Computer underground Digest Sun Aug 8 1993 Volume 5 : Issue 59
Editors: Jim Thomas and Gordon Meyer (TK0JUT2@NIU.BITNET)
Archivist: Brendan Kehoe
Shadow-Archivists: Dan Carosone / Paul Southworth
Ralph Sims / Jyrki Kuoppala
Coop Eitidor: Etaoin Shrdlu, Senior
CONTENTS, #5.59 (Aug 8 1993)
File 1-- Unfair Newspaper Article on BBS Network & Replies
File 2-- NIRVANAnet BBSes and the Media (CuD Commentary)
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Date: Fri, 30 Jul 93 13:31:21 PDT
Subject: File 1--Unfair Newspaper Article on BBS Network & Replies
((MODERATORS' NOTE: The Contra Costa Times printed a page one story on
NIRVANAnet, a network of a half-dozen BBSes in California's Bay Area.
The story focused on the potential "criminal activity" of the boards,
using the general collection of ASCII "anarchist" and "phreak/hack"
files as the basis. Below is the story that triggered the controversy
and some of the letters that were sent in response)).
Here is the original story, again, with all the replies and reactions
we have collected. Many of these have already been submitted to the
newspaper (Contra Costa Times).
Subject--NIRVANAnet(tm) a "rogue n
MODEM OPERANDI: Tips on crime go on-line
by: Michael Liedtke
staff writer for the Contra Costa Times
Wednesday, July 28, 1993 (p. 1)
Tips on how to commit fraud, murder and other mayhem are just a phone
call away in the Bay Area, courtesy of rabble-rousing electronic
bulletin boards that turn the personal computer into a clearinghouse
Using the First Amendment as a legal shield, a group of electronic
bulletin boards in the Bay Area has created an information network
providing criminal insights to anyone with a phone, personal computer
Essentially, these computer forums, known as bulletin board services,
are electronic libraries. While some computer bulletin boards are
limited to paying subscribers, the rebel network distributing criminal
expertise is open to everyone, free of charge.
Most of the bulletin board files can be fetched over phone lines and
brought into the caller's home. In turn, callers to the bulletin
boards are encouraged to send in files, so the systems can accumulate
advice from experts and novices.
More than 45,000 computer users have called an underground Bay Area
bulletin board, known as "Lied Unlimited," that offers a roguish
gallery of information. File titles include:
o "How to Make Your Own Valid American Express Card"
o "How to Rob a Bank"
o "How to Break Into Houses"
o "Stealing Toyotas and What to Do With Them"
o "Simple Way to Make a Car Go BOOM!"
o "Twenty-two Ways to Kill"
The bulletin boards also have other categories offering
more-mainstream advice and entertainment, but they appear to be
primarily interested in promoting disorder.
In a self-description appearing on a bulletin board review, Lied
Unlimited said it tries to focus "on political realities. The point
being that this reality is created by consensus, and the only way to
change the reality is to change the consensus."
Lies Unlimited plans to shut down today and reopen next month after
the system operator, listed a Mick Freen, moves from South San
Francisco, to Salt Lake City. Mischievous information similar to Lies
Unlimited's archives remains available on several other Bay Area
bulletin boards, including a Walnut Creek-based system known as "And
the Temple of the Screaming Electron."
Based on computer files retrieved by the Times, other contributors in
this unorthodox network include "My Dog Bit Jesus" in Berkeley,
"realitycheck," in Albany, "Burn This Flag" in San Jose and "The New
Dork Sublime" in San Francisco.
Among them, the bulletin boards offer hundreds of files providing
instructions on credit card fraud, money laundering, mail fraud,
counterfeiting, drug smuggling, cable-tv theft, bomb- making and
The Time left electronic messages on several of those bulletin boards
seeking interviews with the system operators. None of the operators
responded by late Tuesday.
Virtually anyone who understands how to use a computer and modem can
tap into the rogue bulletin boards, if they have the phone numbers.
The boards allow callers to create their own logons and passwords,
opening the door for kids to get into the system. Based on their
content, the bulletin boards appear to be particularly popular among
"This shows why people need to be much more aware of what kids are
doing with their computers," said Hans Von Braun, a computer security
expert who works for San Francisco-based Comsec.
