Sunday, August 21, 2005

Family and Friends Hold Last Blast for Rebel Writer


Sunday August 21, 2005

Family and Friends Hold Last Blast for Rebel Writer
* Hunter S. Thompson wanted his ashes shot from a cannon. In a star-studded tribute at his beloved Colorado farm, he got his wish.

By Steven Barrie-Anthony, Times Staff Writer

WOODY CREEK, Colo. -- At dusk Saturday, about 350 friends and relatives of Hunter S. Thompson stood outside and stared into an inky sky, drinking, waiting. In front of them loomed a massive monument in the shape of the late writer's icon -- a dagger topped by a "gonzo" fist -- roughly 2 feet taller than the Statue of Liberty.

Thompson loved explosions. He adored guns, the boom, kickback, the smell of powder and metal; and also the kind of explosions that arose from his typewriter, such as his classic book "Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas," which sent shockwaves through the written world and helped drive a revolutionary brand of participatory journalism.

So it seemed fitting that a monument to Thompson should double as a cannon, spewing forth fireworks and a series of 34 exploding shells containing his ashes, and that the ashes should drift and settle across Owl Farm, Thomson's beloved ranch in Woody Creek. They did, at 8:45 p.m.

The revelry was at Thomson's behest, said Anita Thompson, his widow.

"He said many times he wanted to be shot out of a cannon," she said. "The most important thing to Hunter was that we celebrate his life, get together in a beautiful gathering."

The ceremony came six months to the day after the ailing 67-year-old Thompson shot himself in his kitchen at Owl Farm.

Actor Johnny Depp, who befriended Thompson when he portrayed the writer in the 1998 film based on "Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas," picked up most of the tab for the party. Other actors and Thompson pals attending the send-off included Bill Murray and Sean Penn.

The night kicked off at 6 p.m. with guests being shuttled up the mountain and run through a dense security checkpoint aimed at keeping out looky-loos and the media, which were distinctly not invited.

"There are a lot of people trying to get in," said chief of security David Meeker from Specialized Protective Services in Aspen. Fifty to 100 guards patrolled the perimeter of Owl Farm, Meeker said. "For this size of event, this is by far the most manpower I've ever used."

At the nearby Woody Creek Tavern, a favorite haunt of Thompson's, many of the uninvited but interested gathered to witness in some way the explosion that would disperse Thompson into the nighttime. As the bursts of red, white and blue sparkles spread upward in the distance, many broke into cheers.

It lasted for about a minute, which disappointed some.

"It's not as impressive as it was built up to be," said Gabe Johnson, 35, a marketer for a technology firm who made the trek from Seattle. "But the trip was still worthwhile. Hunter stood for a lifestyle that's disappearing now because people take themselves too seriously. That's why I came."

Before the fireworks, the guests at Owl Farm were served food and drink in a tented bar area on a platform decked out with the kind of furniture and memorabilia that Thompson preferred.

There were stuffed peacocks, a platinum blond wig hanging from a metal gong, a picnic table, blowup dolls -- "In case anyone feels lonely," said Matt Mosely, spokesman for the Thompson family -- a black refrigerator and plenty of mostly brown-colored, well-broken-in furniture.

"I call it late lounge era," Mosely said. "Comfortable, cozy, nice but not elegant."

Anita Thompson said she included "portraits of Hunter with all his favorite writers, like Mark Twain, William Faulkner and Steinbeck."

Later, those in attendance said eulogies were offered by Anita Thompson, Depp and others including journalist Ed Bradley and Thompson's son, Juan Thompson.

And then, leading the way to the final blastoff, the guests heard music on an outdoor stage by Lyle Lovett and the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band with renditions of the Thompson favorites, "My Old Kentucky Home" and "Will The Circle Be Unbroken."

It was ironic that journalists were barred from attending, noted George Tobia, Thompson's lawyer and friend. The writer spent his career leapfrogging over barricades and barriers. "If something were to keep Hunter out, he'd come swooping in over the mountains," Tobia said.

