The image of the computer hacker drifted into public awareness in the middle Seventies, when reports of Chinese-food-consuming geniuses working compulsively at keyboards began to issue from MIT. Over time, several of these impresarios entered commerce, and the public's impression of hackers changed: They were no longer nerds but young, millionaire entrepreneurs.
The most recent news reports have given the term a more felonious connotation. Early this year, a graduate student named Robert Morris Jr. went on trial for releasing a computer program known as a worm into the vast Internet system, halting more than 6,000 computers. The subsequent public debate ranged from the matter of proper punishment for a mischievous kid to
the issue of our rapidly changing notion of what constitutes free speech -- or property -- in an age of modems and data bases. In order to allow hackers to speak for themselves, Harper's Magazine recently organized an electronic discussion and asked some of the nation's best hackers to "log on," discuss the protean notions of contemporary speech, and explain what their powers and