Mitnick gets 46 months, £2,558 fine

The super-hacker is given a reduced fine, and could be back on the street by January.

Four years, five months and 22 days after it began, The United States vs. Kevin Mitnick ended Monday when US District Court Judge Marianna Pfaelzer sentenced the hacker to 46 months in prison. Mitnick was also ordered to pay $4,125 (£2,558) in restitution -- a fraction of the $1.5m (£930,000) federal prosecutors sought.

With credit for good behaviour, Mitnick could be free by January 2000. Once released, Pfaelzer ordered the hacker not to touch a computer or cellular telephone without the written approval of his probation officer. Mitnick is also immediately eligible for release to a halfway house, at the discretion of the Bureau of Prisons, but the judge recommended he serve the remainder of his sentence in prison.

Mitnick pleaded guilty on March 26 to seven felonies, and admitted to cracking computers at cellular telephone companies, software manufacturers, ISPs and universities, as well as illegally downloading proprietary software from some of the victim companies. Monday's sentence was governed by a plea agreement between Mitnick and his prosecutors, and will run on top of the 22 months he already received for cell phone cloning and a probation violation, for a total of 68 months in prison.

Mitnick's attorney, Donald Randolph, asked the court to issue a formal recommendation that the hacker be released to a resident 12-step program to treat his "obsessive behaviour". "It's time for him... to be integrated back into the community," Randolph said.

Pfaelzer, who sentenced Mitnick to a year of addiction treatment in a 1989 case, rejected Randolph's request, and specifically recommended that the Bureau of Prisons keep Mitnick behind bars for the remaining months of his sentence.

The plea agreement left open the amount of restitution Mitnick would have to pay. The government asked the court to order Mitnick to pay $1.5m (£930,000) to his victim companies. Pfaelzer said she believed the damages were much larger, but agreed with a defence argument that Mitnick's earnings potential was limited and ordered the hacker to pay $4,125 (£2,558). "I want something that he can be ordered to pay, no matter what, because I'll know he has the ability to pay," she said. "I want to make a restitution order that is much, much larger. But I can't be sure he can pay it, and any non-payment is going to be a violation of the terms of his release."

Pfaelzer rejected defence allegations that the government improperly manipulated damage figures in the case, and declined to unseal a defence motion calling for sanctions against the prosecutors. At the same time, she encouraged the government to work with Mitnick's lawyers to release a redacted version of the sealed filings. "As a matter of principal," said Pfaelzer, "everything should be public."

Since his arrest in February 1995 Mitnick has become the focus of four books and an upcoming motion picture from Miramax's genre label Dimension Films. He also won the title of "World's Most Notorious Hacker" in the 1999 Guinness Book of World Records. Meanwhile a grassroots campaign built on bumper stickers and demonstrations have complained that Mitnick is a victim of bad press and big business.

After Monday's hearing, prosecutor Chris Painter said Mitnick is no Robin Hood. "In this case there were people whose identities were expropriated, whose credit was expropriated, whose private email was read. There are a lot of damages caused by this kind of activity, and people should be sensitive to that," Painter said. "For the last five years... they have prosecuted [Mitnick] and treated him in this case as if he was a computer terrorist," said defence attorney Donald Randolph.

"I think when this case is scrutinised and analysed -- particularly when the most recent documents come to public scrutiny -- there will be a real evaluation about how this case was prosecuted. I think it was heavy handed, overboard, and a lot of unfair things happened."

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