Driven by sympathy for the ticketless, Anita Thompson announced early in the day that she would personally deliver a videotape of the launch to a local tavern later that night. "I feel terrible that we couldn't allow everyone in here," she said.

Mike Runsvold and Brian Harvey of Boise, Idaho, were perhaps the only invitees who had never met Thompson. They found a "golden ticket" -- think "Charlie and the Chocolate Factory" -- hidden inside a boxed bottle of Gonzo Imperial Porter. Flying Dog Brewery of Denver produced the beer as a tribute to Thompson, and the ticket allowed entry for two.

"I had been planning on riding my motorcycle over here this summer and meeting Hunter," Harvey said Saturday afternoon, grinning over beers at the Hotel Jerome bar in Aspen. Nearby, longtime Thompson illustrator and gonzo compatriot Ralph Steadman sat drinking and chatting with Murray.

In the days and hours leading up to the service, the Hotel Jerome served as the Aspen hangout for journalists and Thompson pals -- often the same people. Writing about Thompson in his absence called for a certain backward restraint, some journalists noted.

Getting drunk was accepted behavior; acting like an uptight strait-laced journalist was not. As a Thompson friend informed a young reporter who walked into the hotel bar with notepad in hand: "Put the pad away; don't approach people like that. Now's the time to have a drink and hang out."

Depp and Anita Thompson and others began planning the event soon after Thompson's death. The monument was built in a Los Angeles shop and trucked to Woody Creek in pieces, Mosely said. Thompson's ashes were inserted into explosive shells by the Zambelli Fireworks company in New Castle, Pa., and the shells were returned via armored truck.

But Saturday night's celebration was about more than Thompson's legendary excesses, said his son Juan Thompson, who was standing outside the Jerome hours before the memorial.

"Most people know Hunter as a drug fiend and a wild man," he said. "That image obscured things that were more important about him. He's really an idealist. He had faith that things could be changed for the better."

Thursday, August 18, 2005

Rapper Clears the Field


Thursday August 18, 2005

The State
Rapper Clears the Field
* Snoop Dogg uses a tricked-out bus and star power to lure kids to his new league. Some say he's made an end run around existing teams.

By Steven Barrie-Anthony, Times Staff Writer

The sun is setting a burnished orange, and three groups of children jog across the football field in their pads and helmets to the sideline. It's quitting time on a pleasant summer evening, no school for a while yet, but 10-year-old Xavier Bernal isn't grinning.

For more than four decades, this field at Rowland High School in Rowland Heights has teemed with football players ages 5 to 14, so many jostling Rowland Raiders that each of the program's age divisions overran the next. But last year's nine squads have dwindled to three, and the usually robust cheerleading squad has gone from 80 girls to nine.

To hear Xavier tell it, blame falls squarely on the youth football league's most famous and controversial former coach.

"I'm mad at Coach Snoop," he says. "He was so cool; he told me to play my heart out and to play everything I've got. But now I just want to ask him, why did he take all our players?"

Walking with Xavier toward the parking lot, parents and coaches describe rapper Snoop Dogg as a modern-day Pied Piper luring football players with his song "Drop It Like It's Hot" blasting from a school bus pimped out with enough bass, TV screens and gadgetry to persuade any kid to sell out the old for the new.

Snoop rocked the youth football world two years ago when he volunteered as a Rowland Raiders "daddy coach," and then again last month when he broke from the franchise to start his own conference. The Raiders aren't the only team in the Orange County Junior All-American Football Conference to feel the screws; Long Beach and Compton teams, also in competition with Snoop's new league, report similar hemorrhaging.

And as Snoop talks of expanding the Snoop Youth Football League beyond its initial eight Southern California chapters, parents and coaches in the old conference accuse him and his agents of mounting a campaign of sabotage and misinformation.