One bulletin board, Burn This Flag, requires callers to fill out an
application before gaining access to an adults-only section that
contains files describing "bizarre sexual behavior." But in a written
message, Burn This Flag's system operator, known as "Zardoz,"
acknowledges there is no foolproof way to ensure all users of the
adult section are at least 18.
The Time isn't publishing the phone numbers of the rebel bulletin
boards as a children's safeguard.
The bulletin boards remain open by straddling a fine line between the
legal definitions of free speech and criminal behavior.
Under First Amendment rights guaranteeing free speech, the law allows
the bulletin boards to serve as criminal primers, as long a the advice
is limited to generic instructions. Essentially, it's legal for
individuals to discuss how to commit a crime as long as they don't
solicit or encourage the commission of a crime.
"We're aware of these types of bulletin boards," said Rick Smith, an
FBI spokesman in San Francisco. "But to shut them down, you have to
make a link between the discussion of a crime and the commission of a
Law enforcement officials and security experts said they snoop through
rogue bulletin boards to stay abreast of advice available to
prospective criminals. These periodic checks might spot possible
weaknesses in security systems and help authorities take precautions.
Pacific Bell can't refuse phone access to the underground bulletin
boards, eve though the forums often contain advice on how to commit
phone fraud. For instance, one file on the "realitycheck" board is
titled "basic telephone sabotage."
Typed by Demented Pimiento - 7/27/93---
* Origin: &TOTSE --> What in HELL is this echo FOR? <-- 510/935-5845 (9:900/2)
>>> USERS REPLY <<<
Subject--Contra Costa Times
Jeff's Letter to the Editor of the Contra Costa Times
July 28, 1993
To Whom It May Concern:
As the System Operator of & the Temple of the Screaming Electron and
the network co-ordinator for NIRVANAnet(tm) I wanted to thank your
paper for the extra publicity that Michael Liedtke's sensationalistic
article "MODEM OPERANDI: Tips On Crime Go On-line" has provided for our
I helped to start NIRVANAnet(tm) four years ago because I wanted to
create a computer network where ideas, any ideas, could be freely
exchanged between people. I wanted to create a network that was open,
free, and easily accessable.
When you exchange messages with people on NIRVANAnet(tm), you do not
know the age, gender, race, religious affiliation, political party,
hair length, mode of dress, or sexual orientation of the person you are
talking to. Because of this, people cannot be pigeon-holed into neat
little categories and you end up learning an amazing amount about the
thoughts, feelings, and beliefs of a much wider array of people than
you would encounter in everyday life. On our network teenagers talk to
grandparents, bikers talk with born-again Christians, and Socialists
talk to Republicans. These people would never speak to one another if
they met on the street, but because they can use computers, they freely
exchange thoughts, ideas, dreams and hopes.
Mr. Liedtke stated that we are "Using the First Amendment as a legal
shield" and that "The bulletin boards remain open by straddling a fine
line between the legal definitions of free speech and criminal
I'm surprised that a newspaper reporter, of all people, has such a
callous disregard for the First Ammendment. There is no "fine line". We
are not engaged in criminal activities, period. We are engaged in
speech, period. Speech is protected, period. When the day comes where
people can be imprisoned merely for what they say or what they think,
it's time to move to another country. As Pacific Bell spokesman Craig
Watts stated in the article "You can't prosecute someone for bad
The information in the "criminal" text files that Mr. Liedtke refers to
can be found in any well-stocked library, or ordered from any number of
book publishers in this country. Many of our files were found on the
Internet, a worldwide government/university/industry network funded in
part by the National Science Foundation.
The article also stated that "The Times isn't publishing the phone
numbers of the rebel bulletin boards as a children's safeguard."
Another reason might be that people would actually call the systems in
question and find out that Mr. Liedtke did not tell the whole story,
and as everyone knows, the most effective way to lie is to only tell
part of the truth.
Sysop, & the Temple of the Screaming Electron
--- GEcho 1.00
Subject--My response to the CCT ra
The following is the letter I sent in response to the Contra Costa Times
article slamming NIRVANAnet bbses as a 'rabble-rousing' network. I encourage
all reasonably lucid people to voice their opinions to the editor of said
The New Dork Sublime BBS (415) 864-DORK Sysop:
Demented Pimiento OR (415) 255-NERD 42A Broderick
Street 24 Hours / 300-14.4k v.32bis/v.42bis San Francisco, CA
94117-3115 NIRVANAnet~ Node 9:900/10 Subliminal News For New Dorks
Everywhere - Don't Die Wondering...
