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From: [email protected] (Richard Johnson)
Subject: Rights of Expression in Cyberspace [News Article] (long)
Message-ID: <[email protected]>
Date: 30 Aug 91 00:52:30 GMT

The following story appeared in my local free paper (advertising revenue 
supported).  It's sympathetic to those of us who think our rights shouldn't 
stop when we log in, and accurate as far as I can tell.  So, there are some 
reporters out there who follow this sort of thing with the same sort of 
attitudes I do.  Some of them even have ideas for writing books...

The Colorado Daily is the private newspaper serving Boulder and the University 
of Colorado, Boulder community.  Article below reproduced with permission.

THURSDAY, AUGUST 29, 1991       COLORADO DAILY                           3

NEW QUESTIONS EMERGE ABOUT COMPUTER CRIME computer technology creates new legal, ethical boundaries

Colorado Daily Staff Writer

As technology outstrips the ability of the average person to understand it, 
many law enforcement officials seem to be even further behind.

In the last two years, federal agencies, such as the U.S. Secret Service and 
the FBI, have rolled up computer networks and bulletin boards, in some cases 
because they couldn't understand information that was being transmitted.

The closures have led to the establishment of a group seeking to extend First 
Amendment protections to a medium that was never envisioned by the framers of 
the U.S. Constitution -- computer communications between individuals and 
small, independent groups.

The communication takes place in what is described as Cyberspace -- a global 
nervous system that is entered through a computer keyboard, connecting 
millions of people around the world by radio waves and fiber optic cables.

With as many as 7 million people around the world communicating through 
Cyberspace daily, this form of communication may transmit more information 
than any other.

But in the United States, constitutional protection is usually interpreted as 
applying to the written or spoken word. The right to assemble, so the thinking 
goes, relates to a specific location.

Cyberspace is relatively unprotected and even less understood, its users say.

"We commonly think of freedom of the press beginning when a printing press 
hits a piece of paper," said Diane Dvorin, a spokeswoman for the First 
Amendment Congress at CU-Denver's Graduate School of Public Affairs. "But 
before that, people were scratching messages in the sand. The medium is not 
the issue. The issue is the freedom to express what comes into one's mind. It 
transcends technology.

But some police agencies do not agree.

In January 1990, the U.S. Secret Service launched Operation Sun Devil -- a 
two-year investigation that involved 150 federal agents, several local and 
state law enforcement agencies, and the combined security divisions of AT&T, 
U.S. West, American Express, U.S. Sprint, and several [additional] baby Bells.

Four people were indicted. Three went to jail, and one had charges dropped. 
But the raid, which involved 27 searches in 14 cities around the country, shut 
down numerous bulletin boards, rolled up 40 computers and 23,000 disks, 
phones, modems, tape players, compact discs and any other electronic 
contraptions that were suspected of harboring evidence of wrongdoing.

Besides the four suspects, none of the owners of this equipment was charged 
with any crime. Their equipment was held as evidence for months, and some was 
never returned.

The "crime" that instigated this sweep was the copying on a computer bulletin 
board of a three-page text file that outlined the administrative procedures 
and responsibilities for marketing, servicing, upgrading, and billing for Bell 
South's 911 system.

At the time of the raid, Secret Service agents estimated the value of the 
information at precisely $79,449. An agent told the mother of one of the young 
hackers who obtained the text that the theft may have caused more than a 
billion dollars of damage to the U.S. economy.

The federal agents even confiscated the equipment of the systems operator who 
tipped them to the presence of the strange text on the Jolnet bulletin board.

The fourth suspect, who escaped a jail term, did so because a group formed to 
look into government abuses of computer-related freedom of speech learned that 
the same 911 information was available by mail for $13, according to Jack 
Rickard, the publisher of Boardwatch, a Littleton based magazine dealing with 
computer bulletin boards and private computer networks.

"A lot of local police departments, the FBI and Secret Service have taken 
action against bulletin board systems, and they haven't been very smart about 
it. They have pulled some enormously embarrassing boners. Essentially, they've 
arrested a lot of computers. They've taken systems off-line and returned them 
a few months later."

Rickard and the Electronic Frontier Foundation, among others, sponsored a 
convention in Denver last weekend to discuss ways of dealing with such abuses.

The EFF was co-founded by John Perry Barlowe, a Wyoming cattleman and lyricist 
for the Grateful Dead, and Mitch Kapor, founder of the Lotus Development Corp.

"Their mission is to extend the same protection to online communications that 
exist for the written and spoken word in the U.S. Constitution," Rickard said. 
"Part of that mission is to educate law enforcement personnel."

Lest the 911 incident be seen as an exotic, isolated incident, Rickard pointed 
out that a California man recently had his door broken down by armed police 
and had his equipment hauled away because he had tried to enter a network set 
up by a dermatologist using the wrong password.

"Unfortunately for him, the number the phone company assigned the 
dermatologist's network had belonged to another popular bulletin board that 
had gone out of business a few weeks earlier," Rickard said. "He was just 
trying to get into a system that didn't exist anymore.

"These agencies are running over the garden, the house and the baby just to 
get the bathwater."

Rickard said these mistakes can be devastating to a bulletin-board operator, 
especially if one is just starting a business.

"It doesn't matter that you are found innocent," he said. "By the time you pay 
all the lawyers, just to get your equipment back, it just wasn't worth it."

Dvorin said it is a case of overkill many times.

"A number of computer seizures had to do with taking the whole computer in 
search of a single document," she said. But the issues go even further.

"If we're looking at the Bill of Rights, we see we have the right to speak 
out, to say what we think, to assemble peacefully," she said. "If we are on a 
network conference, where are we gathering?"

Rickard said the issues are going to become more important as bulletin boards 
and grassroots computer networks continue to grow. "Boulder has approximately 
400 bulletin board users," he said. "Two hundred of them are active."

Worldwide, Rickard estimated that 7 million people use computer networks and 
bulletin boards on a daily basis. By contrast, Prodigy, the largest commercial 
network, claims 1 million users and probably has 250,000 he said.

His magazine was started in 1987 as a short newsletter listing current phone 
numbers for Bulletin boards. At present, it is a full-size magazine and 
distributed in 56 countries.

"There are 30,000 bulletin boards in the country. I can see a million of these 

At the convention in Denver, organizers were expecting 175 people, and 400 
showed up.

But the problems with law enforcement misunderstanding of system's technology 
"needs to be dealt with right away."

Dvorin agrees. "We need to make this a broad-based citizen issue concerning 
the integrity of communications, the integrity of data, the integrity of 
information. The First Amendment should apply to all media."

Richard Johnson
[email protected]