Federal agents raid dorm, seize computer equipment

Joe Abernathy Staff
Houston Chronicle

December 17, 1992

The Secret Service has raided a dorm room at Texas Tech University, seizing the computers of two Houston-area students who allegedly used an international computer network to steal computer software.

Agents refused to release the names of the two area men and a third man, a former Tech student from Austin, who were not arrested in the late-morning raid Monday at the university in Lubbock. Their cases will be presented to a grand jury in January.

The three, in their early 20s, are expected to be charged with computer crime, interstate transport of stolen property and copyright infringements.

"The university detected it," said Agent R. David Freriks of the Secret Service office in Dallas, which handled the case. He said Texas Tech computer system operators noticed personal credit information mixed in with the software mysteriously filling up their data storage devices.

The former student admitted pirating at least $6,000 worth of games and programs this summer, Freriks said.

The raid is the first to fall under a much broader felony definition of computer software piracy that could affect many Americans.

Agents allege the three used the Internet computer network, which connects up to 15 million people in more than 40 nations, to make contacts with whom they could trade pirated software. The software was transferred over the network, into Texas Tech's computers and eventually into their personal computers.

The Software Publishers Association, a software industry group chartered to fight piracy, contends the industry lost $1.2 billion in sales in 1991 to pirates.

"There are a lot of underground sites on the Internet run by university system administrators, and they have tons of pirated software available to download -- gigabytes of software," said Scott Chasin, a former computer hacker who is now a computer security consultant.

Freriks said the investigation falls under a revision of the copyright laws that allows felony charges to be brought against anyone who trades more than 10 pieces of copyrighted software -- a threshold that would cover many millions of Americans who may trade copies of computer programs with their friends.

Copyright 1992