On Saturday, the 21st of October 2000, I answered my door to find a police officer bearing a summons and complaint. It was for a lawsuit that had been filed by a New Hampshire software company in a Federal District Court nearly 3,000 miles away.
In the complaint I was, in sum, accused of pursuing a tortious (illegal) vendetta against Lock Down Corp and its principals, Michael Paris and Roger Leclerc, makers of Lockdown 2000 (formerly known as Hackerproof98), which is promoted as a security application. The Complaint alleged that my motive against them stemmed from Lockdown's refusal to provide me with free software they contend I had allegedly demanded by telephone in October of 1998.
This was the stuff of laughter, and to the officer's surprise, that's exactly what I did.
But I knew then that I would be seriously burdened by the cost of such a suit, and events have since confirmed that expectation.
Incidentally, here are some journalists' comments on the suit: Fred Langa   Bill Machrone
My 14-year-old son is in his freshman year in high school. He's on notice that his father may not be able to pay for his college education. Financing the education of his dreams may depend upon scholarships he must earn by academic merit.
Fortunately, he's up to the task. But the injustice of the situation for him and for me has loomed large.
My Past Work
For several years, I have been engaged in helping ordinary people all over the world to protect themselves against malicious intrusions into their personal computers. I was one of the first to publish detailed information about Back Orifice, an intrusion tool that forever changed the landscape of PC security. As a result, my little personal website became a high-traffic information source for thousands of people. Seeing the need, I followed through. I answered hundreds, eventually thousands, of emails from concerned and affected people all over the world. I evaluated programs that purported to counter such intrusions, and helped inform the public at large of their relative merits.
Before I encountered Lockdown, I wrote about Back Orifice and other trojans, reviewed trojan countermeasures, even spotted and exposed a bogus Back Orifice "remover" that actually installed the very same trojan on its victims' machines. I helped several software developers to test and improve their countermeasures. Later, I found another trojan being broadly distributed by Softseek, disguised as a legitimate application; and I tried (without success, unfortunately) to persuade them to implement rational security measures to protect their users. I created a unique page that explained cryptic, obfuscated Internet links that were in broad use by spammers and were confusing users across the 'net. I warned about scrap files, an obscure Windows file type with sinister possibilities for exploitation of unwitting users. I uncovered Microsoft's privacy-busting practice of passing browser cookies from one domain to another, in violation of the standard and intended behavior of these electronic "tags." And so on. My website is testimony to my efforts.
When I encountered Lockdown, I found that while it claimed absolute results, it delivered nearly worthless results.
As one who had given freely of so much time and effort to deliver genuine help, I was concerned about how Lockdown and its promotions would affect a generally worried and technically uninformed public. People do not deserve to be treated that way.
In the same spirit that had moved me to warn and inform the public with respect to backdoor trojans, I sought to warn and inform the public about Lockdown 2000 and its promoters. I analyzed and wrote about two early versions of the software; and what I had learned about the product's history and the history of its sellers. On my website, I compared Lockdown's claims to reality as I found it.
I also learned of others who had independently found Lockdown wanting, and who confirmed my findings.
The Cost of Litigation
I've done my work on the Net for free and without any desire for personal credit. I never intended even to reveal my name publicly (I now do so only because of the exigencies of this lawsuit). I have never earned a single dime by means of any of this work. My means of support has been a modest computer service business, conducted locally in the semi-rural community where I live in central Washington State.
Now, circumstances compel me to ask for help from from the Netizens I have worked to assist. It's too much to ask, at least by my standards; I never wished to ask for anything. But I am approaching the point that I will be unable to proceed with my legal case. In addition, I believe my own interests are not the only ones at stake.
Financially, to be frank, I am personally destroyed already. My efforts to build a very modest basis of support for myself and my family are probably irretrievably derailed. My defense has already cost more than I own.
To lose the case, as I would by default if I failed to mount a defense, could result in the curtailment of my freedom to speak; as well as a debt of monetary damages I must pay to the Plaintiffs. It also would mean a pointless loss of all that I and others have expended to bring the case this far. Judge for yourself whether this is an acceptable outcome.
To mount a vigorous defense is just as costly; in terms of dollars, perhaps more so. I am convinced nonetheless that it's well worth the fight, for all our sakes. But I can only continue with the public's help.
Regardless of my situation, what we all stand to gain by winning this suit is what's most important. It is an opportunity to make good law. The process of my defense could set precedents that will help protect advocates and ordinary people who simply care.
Among the issues in this case are the First Amendment of the Constitution and other fundamental standards of law, old and new, as they apply to the new communications media of the Internet and to the unique aspects of those media.
The Internet is young, and in terms of law it is in many ways unexplored territory. My case can help blaze the trail of justice.
Help me find justice against this legal attack. Help me keep the integrity of my work. Help me keep my right to speak.
Help do a service to the future and to the institution of American law.
Follow the links below to find out how you can help, and to see detailed documentation of the legal proceedings.