July 28, 1993
Letters to the Editor
c/o Michael Liedtke
Contra Costa Times
P.O. Box 8099
Walnut Creek, CA 94596-8099
I'd like to take this opportunity to thank you for your recent article on
NIRVANAnet, (although you never mentioned the network by name). It's proven
quite popular among our callers, and I thank you for your unsolicited
Blatantly slanted, chock-full-o-buzzwords ("rebel network," "bizarre sexual
behavior," "rogue bulletin boards"), long on sensationalism and short on
content, Mr. Liedtke's story weaves a fantastic vision of intrigue,
underground conspiracies, and computer criminals lurking in suburban rumpus
rooms in the guise of adolescent cyberpunks. While this certainly adheres
to the media stereotype of computer hobbyists that your paper seems happy to
portray, it is simply not the truth.
All information compiled on NIRVANAnet~ has been compiled over the years fro
other such "rebel" sources as the Library of Congress, and the Internet
(network which connects universities & government offices worldwide), but
perhaps I shouldn't include their addresses here "as a children's safeguard
NIRVANAnet was founded on the belief that bulletin board systems should rema
open and free. We don't charge for access to our systems because we're all
nice folks and wouldn't want the public to pay for something which is
absolutely free and available at any public library. We are not "undergroun
in any way, and the phone numbers to ALL the NIRVANAnet BBSes are printed ev
two weeks in Computer Currents and every quarter in MicroTimes (Bay Area
computer trade magazines) and indeed, the numbers have been printed there fo
years. I'm including the phone numbers to all NIRVANAnet~ bulletin boards,
and I encourage your readers to call the nearest one to judge for themselves
whether or not criminal behavior is encouraged or even tolerated on NIRVANAn
Perhaps if Mr. Liedtke had bothered to actually READ a few messages in ANY o
the message areas, he would have come to a more reasonable conclusion on
NIRVANAnet before going to press.
& the Temple (510) 935-5845
of The Screaming Electron
realitycheck (510) 527-1662
My Dog Bit Jesus (510) 658-8078
Lies Unlimited (415) 583-4102
The New Dork Sublime (415) 864-DORK
Burn This Flag (408) 363-9766
The Shrine (408) 747-0778
Sysop - The New Dork Sublime BBS
Subject--MY letter to CCTimes
I am deeply disturbed at the tone of your article, dated Aug, 28, 1993,
by Michael Liedtke, concerning the supposed criminal
predilections of the free-access electronic bulletin-board
community. The bulletin boards (BBSs) that you singled out in your article
all belong to what is called the NirvanaNet, which is a
network of Bay Area BBSs. I have been a user of this network for four years,
and take great offense at your relentless
characterization of NirvanaNet as an "unorthodox", "rebel", "rogue" network,
and by the wanton claim that we are "primarily interested is promoting
I would like to address the charges that you have made against us in
You stated that "using the First Amendment as a shield", we
are a collection of "rabble-rousing electronic bulletin boards
turning the personal computer into a clearinghouse for crime" which "remain
open by straddling a fine line between the legal
definitions of free speech and criminal behavior". Using these
terms, you have painted a picture of us a group of criminal-minded people who
advocate crime, and who's purpose is to create more
criminals in the world, as well as directly implying that we
ourselves are engaged in criminal behavior. This is patently
untrue, and a gross misinterpretation of fact. The statement that "Pacific
Bell can't refuse phone access to underground bulletin
boards" further implies; one, that we are an "underground" network, and also;
that the telephone company should somehow have the right to deny telephone
access to anyone that it might find politically offensive. We are in no way
an "underground" network. All of the NirvanaNet BBSs advertise quite openly,
as noted by Liedtke himself elsewhere in the article. In fact, in attempted
support of his
claims of our supposed "criminal behavior", Liedtke quoted a "self-
description" of Lies Unlimited (which is a NirvanaNet BBS) which
stated that its focus is "on political realities". The quote went on to say
that "the point being that this reality is created by
consensus, and the only way to change the reality is to change the consensus".