Snoop's camp calls the furor sour grapes over its new league, which it says will be more effective and will better serve cash-strapped urban communities.

What's clear is that there's more at stake than football: Both practical goals, such as gang prevention and scholastic achievement, and more amorphous concepts, such as tradition and community, pervade dialogue at either end.

To understand Xavier Bernal's gripe, first enter a world where many families stick with teams for generations and involvement rarely ends with graduation from the program. Xavier's mother spent her girlhood afternoons cheerleading for the Rowland Raiders and later became the cheer coach and league treasurer. His grandfather has been coach, chapter president and now conference commissioner.

For Xavier and others, games are part competition, part family reunion.

Snoop, whose real name is Calvin Broadus, also has deep roots in youth football. He remembers the life lessons he learned while playing for the Long Beach Poly Junior Jackrabbits.

"It taught me how to work with other kids," he says, "how to have a relationship, how to learn. My coach taught me about religion as well as football, about keeping God in everything we did."

So two years ago, with Snoop's two boys old enough to play league ball, he enrolled them in the Rowland Raiders program, signed on as an offensive coordinator and weathered the media hullabaloo that ensued.

League Commissioner Bob Barna received "some e-mails from parents, saying, 'How dare you let somebody like that be with our youth?' " Barna says. "But did he bring anything negative? No. He acted like a dad."

A very cool dad. Coach Snoop was the talk of football fields and playgrounds throughout the Southland. Then, as the season came to a close, some of the league's all-stars received recruitment calls from the rapper, asking them to join the Raiders the next year. The league allows 15% of a team's players to come from outside its immediate area, Barna says, and a team can recruit without limit in cities where no team exists.

Snoop took full advantage, nabbing players like Derrick Marbrough from Long Beach. "I played against him, and then he wanted me on his team, so he called my mom," says Derrick, 11. "I switched teams."

"It was so cool," remembers Duon Rucker, who also came to the Rowland Raiders from Long Beach as a 10-year-old last year. "Everybody at school was all over me, 'Are you about to go with Snoop? Can you get me his autograph?' Everybody wanted to get a picture of me and him together."

And then there was the bus.

"It's a mini-school bus," Derrick says, "and it had TVs in it where we watched our games from last week."

"Yeah," Duon enthuses, "and everywhere we went, you could hear us coming down the street, we had like hydraulics from all the bass! We listened to Snoop's music -- our theme song was 'Drop It Like It's Hot.' "

Last year's Rowland Raiders team of 8- to 10-year-olds, with Snoop as offensive and defensive coordinator and his older son playing quarterback, steamrolled through the season unbeaten. At the team's awards banquet, the coach gave each player a DVD of team games with a special Snoop Dogg tribute to the Raiders bumping in the background.

Then, for the second year in a row, Snoop culled the best players for an all-star team to represent the Rowland Raiders in the youth football postseason. They bused out to play other California all-star teams before heading to Jacksonville, Fla., to compete in the final competition and brainchild of their coach -- the "Snooperbowl" -- a day before Super Bowl XXXIX.

More than 15,000 fans crowded in to watch the Raiders play the Jacksonville Junior All Stars (or perhaps to watch halftime performer Snoop), and the team from Rowland didn't disappoint. On the way home, Raiders all-stars lugged custom trophies donated by Tiffany & Co.

"This is a gentleman who wants it all, who wants the best kids so he can win the championship," says Frank Romero, president of the Raiders. "He didn't go through the chain of command like he was supposed to. He had the say-so of everything. It was a very difficult year."

Nobody accuses Snoop of being a derelict coach; far from it. Most grumblers say that Snoop was overly generous and doted on his team, giving them new jerseys, letterman jackets, trophies and championship rings, even though chapter rules stipulate that if any team gets new equipment, every team does, Romero says.

