Cybercitizen Jim

Jim Warren makes the Net safe for democracy

With the proceeds, Warren built his home on the 40-acre Kings Mountain property in 1983; he returned to public activism because of a building inspector he says was trying to run a police state. Since he had the time and the resources, Warren butted heads with San Mateo County and published pieces in a few local newspapers demanding that the county dump the notoriously unfair planning director and building inspector. The effort was successful, and Warren returned his attention to writing columns for various computer magazines, a practice the workaholic continues today.

Operation Sundevil, a high-publicity, nationwide crackdown on computer hackers in 1990, caused Warren to organize the Conference on Computers, Freedom and Privacy. The event gathered together 400 participants, including indicted computer hackers, convicted phone phreaks and national civil liberties activists, as well as officials from the NSA, FBI and CIA. The event was a huge success, garnering more than 100 pages of print in international publications from Der Spiegel and Time. Bruce Sterling, a cyberpunk/sci-fi writer, called the groundbreaking event "mind-boggling" in his book The Hacker Crackdown.

For a self-professed "political irritant," Warren doesn't really irritate many. He stumbles when he tries to name his detractors, citing one out-of-work building inspector and an otherwise vague list: "snoop-and-peep fed policy folks, something-for-nothing Bayside land-grab activists and politically correct sexists."

Warren says the very nature of the Net prevents things from getting too nasty. "One of the neat things about the Net is that it only works for a cause that is just -- a cause that can stand up to public scrutiny. The Net doesn't keep secrets for shit."

Bruce Koball, a Berkeley computer consultant and the chair of the Third Conference on Computers, Freedom and Privacy, says Warren is deserving of every bit of respect that comes his way.

"There's a selflessness about him. Of course he's fortunate to be wealthy from his entrepreneurialism; many in his position would try to make more money or move away to an island. Instead, Jim uses his ability and his freedom to do things for the common good."

These days, Warren busies himself by reading his hundred-odd e-mail messages a day and helping cryptographer Phil Zimmerman, who was indicted by the federal government for exporting the Pretty Good Protection encryption software. Warren may become the chief witness for the defense. He also belongs to a "blue-ribbon panel" that has proposed that campaign finance disclosures be placed on-line. Campaign finances are the "gonads of government," he says, noting for the benefit of hesitant Assembly members that on-line disclosures will help them by giving a clear view of their opponents' contributions.

Warren's activism has not gone unnoticed. So far, his work has earned him the Hugh Hefner First Amendment Award from the Playboy Foundation, and a Pioneer Award from the Electronic Freedom Foundation, the much-hyped civil rights in cyberspace organization founded by former Lotus developer Mitch Kapor.

As a pioneer, Warren says he loves trying to make things better for tomorrow than they are today.

"It is important to me to do something that you feel good about doing," says Warren. "If you're lucky, you can make a positive contribution. I have been lucky."

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