Mitnick gains friends in high places

Under the watchful eye of local police and a fly-by skywriter, supporters of imprisoned hacker Kevin Mitnick gathered outside federal courthouses wielding picket signs and passing out leaflets.

Mitnick, who has spent four years in jail without a bail hearing, pleaded guilty to a reduced set of charges earlier this year. Under the terms of his plea agreement, he will likely be free from federal custody within a year, but he still faces state hacking charges and the possibility of millions of dollars in court-ordered restitution payments.

And the San Francisco protest, organised by 19-year-old computer science student 'Macki' was even accompanied by a commissioned airplane circling with "Free Kevin" and "" trailing on a banner. The hacker magazine 2600 sponsored the aerial display, and hired a skywriter to scrawl "Free Kevin" in the sky above New York.

"The protests went great," said 2600 editor Eric Corley. "We had over 50 people in New York alone ... The fact that we were able to cover so many cities in one day is unprecedented." The protests were held in captials cities of Georgia, New York, Illinois, Ohio, Colorado, Nevada, California, Nebraska, Pensylvania, Oregon, Minnesota, Washington DC, and at the US embassy in Moscow, Russia.

"Either they can send him to a federal prison for another year, or they can send him to a halfway house where he can see the sky again and breath the air and do all those things that we take for granted every day," said Corley. "It's time to put and end to this hell."

In the shadow of the federal building in San Francisco, a dozen protesters earnestly handed flyers and bumper stickers to passers-by. The attendees were a diverse group, including attorneys, students and young people with names like "Lord Maestro" and "Vaccine."

Twenty-seven year old "Freqout," from the law-abiding hacker clique Cult of the Dead Cow, came to protest Mitnick's supervision conditions -- which prohibit him from using computers and cell phones for up to three years following his release. "I don't want these restrictions to become the norm," said Freqout.

Schoolteacher Lerretta Karras came to the demonstration at the urging of her 14-year-old son, Dimitry, who learned of the Free Kevin movement online. "I'm really proud of him," said Karras, while pushing flyers into the hands of passing pedestrians. "The more he dug out and showed me, the more I realized that he's really onto something here."

Even federal employees took an interest in the activity. A conservatively dressed worker with the General Services Administration left his office to ask a leather-clad protester, "Who's Kevin?" The protester, wearing a mohawk and decked out in full cyberpunk regalia, explained, "He's a computer hacker, and he's been held without bail for four years."

Mitnick is set for sentencing on June 14. His defense attorney, Don Randolph, filed a motion last Friday seeking "discovery" information on the amount and type of losses the government intends to make Mitnick repay. The motion was rejected this week.