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Received: from by at Tue, 12 Jun 90 10:59:41 -0700. (5.61.14/XIDA- id AA22551 for via SMTP Message-Id: <> To: Tom Mandel Subject: FYI-- Date: Tue, 12 Jun 90 11:00:17 BST From: the terminal of Geoff Goodfellow Status: R COMPUTER PORNO: A KEYSTROKE AWAY Top-flight, tax-aided research link also home to the sexually explicit. Joe Abernathy (c) 1990, Houston Chronicle. (Sunday, June 10, 1990, p. A1 and p.A22). Westbury High School student Jeff Noxon's homework was rudely interrupted recently when he stumbled across the world's most sophisticated pornography ring. After musing at the novelty of seeing sexually explicit material, he went on to other studies. Noxon glimpsed only part of an electronic catalog of erotic art and literature that grows daily, offering titles such as Cindy's Torment and The Education of Rachel. It's supported by taxes and brought into town by the brightest lights of higher education. The purveyor of Jeff's surprise and Cindy's slavery is a grand undertaking called the Internet. It is the world's most capable research tool, but it is an equally efficient conduit for pornography and a tempting target for computer hackers. The Chronicle monitored Internet for four months through various access points. Material found on the network during that period included hundreds of sexually explicit stories and pictures, heated discussions about freedom of expression and details of underground political strategy -- in addition to the scientific exchange that it Internet's stated purpose. The material is accessible to any reasonably experienced computer user with equipment common to most personal computers. Common informational prefixes such as "" make it easy to find. "When the entire country learns about ',' people are going to make known their disapproval," Noxon predicted. "There are a lot of 12-year-olds getting their heads filled with a lot of ideas they're probably not ready for yet." Massachusetts Institute of Technology scientist David Clark, one of Internet's founding fathers, has described the network as "anarchic democracy at its best." It is hailed by policy makers as the most significant technological innovation since the telephone. About sixty miles from the computer in Noxon's bedroom, Internet has helped propel an isolated, historically black university to the forefront of high-energy physics. Prairie View A&M University is working on a crucial element of the superconducting super collider. All it took was one man's vision -- along with Internet -- to bring it alive. "Prairie View has a real role in the SSC in the future, simply because of that network," said physicist Dennis Judd, the human catalyst for Prairie View's ascent. "Few people know how much we really use this." Using Internet, Prairie View researchers browse the library at the Stanford Linear Collider in California. They interact with Fermilab in Chicago, Beijing University and the Houston Advanced Research Center in The Woodland. Prairie View's new research partner is Rice University -- one of seven Internet outreach collaborations matching historically black universities with traditional research giants. The network arose from the shared desire of the research, military, and education communities to communicate better. HOW IT WORKS It works like this: An institution's computers are wired together in a network, allowing individual users to share information and expensive resources. Each such network in turn is connected via phone lines, fiber optics or satellite to other networks, ultimately allowing the users at scattered locations to work together almost as if they were in the same room. Baylor College of Medicine offers an example. Researchers there are working on an image management system that will let specialists in Houston consult electronically with patients' hometown doctors, giving them instant access to the scans and tests performed in Houston. Medical students soon will be granted regular access to Internet -- once they've received an education about it. "We need to be sure that the students are cognizant of the responsibilities they have," said Stan Barber, director of networking. We don't want some of the problems students have caused in the past to be caused by Baylor College of Medicine students." These problems -- created by other users as well as students -- include hacking and the use of valuable computer facilities to circulate pornography. In both cases, Internet emerges as a key battleground of free speech and social responsibility. "People are encouraged to experiment, allowed Rice University's Guy Almes, who has become a national figure as primary director of Internet operations in Texas. "There's no Gestapo watching over this thing." Because there are virtually no rules, the catalog of information includes voluminous pornography along with advice on recreational drugs, satanism, paganism and sex slaves. But some users find such material offensive. "Someone is paying for the computers that this filth is stored in. Someone is paying for the phone time so that this trash can piggyback in with the useful communications," said Rick Miller, a student at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. The "someone" usually is the taxpayer, since an estimated two-thirds of the network's cost is paid for by federal and state governments. When Miller protested to university officials, his computer account was barraged with pornography from other users objecting to what they viewed as Miller's intrusion into their freedom of expression. "There was over 1.27 megabytes of article dumps from ','" recalled Miller, whose private mail from the Chronicle also was answered by a UWM consultant who had intercepted the letter. "It's an open network," said William Bard, director of Internet operations for the University of Texas system. "That's one of the things that makes it as useful as it is." It can link a researcher with a supercomputer nearly anywhere in the world. This can reduce the time between research and publication from years to days. ENVY OF THE WORLD The fundamental questions of science can be addressed by the world's best minds working in collaboration. Students may join the process, gaining unique experience and insight. "I want this country to have the most capable network to support higher education and research that we can possibly get," said Stephen Wolff, who oversees Internet for the National Science Foundation, the network's primary federal funding agency. "We already do. We have the best in the world, and I aim to keep it that way and make it better." Congress and President Bush share Wolff's goal. Tennessee Sen. Albert Gore's $2 billion Federal High Performance Computing Act, due for funding consideration this week, would make Internet the centerpiece of the nation's drive for technological pre-eminence, using it as the launching point for a more widely available successor to Internet, to be called the National Research and Education Network. "The administration supports the National Research and Education Network and, obviously, does not think that