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We're All There

Week of January 1, 2001

The scene is an editorial office for a computer magazine in the UK in the mid eighties. A product reviewer sits at his desk and sips his afternoon tea. Two gorillas approach, their presence and mannerisms at once intimidating and frightening, and this by intention.

'Mr. Big doesn't like your attitude towards his newly acquired software company,' grumbles the one apehead.

'That so?' attempts the journalist bravely.

'That is so,' bites off the other monkey, the by far more aggressive of the two. 'And he ain't gonna stand for it either. You got two options: Either you retract your less than flattering review of the boss's product, or we come back and break some bones. Up to you.'

The above, although not verbatim, actually occurred at the place and time designated, and it was not a single isolated incident either, but set the tone for product reviews world wide thereafter. BYTE stopped reviewing products, calling them 'previews' and the like instead. More than the litigation, the editors of PC magazines feared the muscle of the new ISVs.

Keith Little is a nice guy. In fact, some would call him a great guy. radsoft.net certainly would. What is so perplexing with Keith Little, above and beyond his warm humanity and sense of humour, is his seeming knowledge of almost everything. Time and again people mutter to themselves as it were, 'how could he know that?' and 'how could he know that too?' Keith knows it. He knows hardware, he continually helps the people of his region with mundane day to day PC problems; he also knows security, and is one of the few gurus out there wearing a white hat who really tests security software the way it should be tested, by attacking it good and proper in a network with hacks, trojans, virii, anything he can throw at it. Keith knows his business and knows it well, and has become a respected voice often quoted by the big ezines of the net.

Lockdown 2000 is a weird product. Long ago a product known as HackerProof 98 made its way to Keith's desk, a site visitor asking Keith for his two cents on the product. Keith didn't know much about it, so he proceeded to download it and test it for his client. The results were not flattering, and the authors of the program heard about Keith's review and protested vehemently.

If you've ever visited Keith's site then you know how meticulous he is. The authors of HackerProof 98 placed some extremely trivial objections to Keith's review at his feet and true to his nature, Keith addressed every one - meticulously. But even this did not placate the authors of HackerProof 98, as the review still showed the product to be basically a bluff. And so the war ensued.

At the height of this war, in an event Keith will not be eager to recollect, his family was physically threatened. A detailed description was given of the hour to hour activities of the members of his family in their own homes, followed by the meaningful question 'wouldn't it be a shame if [they] came to any harm?' This was in essence the same type of threat issued to the UK journalists some fifteen years previously, but Keith did not back down. He secured his home and his family and wrote about the threat instead. And soon after, because of the barrage of irate customer complaints, the authors of HackerProof 98 changed the name of their product, insisted they had never heard of their product, and sent everyone scurrying out after the new one - Lockdown 2000.

It really doesn't matter if Lockdown 2000 ever comes clean on a single promise its scare tactics spammer advertising claims. The issue is the ethical level involved. The product is conceived as a bluff and sold on that premise. The people behind the product - and behind a long list of bluff products including HackerProof 98 - are well known in the industry and have been previously targeted by a number of major corporations, including America Online. Fortunately they are relatively rare, but now, in a final desperate move as Zone Alarm and BlackICE Defender have cornered the market in personal firewalls, they have taken to a civil lawsuit against Keith Little, claiming his less than flattering reviews of their products have hampered their sales.

If that was the issue, then the crooks would be spot on. But that is not and can never be the issue. Keith Little not only exercised his freedom of speech, he did so for the betterment of the Internet community. What the crooks don't like - and expect an American court to sympathize with - is that Keith wrote anything less than laudatory at all.

It is imperative that the case against Keith Little be thrown out summarily and with as much prejudice as is possible. While Keith has gone to extreme lengths to not lie or misrepresent, his reviews of the Lockdown and other products, true to the millimetre, have been of immense benefit for all visitors to his site, for all netizens world wide. And, above and beyond all, the Internet is free, everyone should be allowed to say their mind no matter what, and this most basic of freedoms must be guarded with all the resources at our disposal.

If you feel you can help the cause of Keith Little then you can help the cause of the Internet as a whole. There are quite a lot of issues riding here. Support for Keith Little has been overwhelming and even inspirational. But the final battle is in the courtroom, and all of us will be there in a sense: Our own Internet is going to be at stake. Do what you can to support Keith Little.

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