"After he won his first league championship game, he went out and bought scooters for everybody," Romero says. "He never said anything to the league, never asked permission. I had parents calling me all the time, asking, 'How come Snoop Dogg's team is getting this?' "

Snoop had complaints of his own. The residency requirements for joining teams seemed too strict, especially when they prevented kids from playing alongside friends and family.

"My son lives in Diamond Bar," says Shante Broadus, Snoop's wife, "but his cousin lives in Fontana, so he couldn't come and play. Sometimes boys just want to be together."

The league fees also bothered Snoop; $175 per child for the Rowland Raiders program (other league chapters charge more) precludes poor families from participating, he says, and those families have trouble driving their children to distant fields for away games.

"It's so easy for a kid to join a gang, to do drugs," Snoop says. "We should make it that easy to be involved in football and academics."

About midway through the 2004 season, it hit Snoop.

"I don't have to go against the system," he remembers thinking. "The best thing to do would be to create my own league, as opposed to me being used and them getting a lot of the credit." It would be "mine," he says. "Snoop began it."

After the season, top players in the Orange County conference received phone calls asking them to join the Snoop Youth Football League, which has no pesky residence requirements and cheaper rates -- $100 for the first child in a family, half price for any others, incidentals like cleats and pads included.

Many families and even some coaches hopped aboard, while chapter loyalists wondered aloud if last season's pageantry had been orchestrated to "steal our kids."

"I think what [Snoop] did is just so shallow," says Sandy Gonzales, a sales executive who has two boys on Rowland Raiders football squads and a girl in cheerleading. "He came here just so that he could take away from us what we'd taken many years to establish."

In Compton, chapter President Toni Smith fielded calls from confused parents "asking me why the Compton Titans have folded and are now the Compton Vikings," she says. The Vikings are the local Snoop chapter. The Titans, in fact, are still fielding teams. But Compton's usual 12 teams are down to five -- and Smith's son is among the kids left without a squad.

Even Snoop's alma mater, the Long Beach Poly Junior Jackrabbits, is struggling to stay afloat. "This has affected us in a terrible way," says Sarah L. Morrison, chapter president for 27 years. "I don't know if our program will exist after this season."

The Jackrabbits, part of the Orange County conference, are officially known as the Long Beach Poly Junior Athletic Assn., while the Snoop chapter registered as the Long Beach Poly Youth Athletic Assn.

"Only one word is different," says Morrison, who has written a letter asking that Snoop change his chapter's name. "They advertise in the paper, and who's going to notice that small word?"

The charge that Orange County youth football is too expensive is smoke and mirrors, Morrison says. "Our organization has never turned a kid away who cannot pay," she says. "We try to get donations for over half the kids who come to us. I have paid out of my own pocket for kids to play."

In Rowland Heights, not everyone mourns the loss of Coach Snoop.

"Snoop was more focused on wanting to win than on teaching the kids the game," says Angelena Moore, a Raiders parent. "He focused more on kids he brought in from Los Angeles, Fullerton and Rialto. The rest of the kids got pushed off to the side."

Not true, says Al Brown, Snoop's onetime fellow Rowland Raiders coach and now head of football operations for Snoop's league. "It was equal opportunity for everybody."

Orange County youth football coaches point out that although they welcome any kid, the Snoop Youth Football League holds tryouts to sign up the best players. And making kids compete for spots promotes hurt feelings rather than community and camaraderie, they say.

Brown counters that tryouts are a safety measure to make sure that kids who shouldn't play tackle football don't.

Whether or not he's driven by winning, Raiders teammates who followed Snoop to the new league paint a picture of a loving coach who serves on and off the field as a mentor and pal.

"We would go over to Snoop's house," says Duon Rucker. "We'd play Madden [football video game] tournaments. We'd play hide and seek and [joke] with his wife, and then steal candy from coach when he was recording in his studio. He'd just laugh. But if we ever said something mean to one of our teammates, coach would get mad."

Snoop is a major figure in 11-year-old Travion Hall's life, says his mom, Tracey Wooben.