I fail to see how this statement can, in any way, be interpreted as an
advocacy of criminal behavior, unless the author is intending to imply that
any attempt to become involved in the
political process is criminal in and of itself, which - if true -
would be in direct conflict with the letter and intent of the
Constitution of the United States and with the basic principles of our nation.
The NirvanaNet BBSs do have available all of the noxious text files that
were mentioned, but, quite frankly, none of the regular users I know of on the
network has much interest in reading any of them. In discussions with the
system administrators (Sysops) of
the various BBSs, I have gathered that the main reason that they
are there is because we have a legal right to have them. Far from "using the
First Amendment as a shield", the NirvanaNet users are, as a whole, deeply
dedicated to the concepts contained and
expressed by the Bill of Rights, and the Sysops seem to have
decided that it is their duty to take a stand on this issue. Also, far from
being "primarily interested in promoting disorder" by
"distributing criminal expertise", the main function of NirvanaNet is as a
message system, by which the users can (and do) engage in debates on broad
topics ranging from our tastes in books and films, our views on psychology, to
our opinions on political issue such
as the National Debt and Constitutional law. Never has anyone I
know of on the network (other than the occasional crank, who might call once
or twice, leave an inflammatory message, and then never be heard from again)
ever advocated criminal activity, nor
expressed a sentiment of condoning criminal activity. We are all responsible
and concerned citizens. As for the statement made by Liedtke that he
refrained from noting the telephone numbers of the BBSs, as "a children's
safeguard", this strongly implies that we
are somehow intent on the corruption of children. There are many things in
the world that are dangerous to children, but access to a BBS dedicated to
free speech is not one of them. In any case,
if a parent does not wish a child to have access (which is wholly appropriate
in the case of pornography), then it is up to the
parent to restrict the child, as much as it is for the Sysops to
attempt to restrict their access, in just the same way that it is a parent's
responsibility to restrict a child's access to
pornographic telephone services. The Sysops, in good conscience, do attempt
to restrict access of pornographic materials to minors, and there is no one on
NirvanaNet who would wish it to be
NirvanaNet is a forum which provides its users with the
opportunity to engage in discussion and debate on a daily basis. It is NOT a
"clearinghouse for crime", as Liedtke characterized it, nor are the NirvanaNet
users rogues, rabble-rousers, or criminals.
I am disappointed that a responsible and respected newspaper such as the
Contra Costa Times would make such a vilifying attack on a entity such as
NirvanaNet, leaving the general public with an image of us which is very much
the inverse of the truth.
Subject--More CCTimes Letters...
Letters to the Editor
Contra Costa Times
P.O. Box 8099
Walnut Creek, CA 94596-8099
In regards to Michael Liedtke's article, "MODEM OPERANDI: Tips
on Crime go online":
How can the Bulletin Board Services (BBSes) mentioned in the
article be "Underground" when the telephone numbers are
published in several publications?
According to my BBS logs, Mr. Liedtke logged onto my BBS on
Tuesday, 7/27 at 11:50 a.m.. Without looking at any part of the
Bulletin board, he left me a message, and logged off. I find
it curious that an investigative reporter would not actually
investigate a BBS he was writing about, given the opportunity.
The message asked me to contact him that day, because the piece
was going to press tomorrow, 7/28. Other sysops mentioned in
the article have cited a similar lack of notice.
I would like to note that Mr. Liedtke took this article
to press without any information from the people involved, and
he denied those people the opportunity to present all sides of the
issue in question. BBSes offer a lot to their callers - a
place for debate, a place to make friends, a place to call
their own. Mr. Liedtke appears to have not seen this.
As it stands, Mr. Liedtke has presented one side of the story.
I invite him to contact any of the system operators of any of
the BBSes he mentioned for further information.
From--QUAKER STATE TAPIOCA RUPT
Subject--Letter To The Editor
Contra Costa Times
I read with amusement your yellow-journalism piece, "Modem
Operandi: Tips on Crime Go On-Line" (Michael Liedtke, 07/28/93).
As a frequent browser of such systems, I can tell you his gross
mischaracterization of BBSs was reminiscent of the Hippie-Scare
articles of the late sixties.
