From The Dialy Oklahoman Newspaper, September 27, 1993, Page 1: COMPUTER PORN CASE TRIGGER
From The Dialy Oklahoman Newspaper, September 27, 1993, Page 1:
COMPUTER PORN CASE TRIGGERS LEGAL QUESTIONS
By David Zizzo, Staff Writer
Is talking to Anthony Davis hazardous to your health?
In a manner of speaking, that's what numerous people with computers and modems
apparently have been worrying about since late July. That's when Oklahoma
City police raided Davis' software publishing firm and confiscated his
sophisticated commercial computer bulletin board system. Authorities allege
Davis was selling pornographic computerized materials on CD-ROM and through
files downloaded over phone lines.
Names of everyone who signed onto Davis' bulletin board service, those who
downloaded or uploaded graphic files depicting sexual acts and those who
didn't are in the hands of investigators.
After the arrest, Earl Faubion, a police officer who runs a law enforcement
oriented computer bulletin board system, got numerous inquiries from worried
users. "There are a lot of people concerned," Faubion said. Many who used
Davis' system for months and have been asking, "Am I in trouble?" Faubion, who
ironically channeled much of his computer system's private mail through Davis'
system before it was shut down, tells users that's out of his area of
Bill Holmes, Davis' attorney, said bulletin board system operators fear their
computers will be seized along with the electronic mail inside.
The Davis bust sent a chill throughout the national computer community, said
Jack Rickard, editor and publisher of Boardwatch magazine, a bulletin board
newsletter published in Littleton, Colo. "It's causing chaos," he said.
Rickard said Oklahoma City is being viewed "a little bit like clown city" in
computer circles, since the explicit material Davis offered can be purchased
in nearly every computer magazine and is carried by numerous bulletin boards.
"This is off the shelf," he said. "It's considered pretty mundane stuff."
Widespread availability is not a defense, however, attorney Holmes said. The
allegedly illegal material was contained on four read-only memory compact
discs and represented only a fraction of information offered by Davis.
Oklahoma City police referred questions on the Davis case to the district
attorney's office. An assistant prosecutor handling the case referred
questions to District Attorney Bob Macy, who did not return several phone
The bust will test Oklahoma laws on "community standards" regarding
pornography, said Mike Godwin, attorney for the Electronic Frontier
Foundation. The Washington, D.C., advocacy group is funded by donors that
include large software companies. "When you talk about community standards,
who's the real community?" Godwin wonders. "Is it the city or ... the
community of people on-line?"
Holmes, a former Cleveland County prosecutor, calls Oklahoma's pornography law
"an extremely broad statute." "I'm not sure it wouldn't include Playboy or
Penthouse type publications," he said.
Legal experts say Oklahoma's law appears aimed against sale or distribution of
pornographic material. That leaves some to wonder whether passing a free copy
to a friend constitutes distribution. Part of the law also appears to make
possession a crime, but U.S. Supreme Court rulings have backed an
individual's right to own such material, Holmes said. Also, free speech
guarantees likely would protect those who use words to describe pornographic
acts, he said. Explicit materials depicting children are covered under much
stricter laws, but Davis' CDs contained no such material.
Apart from the pornography question is the issue of electronic mail seized
with Davis' computer equipment, correspondence most legal experts say is
protected by federal law. Davis' computer was part of a large electronic mail
system that shuttled messages across the country.
Critics of the bust say likely lawsuits over the mail might show the
government "has bitten off more than it can chew." They point to a case in
Austin where the owner of a computer won a $50,000 damage award over E-mail
seized by the Secret Service. The government also was liable for $1,000 for
each user of the E-mail. In Davis' case, that could be up to 2,000 clients,
or $2 million. "The city of Oklahoma City could be on the hook for that,"
Critics also say police over reached in grabbing Davis' entire system,
shutting down his pay-for-play computer service, because of four CDs.
Prosecutors are seeking forfeiture of the system, which includes a 13 gigabyte
memory unit and 10 high speed modems. "They don't have to seize it any more
than they have to seize the building when they confiscate a bookstore," said
Godwin of the Electronic Frontier Foundation.
E-Mail Fredric L. Rice / The Skeptic Tank