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Mitnick creates Sputnik-like urgency for better computer security

STANFORD -- Mitnick may become to computer security in 1995 what Sputnik was to national security and U.S. science education in 1958: a wake-up call that the United States is falling behind other nations, according to Carey Heckman, chair of the Fifth Conference on Computers, Freedom and Privacy (CFP'95), to be held in Burlingame, Calif., March 28- 31.

“The United States is the only technologically advanced nation to frustrate the ability of businesses and citizens to protect themselves with a completely secure encryption system,” said Heckman, who teaches technology law at Stanford Law School.

By obstructing the development and sales of computer security technologies, the government has weakened the system of "computer defense," which in the Information Age "could be as damaging to national economic interests as the space-science lag was to military security in the Cold War era of the '50s," he said.

Sputnik was the name of the first Soviet space satellite, a grapefruit-sized communications device that in the late 1950s shocked the United States into a space race and reinvigorated science and engineering education in U.S. schools The arrest of Kevin Mitnick in mid- February for allegedly stealing thousands of credit-card numbers and other information by breaching the security of several major computer- network bulletin board services may shock the country into action as well, Heckman said.

The fallout from the Mitnick case will be among the issues explored at CFP'95, which will take place at the San Francisco Airport Marriott Hotel. The conference is sponsored by the Association for Computing Machinery and by Stanford Law School, through its Stanford Law and Technology Policy Center.

Speakers and attendees from throughout the United States and many other nations will discuss computer security and the Mitnick case, as well as topics such as freedom and responsibility of electronic speech, equal access to use of computer and data communications technologies, intellectual property on the Internet, and the privacy implications of proposed databases on students and of intelligent transportation systems.

Among the scheduled speakers at CFP'95 is Kent Walker, the assistant U.S. attorney who led the investigation and arrest of Mitnick. Matthew Blaze, the AT&T Bell Laboratories scientist who discovered a fatal flaw in the government's Clipper Chip encryption technology, will present a tutorial titled “Everything You Need to Know to Argue About Cryptography.” Willis Ware, a long-time computer science and privacy expert, will speak about privacy and security on the National Information Infrastructure. A panel of experts will discuss existing technical and policy impediments to secure international communications. Members of the National Academy of Sciences commission studying cryptography policy at the Congress's request will be at CFP'95 to gather opinions from conference participants.

"Mitnick may unwittingly go down in history as a major contributor to improved computer security and as a symbol that the nation has much work to do in the area of assuring freedom of communications from unwarranted monitoring or intrusion, legal or illegal," Heckman said.

He said he agreed with CFP'91 Chair Jim Warren of Woodside, who recently observed in the San Jose Mercury News that a major irony is how the adoption of a security encryption system has been stymied by the FBI and the National Security Agency, who desire to safeguard their ability to investigate suspected wrongdoers.

Acknowledging that such investigatory power may be a valid concern, Heckman said that other nations have nevertheless moved ahead with secure encryption standards, while the United States, which professes to most value freedom of communication and protections from privacy intrusions, is lagging behind.

“Our government has made it possible for any Mitnick to penetrate our digital communications systems, thus threatening all of us and creating a new arena of criminal activity -- all in the name of being able to monitor criminal activity more easily,” Heckman said.

Additional scheduled speakers at CFP'95 include:

  • John Morgridge, chairman of Cisco Systems.
  • Margaret Jane Radin, a Stanford Law School professor and expert on property law and political philosophy.
  • Roger Wilkins, a Pulitzer Prize-winning commentator for National Public Radio and professor of history and American culture at George Mason University.
  • Esther Dyson, founder of EDventure Holdings and co-chair of the National Information Infrastructure Advisory Council's Information Privacy and Intellectual Property Subcommittee.
  • Virginia Rezmierski, the adviser on policy to the vice provost for information technology at the University of Michigan, where student Jake Baker was charged with the federal crime of electronically transmitting a threat in a story posted on the Internet.
  • Brock Meeks, the journalist who defended himself from an Internet libel lawsuit earlier this year.
  • Pamela Samuelson, the University of Pittsburgh law professor who co-authored a "manifesto" in the Columbia Law Review urging a redefinition of legal protection for computer software.
  • Roger Karraker, director of the Santa Rosa Junior College journalism program, where the tension between free speech and sexual harassment on computer bulletin boards became a national news story.

For additional information or press credentials, contact Scott Nicholas, Stanford Law and Technology Policy Center, Stanford, CA 94305- 8610, at (415) 966-9695, or fax (415) 725-1861 or send e-mail to A complete program for CFP'95 can be obtained by writing CFP'95, P.O. Box 6657, San Mateo, CA 94403, or fax (415) 548-0840, or call (415) 548-9673, or send e-mail to

The Stanford Law and Technology Policy Center was established within Stanford Law School in 1988. The center helps state, national and international policymakers improve how the law promotes technological innovation, limits technological abuse and responds to technological change.


LID, PW, BAN, BAB, LAN, BWIRE, BUS natbus calbus magbus tvbus tech, ENGSCI comm comp, JOURN, LAW, POLIT U.S. computer security



WHEN:March 28-31, 1995

WHERE:San Francisco Airport Marriott, Burlingame, California

SPONSORS:Association for Computing Machinery

Stanford Law School (through its Stanford Law and Technology

Policy Center)

THEME:“Defining Rights at the Crossroads of the Information Age”

PURPOSE:Assemble experts, advocates, and interested people from a broad spectrum of disciplines and backgrounds in a balanced public forum.

Special efforts made to promote active dialogue between persons representing different perspectives in an effort to foster a dynamic environment that can produce new approaches and solutions.

WHO:Open to general public


ATTENDANCE:500-550; press credentials already requested by national and regional newspapers, national news weeklies, trade publications, and media from outside the United States



TRANTS:President of an East Coast software developer

Canadian government official

MIT computer science professor

High school history teacher

Attorney from Italy

Senior staff person from the American Civil Liberties Union

Partner from a major Silicon Valley law firm


CEO of a British software company

Exchange student from Russia

COST:$395 ($445 after March 14) for three-day conference and $185 ($220 after March 14) for a full day of tutorials


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