More about 2600

Voice Card  -  Volume 27  -  John Card Number 4  -  Sat, Jan 30, 1993 2:37 PM

This is ONE OF 2 responses to VC 26 John 11 ("2600")...

Last issue I described a hacker journal called "2600" that raises troubling issues about freedom of speech and responsibility in the information age. Since then I have learned quite a bit more about these issues from an excellent book titled The Hacker Crackdown by Bruce Sterling (a library choice by my wise wife). I strongly recommend this book to all Archipelagoans. Following are a few excerpts about 2600:

"This dilemma [of policing information] is well exemplified by the remarkable activities of 'Emmanual Goldstein,' editor and publisher of a print magazine known as 2600: The Hacker Quarterly. Golstein was an English major at Long Island's State University of New York in the 1970s, when he became involved with the local college radio station. His growing interest in electronics caused him to drift into Yippie TAP circles and thus into the digital underground, where he became a self-described techno-rat. His magazine publishes techniques of computer intrusion and telephone 'exploration' as well as gloating exposés of telco misdeeds and governmental failings.

"Goldstein lives quietly and very privately in a large, crumbling Victorian mansion in Setauket, New York. The seaside house is decorated with telco decals, chunks of driftwood, and the basic bric-a-brac of a hippie crash pad. He is unmarried, mildly unkempt, and survives mostly on TV dinners and turkey stuffing eaten straight out of the bag. Goldstein is a man of considerable charm and fluency, with a brief, disarming smile and the kind of pitiless, stubborn, thoroughly recidivist integrity that America's electronic police find genuinely alarming.

"Goldstein took his nom-de-plume, or 'handle,' from a character in Orwell's 1984, which may be taken, correctly, as a symptom of the gravity of his sociopolitical worldview. He himself is not a practicing computer intruder, though he vigorously abets these actions, especially when they are pursued against large corporations or governmental agencies. Nor is he a thief, for he loudly scorns mere theft of phone service in favor of 'exploring and manipulating the system.' He is probably best described and understood as a dissident. ...

"2600 has been published consistently since 1984. It has also run a bulletin board computer system, printed 2600 T-shirts, taken fax calls...

"In the worldview of 2600, the tiny band of techno-rat brothers (rarely, sisters) are a besieged vanguard of the truly free and honest. The rest of the world is a maelstrom of corporate crime and high-level governmental corruption, occasionally tempered with well-meaning ignorance. To read a few issues in a row is to enter a nightmare akin to Solzhenitsyn's, somewhat tempered by the fact that 2600 is often extremely funny.

"Golstein did not become a target of the Hacker Crackdown, though he protested loudly, eloquently, and publicly about it, and it added considerably to his fame. It was not that he is not regarded as dangerous, because he is so regarded. Goldstein has had brushes with the law in the past: In 1985, a 2600 bulletin board computer was seized by the FBI, and some software on it was formally declared 'a burglary tool in the form of a computer program.'

But Goldstein escaped direct repression in 1990, because his magazine is printed on paper and recognized as subject to constitutional freedom of the press protection. As was seen in the Ramparts case, this is far from an absolute guarantee. Still, as a practical matter, shutting down 2600 by court order would create so much legal hassle that it is simply unfeasible, at least for the present. Throughout 1990, both Goldstein and his magazine were peevishly thriving."