Subject: It's Only a Game...
To: dartvax!libernet (Libernet)
These articles were collected from various usenet groups by
Alan Barksdale ( TAATOTH ) who forwarded them to me.
[Moderator's Note: This story appeared in the Middlesex News
(Framingham, MA) on Monday, March 12. Mr. Gaffin indicated to me he
intends to do a followup story in his column next week also. PT]
The operator of an Illinois computer bulletin-board system apparently
helped federal officials crack a multi-state ring of hackers now
charged with breaking into a computer system running a 911 system in
the South and distributing a highly technical on- line manual
describing how to run - and disrupt - the system.
Federal officials are not saying much about the investigation, except
to say it is continuing, but observers in the telecommunications field
say it may be widened to include a close look at hundreds of on-line
break-ins and attempted break-ins of computers tied to the
[PAitraina Uenet nek since last summer.
Ironically, though, the Illinois system operator had his system seized
by the government as evidence in the case. The government may also be
seizing other bulletin-board systems the hackers may have used. And
that raises some troubling questions about the protection of
electronic mail and First-Amendment rights on electronic networks.
Charged so far are four members of the ''Legion of Doom,'' which
federal officials allege did things such as re-programming
computerized phone switches and changing people's computerized credit
Federal authorities were apparently aided by Rich Andrews, operator of
Jolnet, one of a small but growing number of private systems connected
to the Usenet international computer network (itself a part of the
Internet research network).
In an interview with Patrick Townson, who moderates a
telecommunications conference on Usenet, Andrews says his involvement
began about 18 months ago.
According to Townson, Andrews noticed the 911 documentation had been
uploaded to his system and promptly sent it to another Usenet-linked
BBS operated by AT&T, with a request that it be sent to the right
Andrews acknowledged, though, that he then kept a copy of the text
himself. A few months later, AT&T contacted him, asking him for the
manual, and then the feds got in touch with him. It was then, about a
year ago, Townson says, that Andrews decided to cooperate with the
According to Townson, Andrews said the 911 software was just ''a small
part of what this is all about...''
As part of the investigation, Andrews did nothing about the Legion of
Doom members allegedly using his system to pass the 911 manual back
and forth and to develop programs to crack other systems, Townson
If convicted, the alleged hackers face upwards of 30 years in jail and
several hundred thousands of dollars in fines.
The seizure of Andrew's system has a number of system operators
worried. Unlike phone companies, which cannot be held liable for the
actions of their subscribers, computer bulletin-board systems fall
into one of those gray areas that remain unsettled.
Already, Bill Kuykendall, who runs a Chicago system similar in
operation to Jolnet, has tightened up his requirements for who he will
let on the system.
''Today, there is no law or precedent which affords me, as owner and
system administrator of The Point, the same legal rights that other
common carriers have against prosecution should some other party (you)
use my property (The Point) for illegal activities,'' he wrote in a
recent message to users of his system. ''That worries me.
''By comparison, AT&T cannot be held liable should someone use their
phone lines to transmit military secrets to an enemy. Likewise, Acme
Trucking is not vulnerable to drug trafficking charges should they
pull a sealed trailer of cocaine to some destination unknowingly. Yet
somehow, I am presumed to be cognizant of the contents of every public
message, mailed message, and file upload that passes through this
public access system. On a system this size, that may be nearly a
gigabyte (1+ Billion characters!) of information a year.
''I fully intend to explore the legal questions raised here. In my
opinion, the rights to free assembly and free speech would be
threatened if the owners of public meeting places were charged with
the responsibility of policing all conversations held in the hallways
and lavatories of their facilities for references to illegal
''Under such laws, all privately owned meeting places would be forced
out of existence, and the right to meet and speak freely would vanish
with them. The common sense of this reasoning has not yet been applied
to electronic meeting places by the legislature. This issue must be
forced, or electronic bulletin boards will cease to exist.''
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