"All Trey had was me; his dad wasn't around," she said. "But last year, Trey was gone every weekend over at Snoop's house. That gave him the opportunity to see how it was to stay away from home, and he had a ball. These kids are having the experience of a lifetime."

Even so, it wasn't easy to leave the league Trey had played in since he was 6, Wooben says. "When you start your kid off somewhere, you don't want to switch them. But I finally gave in."

As Snoop's league gains a higher profile, celebrities and corporate sponsors jostle for involvement. The rapper will stage a benefit concert Aug. 25 with the Red Hot Chili Peppers and Ice Cube at the Greek Theatre, with all proceeds to be donated to the Snoop Youth Football League. ("Snoop is the Phil Jackson of youth football coaches," Ice Cube says. "He ain't going to accept nothing but a winner.")

League sponsors include Amp'd Mobile, a soon-to-debut cellphone provider that's offering cash sponsorship in the mid-six figures and has talked about giving phones to Snoop's players. Snoop's Rowland Raiders team from last year will soon star in its own video game, and Sony is making a movie called "Coach Snoop," starring: Snoop.

Willie McGinest, linebacker for the New England Patriots -- who played with Snoop on the Junior Jackrabbits -- has donated money and coaching time to Snoop's Long Beach chapter.

"This is a chance for us to save our community and to get our kids back," he says. Youth football was "my base, my starting point, my foundation. It's a big part of who I am today."

Daylon McCutcheon of the Cleveland Browns played for the Rowland Raiders and has "mixed emotions" about the turn taken by the Southern California youth football world. On the one hand, he supports Snoop's efforts to expand access; on the other, he says, "I have a son who's 2 1/2 , and I've dreamt about seeing him in a Rowland Raiders uniform."

Snoop's youngest son, 8-year-old Cordell Broadus, is slated to be the rapper's star quarterback this year, and in his first interview, Cordell let out a shocker.

"Football?" he said. "Well, I like basketball, really. I'm not going to the NFL. I'm going to the NBA."

It might be understandable if at that moment Southland youth basketball commissioners felt their hearts skip a beat.

Sunday, August 7, 2005

Following the deleter


Sunday August 07, 2005

Following the deleter
* Software can cover up that stuff, awkward or illegal, you have saved in the computer. That doesn't mean the law can't find it.

By Steven Barrie-Anthony, Times Staff Writer

DELETE isn't enough anymore. Consider the case of Robert M. Johnson, the former Newsday publisher who, prosecutors allege, used a software program called Evidence Eliminator to rid his computers of child porn. As anyone who watches shows like "CSI" can attest, pressing "delete" makes files invisible, perhaps, but it doesn't make them gone.

Making files gone has become a booming industry unto itself. Sales of Evidence Eliminator ($149.95) run in the millions of dollars each year, says Andrew Churchill, managing director of England-based Robin Hood Software -- and it's just one of over a dozen "file shredder" or "anti-forensic" products on the market. Eraser, a similar tool available free over the Internet, is downloaded roughly 2.5 million times per year, according to its distributor, Ireland's Heidi Computers.

Many of these software vendors claim that their programs "use wipe methods that exceed the standards set by the U.S. Department of Defense" (CyberCide, $29.95) -- while others boast the capability to "erase to both the U.S. Department of Defense and German Military/Government standards" (DataEraser, $29.95). Their websites urge protection against overly curious bosses, family members, corporate competitors and all variants of law enforcement. "You are at very high risk of investigation!" warns the Evidence Eliminator website. "There is no need for you to play Russian roulette with your job, family, car, property.... Act now!"

The government is responding with forensic techniques and claims of its own, and the high-tech arms race increasingly emerges in courtrooms, with judges and juries asked to meditate on that very basic human desire: to hide things. These indictments are often two-pronged, as is the case with Johnson, who was accused in June of downloading and possessing child pornography -- and with trying to make incriminating files disappear. For your average consumer, "the biggest concern is wanting to get rid of things they're afraid a spouse will find on the computer," says Brendan I. Koerner, a Wired magazine contributing editor.