The alarmist sensationalism of the article notwithstanding,
BBSs are a lot more than Liedtke makes them out to be: they are
repositories of all sorts of arcana, some of it rather hair-
raising. "Using the first amendment as a kind of shield?" The
first amendment is the boards' Reason for being (the same
shield, incidentally, that lets him sell sleazy papers by telling
only half a story). Like Rap music, BBSs are a forum for the
Yes, some of the data he reports can be found; it's also
commonly available elsewhere. A lot of the mayhem described
comes from such "underground" sources as the Navy Seals training
and CIA covert activities in Nicaragua; the chickens come home to
roost. Actually, most of what your reporter saw was teen
posturing, nothing more. Do you think a true criminal needs such
a system for pointers? Or that he would give away his/her best
Would that this were the work of some diabolical cabal.
Boards of this nature are a nationwide social phenomenon,
numbering in the tens of thousands, and growing. It's almost
mainstream! That ought to give Mr. Liedtke pause enough to ask,
"Why is it that law-abiding citizens feel they need to trade in
such unsavory information? What's going on?"
In a New World Order, where the Only Policeman In Town
(with its Only Media In Town) acts with increasing arrogance and
impunity, from Simi Valley to Iraq, is it any surprise the
powerless are asking "Who will tell me the truth, protect me?"
As The Boomers loot the last of the goodies from the economy,
does it come as a shock that the twentysomethings don't have a
whole lot of respect for ethics or morals? Why, this stuff is as
American as apple pie!
So the cheesy bathos of Liedtke's invocation of "protecting
the children" rings pretty hollow, except perhaps as a comfort to
parents who need a scapegoat to explain away the alienation of a
generation of abandoned kids. When those kids see what a crock
that article was, they'll just know they've been lied to again.
Adam Douglass Burtch
540 Alcatraz #A
Oakland Ca 94609
Subject--Contra Costa Times
If you are angry about being branded as a "criminal" for calling NIRVANAnet(tm)
and you wish to send a letter to the editor about the article in The Contra
Costa Times, the address is:
Letters to the Editor
Contra Costa Times
P.O. Box 8099
Walnut Creek, CA 94596-8099
Letters must include your signature, first and last names, address and daytime
telephone number. Letters of more than 200 words are subject to condensation.
Letters are subject to editing, and not all can be published. You can also FAX
letters to: 510-943-8362.
Please try to be civil when writing. Angry rants, flames, and threats are NOT
>From : ZARDOZ Number : 908 of 915
To : ALL Date : 07/30/93 3:39pm
Subject : My Letter to Editor Reference : NONE
Read : [N/A] Private : NO
Conf : 025 - ** Blabbing Sysops **
Here is my letter to the editor, for what it's worth. Didn't feel
particularly inspired, so isn't some of my best work.
San Jose, CA 95158-6022
This letter is in response to a recent story by an editor of yours, Michael
Liedtke. In his cover story about Bay Area BBS systems, he made several
inaccurate statements about my BBS and the rest of the NIRVANAnet
network. I would like to set the record straight.
First off, the reason that he didn't get callbacks from the operators of these
systems is because he contacted us too late. And on my system, his first
log on was THE DAY BEFORE the story went to press and he spent only
10 minutes on-line. The article suggests we were unwilling to discuss our
systems with him. This was just not true.
Secondly, my system (Burn This Flag) was represented as not employing
enough safeguards to keep adult material from minors. I am asking that the
person requesting access to the materials sign a form and mail it in that
states they are of legal age. Major men's publications such as Playboy and
Penthouse employ the same methodologies as I do for age verification. I
would think this was sufficient. If you have a better idea how it should be
done I would be interested in hearing it.
Lastly, you take a very biased position against our network and don't give
any way for people to examine it for themselves. Refusing to publish the
phone numbers is just an excuse to avoid being challenged on any of the
issues you've presented. Once a user logs in and reads the message base,
they will realize there are many intelligent callers that may have a only
passing interest in some of the topics you find offensive (such as promoting
disorder). And yes, many of them are in fact older that the "teenagers" you
suggest we've based our systems upon.
I suggest you log on, spend some time on the systems, talk to the users,
talk to the sysops and then make up your mind. Sure, it makes it harder to
beat a deadline but it also will offer you more accurate insights.
As a reminder, here is the list of the Nirvananet network phone numbers..
