4.0887 "Can the Feds take your PC"? (1/83)

Elaine Brennan & Allen Renear (EDITORS@BROWNVM.BITNET)
Mon, 14 Jan 91 18:30:29 EST

Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 4, No. 0887. Monday, 14 Jan 1991.

Date: Thu, 10 Jan 91 08:59 EST
From: Kevin Berland <BCJ@PSUVM>
Subject: Can the Feds take your PC?

Might this article be of interest to Humanist readers?

Forwarded from: International Intercultural Newsletter <XCULT-L@PSUVM>
Originally from: Aruna Venkataraman <ARVHC@CUNYVM.BITNET>

Saw this article in the essay section of a recent Lotus publication.
The author, George Bond, is "LOTUS's acting managing editor and a
consultant who specializes in communications issues."


We're inching our way toward the much-heralded communications revolution.
It probably won't come to full flower in this decade, but it has already
begun to worry the vast bureaucracy of our government: The Thought Police
are moving from the shadows to the front lines once again.

A taste of what we can expect was offered earlier this year, when Craig
Neidorf, the 20-year old publisher of an electronic newsletter called
PHRACK, was arrested by the U.S. Secret Service. Neidorf published
PHRACK on Internet, a computer-based network that serves millions of
people in 35 nations, chiefly in universities, high-tech companies,
government, and research-and-development labs. But when he published an
internal BellSouth document describing the administration of the 911
emergency telephone system, Neidorf was charged with violating the
Computer Fraud and Abuse Act of 1986. His computer equipment was seized,
and he faced up to 31 years in prison and a $122,000 fine.

The case received wide publicity, and the government ultimately dropped
the charges--after Neidorf's cause was taken up by the Electronic
Frontier Foundation, an organization started by Lotus Development Corp.
founder Mitch Kapor and Apple Computer cofounder Steve Wozniak to
protect civil liberties in the electronic age. Because PHRACK was
publised electronically, said the foundation, Neidorf had been denied
the First Amendment rights of traditional publishers. Neidorf's lawyer
compared the seizure of Neidorf's computer equipment to the seizure of a
newspaper's presses, something no U.S. administration has dared to do.

Three basic factors contributed to the government's audacity in the
Neidorf case. First, the newsletter was published electronically, and
electronics were unknown when the Constitution was written. Despite the
certainty that Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, and the rest of that
band of radicals would have *loved* electronic publishing, our basic
free-speech laws have been viewed primarily as relating to paper-and-ink
publishing and street- corner oratory.

Second, telecommunications technology, at least in forms other than the
telephone and the fax machine, is still black magic to most of us. Even
people working in the electronics industry often find telecommunications
baffling. Because the technology isn't well understood, if it's
understood at all, telecommunications issues rank well below the fate of
the whales, the greenhouse effect, and the price of racquetball-court
time on most people's list of worries.

Third, telecommunications *is* being used for a lot of questionable or
unsavory purposes by self-centered propeller heads and slime balls.
Regrettably, among the fans of computer networks are bookies, drug
dealers, pornographers, white supremacists, and system crackers (dubbed
"hackers" in the popular press), who invade medical, commercial, and
governmental computers to steal information or just for a thrill.

A lot of lawyers are going to get very rich thrashing out the first
factor. The idea that the Constitution deals with concepts and not with
mechanical processes--that the First Amendment protects all expression,
whether it comes via printing presses, soap boxes, radio waves,
computers and telephone lines, or some medium we haven't even thought of
yet--is sometimes hard to grasp.

Technology will take care of the second factor in time. Although it's
still complex and prickly, telecommunications is being tamed and made
more accessible by the engineers and the usability people. And despite
the slow progress, American businesses continue to pour millions of
dollars into the field.

It's the third factor that's bad news for civil libertarians. Where
documented abuse exists, it'e easy to confuse the activity with the
medium, and it's hard to defend someone you despise.

Yes, people who use telecommunications to steal or to destroy what they
don't own should be arrested and tried and, if found guilty, jailed and
fined. But they should be arrested and tried for the theft and
destruction, not for using a computer and telephone lines.

***** END OF ARTICLE *****************************************************