But spouses aren't the only ones encountering sanitized hard drives. Law enforcement agencies such as the FBI say that in the last year an increasing number of suspects chose to use such computer programs and that they expect the trend will continue. "It is not surprising to us that this technology is out there," says FBI spokesman Paul Bresson. "And tomorrow, six months from now, we'll see it even more."

Making files reappear is a booming business also. Computers are evidentiary treasure troves, and law enforcement isn't willing to roll over without a fight. "Five years ago, there were 1,000 law enforcement and government workers out there attacking this problem," says John Colbert, chief executive of Pasadena-based Guidance Software, which makes the forensic software most used by law enforcement. "Now there are about 20,000." Even so, some FBI computer labs are overburdened with the glut of hard drives they're asked to analyze, says Eugene Spafford, professor of computer sciences at Purdue University. And stories abound in the forensic community of huge backlogs of hard drives coming out of intelligence investigations in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Private-sector forensics is growing alongside law enforcement. Chicago-based Navigant Consulting, a litigation support firm, has doubled its computer-forensics business over the last six months, says managing director James E. Gordon; Deloitte & Touche's Forensics Investigation Services division had 79% growth in the last year, senior manager Bill Farwell says. Of course, the upswing isn't linked solely to the new popularity of anti-forensic software -- there are plenty of regularly deleted files to chase after -- but also to the central role that computers are playing these days in most if not every civil, criminal and corporate conflict.

The truth is in between

WHO'S winning?

"We do have methods which allow us to produce the evidence needed for investigation," says Jim Plitt, director of the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement's Cyber Crimes Center, the bastion of classified high-tech in charge of analyzing Johnson's hard drives.

"They've got their classified information and we've got ours," counters Evidence Eliminator's Churchill. "There will never be any way to defeat Evidence Eliminator."

The truth lies somewhere between these claims, according to Matthew Geiger, a graduate student at Carnegie-Mellon University who recently put six anti-forensic products through a rigorous testing regimen. "The use of counter-forensic tools does indeed pose a challenge to digital investigators," he says. "These tools have the ability to get rid of incriminating evidence and private information. The question is, will they get rid of all of it? Whether they get rid of all the bits and pieces that turn out to be important is a matter of chance. In some cases, they're not very good at it."

All these myriad bits and pieces reside on the computer's hard drive, the storage device that houses all your data: music, photos, Word documents, spreadsheets, e-mail, instant-messenger conversations. The device itself looks roughly like a record player stacked with mini records, and each of these layers is a magnetic disk capable of spinning several hundred times per minute. Stylus-like tips extend over the surface of the disks and "read" and "write" information, which is converted into the recognizable words and images displayed on your monitor.

When you press "delete" to get rid of, say, that awful picture of you and cousin Harry from the family reunion, the computer's operating system (Windows, MacOS, Linux) simply "unlinks" the photo, and the data remains intact on that spinning magnetic disk. Which means that, although you can't see it anymore, if your Aunt Selma is any good with computer forensics, she can likely recover your ugly mug and use it as the family newsletter centerpiece.

Anti-forensic software takes deletion a step further: Generally speaking, it writes random data over the part of the disk where that photo resides. Some programs overwrite once; some, such as Eraser, overwrite 35 times or more. Don't gloat. You might be rid of that version of the file, but one of the many programs on your computer could have stored other versions, or thumbnails, or information about the photo, and all these clues are floating around on those spinning magnetic disks, waiting to be found by Selma. Or the FBI.

Forensic investigators gleefully report that of the people savvy enough to use Evidence Eliminator-type software, few are savvy enough to wipe their tracks completely. If by chance someone does zap every single incriminating tidbit, then "for all intents and purposes," says Deloitte & Touche's Farwell, "we're not going to be able to get them back."