Burn This Flag 408/363-9766 San Jose Volitile Conversations
&TOTSE 510/935-5845 Walnut Creek Raw Data for Raw Nerves
realitycheck 510/527-1662 Albany No Truth and Nothing But
Lies Unlimited 415/583-4102 South SF Politics and Polemics
My Dog Bit Jesus 510/658-8078 Berkeley Women on the Edge
New Dork Sublime 415/864-DORK San Francisco Sublime News for Dorks
The Shrine 408/747-0778 Sunnyvale Magick, Religions & Sex
Burn This Flag BBS
In-Reply-To: firstname.lastname@example.org's mail message of Jul 30, 13:36.
Reply-To: John Higdon
Organization: Green Hills and Cows
X-Mailer: Mail User's Shell (7.1.2 7/11/90)
Subject--Re: My BBS Slammed by Local Paper
On Jul 30 at 13:36, email@example.com writes:
> by: Michael Liedtke
> staff writer for the Contra Costa Times
> Wednesday, July 28, 1993
> Using the First Amendment as a legal shield, a group of electronic
> bulletin boards in the Bay Area has created an information network
> providing criminal insights to anyone with a phone, personal
> computer and modem.
What nonsense. This same generalization could be applied to public
libraries, university libraries, or even a place where two or more
people gather and talk freely among themselves.
Newspapers tend to have a real struggle with the First Amendment. On
the one hand, it is freely invoked by reporters as an excuse to impede
an ongoing police investigation of a real crime; but it is denounced by
these same reporters when applied in the abstract to forums that simply
discuss criminal activity in general. Go figure.
If you take this reporter's stand to its inevitable conclusion, law
enforcement should monitor all telephone calls to make sure no
discussion of criminal activity is taking place. He apparently believes
that children have such a weak foundation in moral and ethical
principles that exposure to even the concept of aberrant behavior is
enough to turn them into irretrievable socialogical misfits.
The computer is sorely testing the application and fact of the First
Amendment. It puts the means and method of rapid mass communications
within the reach of everyone. It has been easy for the media to defend
the right of free speech when it was only they who possessed
printing presses and broadcast stations. Now that the common man has
the ability to express himself publically without the watchful eye of
an editor, the tune changes. Now the First Amendment is something that
people "hide behind", rather than being a fundamental right to be
defended by and for everyone.
> In a self-description appearing on a bulletin board review, Lied
> Unlimited said it tries to focus "on political realities. The
> point being that this reality is created by consensus, and the only
> way to change the reality is to change the consensus."
This has been the credo of the broadcast and print media during my
entire lifetime. Whether or not it was succinctly expressed is
irrelevant; it has been the defacto underlying principle governing all
news presentation. It is amusing to see a reporter recoil in horror
when the concept is expressed openly on a BBS. Is he afraid they might
steal his show?
> The Time left electronic messages on several of those bulletin
> boards seeking interviews with the system operators. None of the
> operators responded by late Tuesday.
Whether the lack of response was intentional or not, it was for the
best. My experience with newspaper reporters has been 100% negative. No
matter what you say, it is twisted around to serve the bias and agenda
of the reporter himself. As a person active in legal matters, I have
freqently been contacted by the press and my words and concepts have
been distorted each time without fail.
> The Time isn't publishing the phone numbers of the rebel bulletin
> boards as a children's safeguard.
How public spirited of the paper. Any kid with an IQ over 5 knows that
you get BBS numbers from Computer Currents or Micro Times, not the
pompous, self-righteous "mainstream" media.
> The bulletin boards remain open by straddling a fine line between
> the legal definitions of free speech and criminal behavior.
This "fine line" is a fundamental cornerstone for what we call
"freedom" in this country. Yes, you have to commit a crime in this
country to be prosecuted for criminal behavior. While it is true that
in other nations, particularly in the former "Eastern Bloc" countries,
a person could be arrested, charged, and convicted on the basis of his
ideas and the expression of them, we have not quite yet arrived at that
sorry state here. I have to admit, however, that the newspapers are
doing one hell of a workmanlike job convincing the public that the
First Amendment was written exclusively for the media and does not
apply to ordinary folk.
