Why I Have Joined ALCEI by Bruce Sterling

My name is Bruce Sterling and I am an author and journalist from Austin, Texas, USA. On December 3 1994 I joined a group called “Associazione per la libertà nella comunicazione elettronica interattiva”. Not only did I join ALCEI, but I have paid my dues in full!

One might well wonder why a writer from far-away Texas should join such a group. After all, I don’t speak Italian. I even have difficulty correctly pronouncing the word “ALCEI”. I am an American citizen and have no right, need, or intention to interfere in the internal political affairs of the Republic of Italy. When it comes to the issue of electronic interactive communication, there is plenty going on in my own United States — more than any one person can possibly encompass and understand.

I am nevertheless intensely interested in electronic affairs in Italy — an interest which has grown, almost despite myself, during the past year. There are several reasons. One is that Italy is the first country in the world whose government is being run by a television mogul. I make no judgement whether his policies or are good or bad for the Republic of Italy or the well-being of its citizens. I would point out that it is not unusual for the power-structure of a government to reflect the major sources of power, money and influence in its economy. As society moves from material industrial power to informatic post-industrial power, it seems only likely that a television tycoon could become a head of state.

Will Italy be the only country in the world to have such a political development? I very much doubt this. On the contrary, I suspect that in this instance Italy has become a political laboratory for the future of the rest of the world.

In 1992, I wrote a book called HACKER CRACKDOWN: Law and Disorder on the Electronic Frontier. In Italian it was published as Giro di Vite Contro Gli Hacker. Much of this book involved an American police operation called “Operation Sundevil”, which took place in 1990 and involved police seizure of bulletin board systems. I considered this a very important matter, so much so that I devoted a year and a half of my life to researching and writing on the topic.

In Italy, however, in May 1994, Italian police launched an attack on Italian bulletin board systems that was at least twice the size of Operation Sundevil and may have been five times as large. This was the largest police seizure of bulletin board systems in world history. Italian police may not have been the first to carry out large-scale attacks on bulletin board systems, but they have done it with more gusto than anyone else in the world.

I would like to know a lot more about this operation of May 1994. As is common on the electronic frontier, reports are confused and inconsistent. Clearly the Italian police and prosecutors involved are not overly anxious to discuss the matter. If I do successfully learn anything about this matter, however, or about others that may happen, I believe it will be because of ALCEI. ALCEI was formed after this event, and not in response to it: but now there is watchdog. This does not mean an end to such troubles, of course. However, now at least there is an organized group of people who will make it their business to study and discuss events like these. I wish them well.

In early December 1994, I was in Rome to celebrate the release of one of my novels in Italian translation, Islands In The Net (Isole Nella Rete). No sooner had I arrived in Rome than I was alarmed and saddened to hear of a computer-intrusion attack on the Adn-Kronos news agency. I regard attacks on news agencies, from whatever quarter and for whatever reason, as a very serious matter. Computer intrusions which attack a source of information to the public are a serious crime. Such activity is immoral and deserving of punishment. The Adn-Kronos case is particularly repellent because of the megalomaniacal boasting of the intruder, who threatened the public with his group’s intent to harm society and disrupt telecommunications.

I make no judgment about the existence or nonexistence of the so-called “Falange Armata”. Nevertheless, to my knowledge this is the first case in the world of a computer-intrusion attack by someone claiming, or pretending, to be an armed terrorist group. Once again Italy is setting the pace for what may become general developments worldwide.

Historically, it has not been uncommon for political developments to begin in Italy and spread to the rest of the world. The Roman Empire, for instance. The Renaissance — a great gift of Italian civilization. This alone would make it worthwhile to study Italian developments — even without the twentieth century’s rather less happy experiences with Italian political innovation.

It is not my business to direct how Italians should choose to run their own affairs, in cyberspace or elsewhere. However, I think it is not too much to ask that I be allowed to watch — and to watch closely. I hope to do exactly that, with the help of my new colleagues in ALCEI. I would urge others of similar interests to lend their support to the ALCEI group. I wish them every success in the new year, 1995 — and beyond into the third millennium of our common global civilization.

Bruce Sterling

(bruces@well.sf.ca.us), Austin
Texas USA Dec 9 1994