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Law and Disorder on the Electronic Frontier

by Bruce Sterling

Pub Date: Oct. 15th, 1992
ISBN: 0-553-08058-X
Publisher: Bantam

Thoroughly researched, this account of the government's crackdown on the nebulous but growing computer-underground provides a thoughtful report on the laws and rights being defined on the virtual frontier of cyberspace. First-rank sf novelist Sterling (coauthor, The Difference Engine, 1991; Crystal Express, 1989, etc.) reports that, following the 1990 crash of AT&T's long-distance switching system, a coalition of telephone companies and state and federal agencies struck back at what the public perceived as bright, playful kids. The crash was actually a glitch, not sabotage, but it scared authorities and spurred the nationwide series of arrests and seizures known as Operation Sundevil. The high-profile police actions were intended, in part, to teach the public to think of hackers--from petty vandals out joyriding to real Tom Paines--as genuinely dangerous, and to let the hackers know that, henceforth, they'd be treated as criminals. Chronicling Sundevil (including the unprecedented confiscation of computers, disks, books, and games from some never accused of a crime), Sterling includes a concise history of the communications industry and a perceptive ethnography of the sometimes flamingly puerile hacker underground, and profiles both the first generation of cyberspace cops and the glamorous civil libertarians battling them for access to their beat. An enjoyable, informative, and (as the first mainstream treatment of the subject) potentially important book; though occasionally obtrusive, Sterling is a fine and knowledgeable guide to this strange new world.