Date: Thu, 5 Aug 1993 11:19:41 CDT
From: CuD Moderators
Subject: File 2--NIRVANAnet BBSes and the Media (CuD Commentary)
Despite the best efforts of cybernauts to "educate the media,"
misinformation and hyperbole in news stories about cyberspace
continue. As we've repeatedly emphasized, the concern is not that
stories don't present a "favorable view" or are simply not to our
liking. The issues are far more important: Deceptive stories,
regardless of how well-intended, have a way of creating false images
that demonize BBSes, the Nets, and other cyberterritory. These images
influence legislators, law enforcement, and the public, few of whom
are cyber-literate. Techno-ignorance stimulates fears of unknown
dangers lurking beneath information technology, which lead to implied
or overt calls for legislation that would curtail the freedoms in
cyberspace that are taken for granted in "real-space." Further, media
stories tend to have a recursive effect by feeding each other as one
reporter will uncritically accept the slant of a previous story.
Judging from media accounts we've seen, media representatives tend to
rely on computer security specialists with a vested interest in
dramatizing dangers, or law enforcement officials with little
substantive understanding of computer technology or culture, for
dramatic sound-bytes. Relatively few of the media personnel with whom
CuD has spoken demonstrate even a modicum of familiarity with the
culture about which they write. The Contra Costa Times story is no
The CCT story depicts NIRVANAnet as a conspiratorial group of
potential criminals. So, CuD called a NIRVANAnet board, Burn This
Flag, and asked the sysop, "Zardoz," to summarize the network:
Our BBS network, NIRVANAnet, started several years ago with
three systems in the Bay Area that had the same basic
philosophies. It was decided that since their message
bases were very similar, and since they all shared the
same basic philosophies on how to run a BBS system (no
registration, trust your users, freedom of speech reigns
supreme, knowledge should be available to everyone, no
discrimination based on age, sex, religion, drug use, or
mental stability, etc.) they decided to form NIRVANAnet.
The network has since grown to seven systems (with six
operational and one currently relocating). The original
premise is still alive with what we believe is one of the
best message bases offered in the country. We allow and
encourage user aliases, which in turn promotes a level of
honesty and frankness that would be otherwise absent from
the discussion areas. We pride ourselves on believing that
a user can dial up a bulletin board without giving up
their identity and/or personal privacy.
Here is the current list of NIRVANAnet systems...
Burn This Flag 408/363-9766 San Jose Zardoz
&TOTSE 510/935-5845 Walnut Creek Jeff Hunter
realitycheck 510/527-1662 Albany Poindexter Fortran
Lies Unlimited *JUST-MOVED* ???????? Mick Freen
My Dog Bit Jesus 510/658-8078 Berkeley Suzanne d'Fault
New Dork Sublime 415/864-DORK San Francisco Demented Pimiento
The Shrine 408/747-0778 Sunnyvale Tom Joseph
CuD requested a list of files from Burn This Flag, which are shadowed
to the other boards. We also checked the file area for ourselves.
Judging from our perusal of files on the list and from the available
files and extensive message bases, the BBS seemed no different than
many other publicly accessible boards around the country. In fact,
although the message bases were lively, of reasonable quality, and
addressed the same topics found on other BBSes or the Internet, and
although the file list was extensive but not overwhelming, the system
was substantively no different than thousands of other BBSes in the
country. Users were not granted first-call access, and access to adult
files appeared to require a rigorous screening process to assure no
juveniles would be given access. To our mind, the CCT story seemed
much ado about nothing and reflected yet another example of media
Curious about the genesis of the story, CuD called the author, Mike
Liedtke, at the Contra Costa Times (510-943-8088) to discuss the
story. Despite the tone of the story, Mr. Liedtke was neither hostile
to NIRVANAnet nor unsympathetic to the First Amendment and other
issues involved. The following points emerged from the conversation:
1. Prior to writing the story, Mr. Liedtke had not called a BBS or
similar system, although he does have an account on Prodigy. He
seemed unaware that most "anarchist" files were mundane and simply
basic information written up in an "anarchist" or phreak/hack
2. He wrote the story based on a tip from a computer security
specialist who was disturbed by the boards. Although unstated, it was
my impression that the tipster influenced the spin of the
interpretation of files, which cast them as far more insidious than
they are. The concern of the tipster was that some files might be
"dangerous" to the "business community," especially if juveniles
3. Mike Liedtke said that he wrote (and the CCT ran) the story as a
"human interest" piece with the intent to raise the issue of
information availability. He made several legitimate points:
Computerized information is more accessible via modems/PCs than it is
in libraries; information is more readily archived and retrieved; and
monitoring access by juveniles is extremely difficult. He felt the
story was necessary to alert parents to the potential dangers of the
files to which their children might have access. He made it clear that
he did not intend to imply that First Amendment rights should be
4. The choice of pejorative adjectives in the story, such as "rebel
board," "unorthodox network," and other phrases that exaggerate the
"deviant" character of NIRVANAnet (and other) systems, seems to derive
primarily from the author's lack of familiarity with his topic, a not
uncommon problem. Many readers still remember and associate Joe
Abernathy's infamous "porn on the internet" article, written nearly
three years ago, with sensationalist journalism. Sadly, many readers
also remain unaware that Joe's article was actually well-intended. His
lack of familiarity and the contemporary media style toward the highly
visible and audience-provoking angle, not mean-spiritedness, resulted
in a story that some considered distorted. Despite the extensive
criticism, Joe invested considerable time in learning the issues.
