In the Matrix, Mr Anderson goes by the hacker alias of Neo, and is guilty of virtually every computer crime we have a law for :

It seems that you've been living two lives. In one life, you're Thomas A. Anderson, program writer for a respectable software company. You have a social security number, you pay your taxes, and you … help your landlady carry out her garbage. The other life is lived in computers, where you go by the hacker alias "Neo" and are guilty of virtually every computer crime we have a law for. One of these lives has a future, and one of them does not.

So in the Matrix it was pretty clear he was a 'leet' hacker. But just how 'leet' was he? And which laws did they have '99 for him to break?

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    Actually, you got it backwards. "In the Matrix Neo goes by the alias Mr. Anderson" would be a more appropriate introduction.
    – bitmask
    Commented Jun 20, 2012 at 11:22
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    This assumes that the Matrix is the same as our world. Can this assumption be made? Have the Wachowski brothers made any comments to this effect? Otherwise, the Matrix hacking rules cannot be assumed to be the same as ours circa 1999. Do we even know what country Neo was living in? Commented Jun 20, 2012 at 13:08
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    Isn't it axiomatic that anyone using the word "leet" and "hacker" together is lame and NOT a hacker? :) Commented Jun 20, 2012 at 16:56
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    @DVK: It's not only axiomatic, it's also perfectly cromulent!
    – bitmask
    Commented Jun 20, 2012 at 18:53
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    @naxa: How appropriate, you fight like a cow :)
    – bitmask
    Commented Jun 27, 2012 at 15:31

2 Answers 2


By 1999 there were plenty of computer-based security laws on the books. In general, the kinds of things Neo could have been doing on a computer to break the law fall into three legal areas:

  • Copyright infringement: The DMCA went into effect in 1998, but the US had been trying to enforce existing copyright law on computer piracy for much longer then that. Remember, the Internet went commercial in 1993, and exploded rapidly. DVDs were out by then, and piracy of movie, television, software, music, etc. was becoming a hot-button issue. Napster started that year, so it wasn't a big factor yet, meaning most piracy was being done by a small number of individuals on a larger scale.

  • Intrusion and Theft: The Secret Service had been investigating people who used computers "without authorization" dating back to the 80s. There were a couple of very high-profile investigations during that period. Again, they were mostly trying to enforce existing laws, like trespass, theft, and property desctruction, as applied to online actions. Title 18, Sections 1029+ went into effect in 1994, making the unauthorized use of access devices and computers a federal crime in its own right; it also applied the "wire fraud" laws originally used for telephones to internet and other network-based access.

  • Pornography. The CDA is the obvious one here, though it may have been dismissed by that point. As far as actual illegal activity here, lets just assume Neo had nothing to do with that stuff.

When Smith says Neo broke "every crime we have a law for", if he just mean specifically computer-related laws, it wouldn't have taken a lot. The way many of these laws are written, a single "hacking" session -- say, breaking into a software company's servers, downloading a game, breaking the copy protection, and distributing it -- would hit about 80% of them. If he means every law that the Secret Service tried to apply to computers, then Neo would have been a pretty busy person.

As for how good a hacker he was -- well, he was good enough to grab the attention of the government (and Morpheus), but not good enough to avoid getting caught, so...

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    As far as getting caught, it's quite possible he was caught via social engineering/old fasioned police work and not hacking sloppiness. Blabbing to his gfs is more likely to get a criminal caught than leaving behing signature clues in code fragments. Commented Jun 20, 2012 at 16:59
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    @DVK, Neo was searched by "we need a search running" Agents. Technology (hw! & sw) of +n centuries (possibly beyond singularity) vs 1 human in the first decade of the internet... and it was inside a machine-controlled simulation. It took them at least half a day to find him, or much more... Neo/TA could still be pretty good.
    – n611x007
    Commented Jun 26, 2012 at 18:47
  • mhmm... sources?
    – n611x007
    Commented Jun 26, 2012 at 18:52

Pretty much all proper hackers at that time would have fallen into the same category, because the legal system had not completely caught up with computers (and bear in mind that the internet was still a geek toy at that point). The majority of laws specifically covering computer crime were small, as @MichaelEdenfield lists, although in fact, I suspect only intrusion would count as explicit computer crime.

To hack into a government server would be all that was required. To have made some financial gain would cover a whole range of others that might apply (and he was making money from his activities, so that probably counts), and to have downloaded something he shouldn't onto a corporate or government server would be the rest.

He was leet because he was good at doing it without being caught - although the machines, of course, could catch him.

David in War Games probably broke as many laws.

  • I always get confused when someone says downloaded onto, do you mean uploaded onto or downloaded off of?
    – AncientSwordRage
    Commented Jun 27, 2012 at 15:06
  • @PureFerret - yes. In this case, I mean uploaded form my computer, and then downloaded onto another computer. As this is often done from a remote connection to the external computer, it is a download. Commented Jun 27, 2012 at 15:49
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    I believe its clearer to say ' uploaded from my computer onto another computer.' Downloading is only something you onto the computer you are using.
    – AncientSwordRage
    Commented Jun 27, 2012 at 17:02
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    Maybe. But he probably did both ways - taking date and putting bombs in place. Commented Jun 27, 2012 at 17:38

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