Unless.... There is that certain breed of forensic superhero able to dissect hard drives with gloved hands and use electronic fields and electron microscopes to peer at pictures long gone, documents 35 times overwritten. They're whispered about in the corners of tech conferences and around forensic firm water coolers.

Super-secret government agents, perhaps? "Exactly true," says Wired magazine's Koerner. "If they ship your hard drive to (the FBI lab at) Quantico (Va.) and look at it with an electron microscope, I don't think Evidence Eliminator can prevent that." Not so, says Simson Garfinkel, a computer forensics expert at MIT. "Nobody has ever demonstrated recovering overwritten data from a hard drive, ever."

Leaving a trail

WHETHER or not overwritten data is ultimately recoverable, in courtrooms the use of anti-forensic software is often enough to imply guilt or invite steep sanctions. Even if the software works as planned, each program leaves a unique footprint that is easily identified by investigators. "The courts are pretty harsh when software like this is used on data that should have been preserved," says Dave Schultz, manager of legal technologies consulting for forensic firm Kroll Ontrack. "You can expect fines, adverse inferences -- like the judge telling the jury to presume that useful information was deleted -- all the way to default judgments."

Which was the case in April, when the magistrate in a Sacramento civil trial involving the misappropriation of trade secrets ruled that defendant Matthew Hewitt's use of Evidence Eliminator was "a stark affront to the judicial process." The data was "gone forever," wrote the magistrate. Hewitt contended that he used the program only to cover up evidence of an affair and other embarrassments, but he was nonetheless ordered to pay his former employer, Washington-based market research firm Communications Center Inc., $145,000 in costs and fees -- and the court recommended that a default judgment be entered for most of the causes of action.

Last year, the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals upheld a similar ruling. Former Cisco Systems Vice President Robert Gordon had been convicted of embezzling and was required to pony up restitution, including what it cost Cisco to dredge his Evidence Eliminated computer. The appellate court concurred with that ruling; Gordon, they wrote, "purposefully covered his tracks as he concealed his numerous acts of wrongdoing from [his employer] over a period of years. As the victim, [the employer] cannot be faulted for making a concerted effort to pick up his trail and identify all the assets he took amid everything he worked on."

There is greater precedent for these kinds of legal sanctions in civil rather than criminal court, but a look at the June indictment against Johnson will give anybody in the gaze of law enforcement pause. Johnson, who maintains he is not guilty, could face up to 30 years in prison if convicted of downloading and possessing child pornography -- and an additional 20 years if convicted of destroying evidence with Evidence Eliminator.

Although not sympathetic to criminals, some anti-forensic software makers and privacy advocates express concern about the use of such software being introduced as evidence of wrongdoing. It seems awfully Orwellian to be punished for deleting personal information, they say.

And at least one federal judge is rethinking the whole hornet's nest of electronic evidence. "Evidence-gathering is becoming very heavily directed toward cyber materials," says James M. Rosenbaum, chief district judge of the district of Minnesota. "But is what we're getting worth anything?"

In 2000, Rosenbaum published an article titled "In Defense of the Delete Key" in which he recommends a cyber statute of limitations: "This limitation recognizes that even the best humans may have a somewhat less than heavenly aspect," he writes. "It acknowledges that anyone is entitled to make a mistake and to think a less than perfect thought."

The courts should allow for the existence of "cyber trash," he writes: "This is what the delete button was meant for, and why pencils still have erasers." Pieces of the article quickly spread from the obscure law journal to Web pages, dissertations and textbooks. Which was his intent, says Rosenbaum -- to get this conversation started. "Let's engage in the fiction that maybe human beings just make mistakes once in a while," Rosenbaum says. "That your first draft is just a first draft, not a fraud. Maybe it shouldn't be discoverable any more than when you used to throw the first draft of a letter into a wastebasket."