Since then, he has become one of the most accurate, articulate, and
sympathetic observers of cyberculture.
And that might be the lesson to be drawn from the CCT story. I am
convinced that Mike Liedtke had no intention of casting aspersions on
NIRVANAnet. He seemed honestly surprised by the critical reactions. He
clearly had little knowledge of the topic and sincerely--and
correctly--believed that a story on information accessibility would be
a service to his community, especially the parents of minors. In the
lengthy CuD conversation, he expressed considerable curiosity about
the BBS world, especially the so-called "underground." More simply, he
acknowledged his limitations and demonstrated an eagerness to learn.
As he becomes more familiar with the topic, he may become hostile. Or,
he may become sympathetic. No matter which: As long as he is informed
and reports honestly and without stigmatizing distortion, few of us
will have any complaint.
There's a bit of an irony in all this: Those of us who believe in
unrestricted information, including CuD, tread a thin line when we
object when information about cyberculture is made available. Just as
we (rightfully) complain when legitimate information is restricted
from public access, we should bear in mind that information about us
is also legitimate to publicize. There is adult material on the Nets
and on BBSes. There is material describing pyrotechnics and other
anti-social behavior on the nets. There are virus codes and live
viruses on the nets and on BBSes. Information can be as potentially
dangerous as it is liberating.
Those of us who advocate relatively unconstrained access to the type
of information described in the CCT (and other) articles should also
remember that the debate over accessibility raises serious issues.
Beneath Mr. Liedtke's hyperbole lies a crucial question: How do
parents monitor and control their children's access to information
that might be inappropriate for a pre-teen? What is the best way to
establish a balance between freedom of speech and unconstrained
information flow with the need to impose some limitations on propriety
These issues are reminiscent of the counter-culture/"underground" of
the 1960s. The "alternative press" typified by The Berkeley Barb, The
Anarchists Cookbook, and other outlets, along with the then-scandalous
full-frontal nudity of Playboy, shifting standards of acceptability in
depicting language or sex in film, and the breakdown of what some saw
as the foreshadowing of the demise of civilization-as-we-know-it,
resulted in considerable consternation amongst moral entrepreneurs.
Evolving technology simply substitutes a new medium for old ones and
resurrects old issues.
It's fully appropriate to critique media stories such as the CCT
article. On the other hand, merely flaming the messenger is not likely
to contribute to dialogue. Our guess is that most reporters are
amenable to new information. It's frustrating to see continued media
misinformation being spread to the public. On the otherhand, it's
refreshing to see the topic being covered, because it means that
slowly, albeit too slowly, the mystique of the Nets and BBSes is
breaking down and the cyberworld is emerging from the periphery of
public awareness toward the center. This provides us all with the
opportunity to educate. Mike Liedtke and his media siblings ought be
contacted, as users of NIRVANAnet did, and gently brought into the
21st century by letters and phone calls that point out the concerns.
They should be invited to participate more fully and write follow-up
stories on the issues. They should be enticed to obtain Internet
access through Compuserve, GEnie, The Well, Mindvox, and other public
access systems that would make them accessible (and hopefully more
accountable) to readers.
Despite the unfortunate slant and twists of phrase in the CCT story,
there's optimism beneath it. It reminds us that our own
responsibilities include responding to individual authors. More
importantly, it provides an opportunity to open up dialogue with the
media, especially with reporters who appear amenable to approaching
the topic with a curious and open mind.
End of Computer Underground Digest #5.59