. Our judicial system failed Kevin Mitnick.
I've heard that Kevin doesn't talk a lot about his time in jail and I assume it's because it was painful for him. But with hackers, there is a constant fear of law enforcement, but not just because malicious hackers are afraid of getting caught, but they fear an unfair trial. At my HOPE presentation, the first question I was asked was, “Is there a special court for computer criminals? If not, why?” It's always the first question I'm asked.