Kevin Mitnick Case: 1999
No Bail, No Computer
When Mitnick was arraigned in Los Angeles on September 30, 1996, he pleaded not guilty. He was denied bail. Mitnick and his lawyer, Donald Randolph, protested that Mitnick should not be denied bail for what they considered to be a benign violation of the law, but prosecutors continued to convincingly portray him as a "flight" risk. Although Randolph appealed the denial of bail all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court, Mitnick remained in prison for nearly five years.
The two sides also fought over Mitnick's right to use a laptop computer in jail to review the voluminous evidence prosecutors planned to use against him. The government argued that Mitnick's facility with computers made him too dangerous to be trusted with one. After over a year of ruling for the prosecution on the matter, Judge Marianna Pfaelzer eventually allowed Mitnick to use a laptop without a modem to review evidence on unalterable CD-ROM discs. The arguing continued, however, over the government's refusal to allow Mitnick access to encrypted data found in his computers at the time of his arrest.
As procedural disputes continued for years, public support for Mitnick among the hacker community grew, highlighting the division of opinion over the exact nature of his offenses. Mitnick's supporters accused the government of persecuting him for what they viewed as a victimless crime. They correctly pointed out that, unlike some hackers, Mitnick had merely copied the information he had accessed and had never used his intrusions into computer systems for financial profit. The companies whose systems he had entered, the government, and his detractors in the computer world, however, accused Mitnick of costing his victims millions of dollars in repairs by breaching their security systems. Supporters cynically responded that Mitnick had done the companies a favor by forcing them to fix the security flaws. Mitnick's defense attorneys accused the government of inflating alleged damage estimates to strengthen the prosecution's case.