Computer underground Digest Sun Aug 8 1993 Volume 5 : Issue 59 ISSN 1004-042X Editors: Jim

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Computer underground Digest Sun Aug 8 1993 Volume 5 : Issue 59 ISSN 1004-042X Editors: Jim Thomas and Gordon Meyer (TK0JUT2@NIU.BITNET) Archivist: Brendan Kehoe Shadow-Archivists: Dan Carosone / Paul Southworth Ralph Sims / Jyrki Kuoppala Ian Dickinson 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) Cu-Digest is a weekly electronic journal/newsletter. Subscriptions are available at no cost electronically from The editors may be contacted by voice (815-753-6430), fax (815-753-6302) or U.S. mail at: Jim Thomas, Department of Sociology, NIU, DeKalb, IL 60115. Issues of CuD can also be found in the Usenet news group; on CompuServe in DL0 and DL4 of the IBMBBS SIG, DL1 of LAWSIG, and DL1 of TELECOM; on GEnie in the PF*NPC RT libraries and in the VIRUS/SECURITY library; from America Online in the PC Telecom forum under "computing newsletters;" On Delphi in the General Discussion database of the Internet SIG; on the PC-EXEC BBS at (414) 789-4210; and on: Rune Stone BBS (IIRG WHQ) (203) 832-8441 NUP:Conspiracy; RIPCO BBS (312) 528-5020 CuD is also available via Fidonet File Request from 1:11/70; unlisted nodes and points welcome. EUROPE: from the ComNet in LUXEMBOURG BBS (++352) 466893; In ITALY: Bits against the Empire BBS: +39-461-980493 ANONYMOUS FTP SITES: UNITED STATES: ( in /pub/cud ( in /pub/CuD/cud in /pub/mirror/cud ( in /pub/eff/cud AUSTRALIA: ( in /pub/text/CuD. EUROPE: in pub/doc/cud. (Finland) in pub/cud (United Kingdom) COMPUTER UNDERGROUND DIGEST is an open forum dedicated to sharing information among computerists and to the presentation and debate of diverse views. CuD material may be reprinted for non-profit as long as the source is cited. Authors hold a presumptive copyright, and they should be contacted for reprint permission. It is assumed that non-personal mail to the moderators may be reprinted unless otherwise specified. Readers are encouraged to submit reasoned articles relating to computer culture and communication. Articles are preferred to short responses. Please avoid quoting previous posts unless absolutely necessary. DISCLAIMER: The views represented herein do not necessarily represent the views of the moderators. Digest contributors assume all responsibility for ensuring that articles submitted do not violate copyright protections. ---------------------------------------------------------------------- Date: Fri, 30 Jul 93 13:31:21 PDT From: royb@NETCOM.COM 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). Date--1993-07-28,12:11 From--DEMENTED PIMIENTO To--ALL 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 for crime. 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. 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 murder. 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 teen-agers. "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 crime." 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 <<< +++++++++++++++++++++++++++ Date--1993-07-28,18:13 From--JEFF HUNTER To: ALL Subject--Contra Costa Times Flags: 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 BBS network. 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 behavior." 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 thoughts." 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. Sincerely, Jeff Hunter Sysop, & the Temple of the Screaming Electron --- GEcho 1.00 +++++++++++++++++++++++++++++ Conference: 2,General Number: 2590 Reply-to: 0 Private: No Receipt: No Date--1993-07-29,09:07 From--DEMENTED PIMIENTO To: ALL Subject--My response to the CCT ra Flags: 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 paper. =========================================================================== 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 Mr. Liedtke: 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 publicity. 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 Sincerely, Demented Pimiento Sysop - The New Dork Sublime BBS +++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++ BBS: BTF Conference: 2,General Number: 2591 Reply-to: 0 Private: No Receipt: No Date--1993-07-29,13:44 From--SAM UZI To: ALL Subject--MY letter to CCTimes Flags: Sirs, 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 disorder". I would like to address the charges that you have made against us in detail. 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 otherwise. 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. Sincerely, (me) NirvanaNet user. ++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++ BBS: BTF Conference: 2,General Number: 2607 Reply-to: 0 Private: No Receipt: No Date--1993-07-29,06:18 From--POINDEXTER FORTRAN To: ALL Subject--More CCTimes Letters... Flags: Letters to the Editor Contra Costa Times P.O. Box 8099 Walnut Creek, CA 94596-8099 Dear Sir/Madam, 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. Sysop, RealitycheckBBS +++++++++++++++++++++++++++++ BBS: BTF Conference: 25,SYSOPS Number: 902 Reply-to: 0 Private: No Receipt: No Date--1993-07-29,18:46 From--QUAKER STATE TAPIOCA RUPT To: ALL Subject--Letter To The Editor Flags: Editor Contra Costa Times Editor, 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 voiceless. 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 trade secrets? 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 (510) 655-8508 ++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++ BBS: BTF Conference: 2,General Number: 2542 Reply-to: 0 Private: No Receipt: No Date--1993-07-28,21:36 From--JEFF HUNTER To: ALL Subject--Contra Costa Times Flags: 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 needed. +++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++ >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. ++++++ 07/30/93 Box 36022 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 Sincerely, Zardoz Burn This Flag BBS +++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++ In-Reply-To:'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) To: netcom!royb Subject--Re: My BBS Slammed by Local Paper Status: OR On Jul 30 at 13:36, 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 exception. 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 hysteria. 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 vocabulary. 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 accessed them. 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 abridged. 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 and accessibility? 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 ************************************


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