pornography is an appropriate incorporation into this network," said Alixe Glen, deputy press secretary at the White House. But the administration plans to take no formal action against the pornography. The bill seeks to multiply direct federal spending by a factor of 20, to $400 million. Under the [NSF]'s funding policies, this would trigger several billion more in spending on the local level. The bill would include another $1.5 billion for related endeavors. The money would benefit a maze of Internet connections that has grown up piecemeal in 35 nations over the past two decades. As many as 10 million people have access to the network. Experts no longer know the full extent of Internet, its value, or who is using it for what. Texas has more than 60 distinct Internet sites, including Johnson Space Center, businesses, and educational institutions. Each provides direct service to anyone associated with it and may propagate the network further into the community. Two of the nation's 13 regional Internet backbones are in Texas -- the Texas Sesquicentennial Network maintained by Rice, and the Texas Higher Education Network. Recent legislation will provide the state's secondary schools with networking -- likely with Internet. The volume of network activity doubles every two months, while the number of participating universities doubles every 13 months, Almes said. "Part of the good and the bad of this is that people are going to be using the network in ways I never heard about," he added. Electronic mail is the great innovation of the network. E-mail works like US mail -- prepare the materials to send, type the address of the recipient, post the letter. Since computers do the sending, however, it's possible to address a single package to a mailing list of recipients with a shared interest in the subject matter -- be it cold fusion or "hot" pornography. When a mailing list becomes popular enough, it can become a public newsgroup, making it much more readily available to everyone on the network. Those reading and contributing to mailing lists and newsgroups range from teenagers to the world's leading scientists. The popularity of individual newsgroups is not officially monitored, but one unofficial survey conducted in March by [DEC] indicated that "" was the second most popular newsgroup, with an estimated audience of 100,000. ("Rec.humor.funny" -- a humor digest -- was the most popular). Some of the activity on Internet probably violates state and federal obscenity laws, said Russel Turbeville, chief of the economic crimes-consumer fraud division of the Harris Country district attorney's office. But as a practical matter, prosecution would be difficult or impossible, he says. "Where you start dealing with computer frauds especially, when you have thousands, tens of thousands, maybe a million victims, how do you deal with that in the indictment, and how do you prove things in court?" Turbeville said. HIGH SCHOOL AUDIENCE Clear Lake High School honor students will receive Internet access beginning this summer. School officials know about the network's explicit content but they hope the honor system and the threat of a bad grade will discourage students from exploring where they should not. They all signed a form saying they would use the tool as intended. "I don't think that pornography has any redeeming value, not even for me, and especially not for my students," said a Clear Lake teacher who declined to be identified. "Those adults who want to participate, I'm not going to say what's right for them. But I think society has got to put some sort of bounds on educating kids." UT's Bard noted that high school students doing research projects could benefit from online electronic catalogs associated with many research and education libraries. "It would provide an indispensable and limitless source of information that could be used to supplement or even replace that found in the school libraries," said Noxon, 17, who will be a junior next year. On the Internet, every controversial story or letter is followed by a ringing debate -- often sparking the interest of hundreds of people who missed the original article. In the case of Cindy's Torment, a vicious tale of rape and torture, this resulted in its being reposted and privately mailed to a wide audience. Often, erotic stories are posted in installments. One recent series about pedophilia and incest turned out to be chapters from a published novel, and the publisher's lawyers wanted it to stop. Publicly, it did, after all but three chapters were posted. The entire book is now distributed privately via E-mail. The publisher has become a victim of Internet's capacity to support hidden theft of services. The most vivid example of this is digitized pictures. Thousands of X-rated pictures are available -- most scanned in from men's magazines in violation of copyright law. The pornographic libraries on the network also include political commentary. For example, North Carolina Sen. Jesse Helms' campaign against government funding of erotic art inspired the "Jesse Helms Erotic Literature Contest." The object was to produce erotica that might please the Republican senator -- keep it reasonably clean, mention fidelity or the church. The contest originated at the University of Iowa. The collected entries are available in the Internet libraries of Tulane University and [MIT]. QUESTIONABLE LEGACY MIT is the leading presence in Internet's cultural heritage. The heart of this heritage is MIT's Media Lab, which has variously been called visionary, flaky and the the lunatic fringe of MIT. They say they're inventing the future of publishing, but you won't find journalists there. Among the accomplishments the lab touts are an interactive video disk of the Aspen, Colo., ski resort. It cost [DARPA] $300,000, and former Sen. William Proxmire's Golden Fleece award dishonoring questionable use of tax dollars was awarded to the lab. Another time, DARPA unwittingly funded development at the Media Lab of an album cover for the eclectic rock group Talking Heads. This is the intellectual atmosphere that gave electronic life to the Church of the Subgenius, a Dallas cult ostensibly formed to ridicule cults. Members, who can be legally ordained, worship a yuppie deity called Bob. The Media Lab's Subgenius Digest is an interactive church newsletter. It provides the phone numbers of practicing Christians, along with tips on how best to harass them -- all in the name of Bob. Also, at MIT, you will find the closely guarded, lesbian-oriented Sappho mailing list. Sappho was an effective tool in the successful fight to overturn Mills College's decision to admit males. It motivated the troops, communicated strategy, and gave progress reports on the battle. Last but not least is MIT's electronic library. It may be one of the best research tools around, but at night it becomes one of the world's most capable instruments of pornography. "It comes back to free speech," said Howard Jares, Internet director at the University of Houston. "The actual content is secondary. (Intellectual freedom) fosters the whole creative process, and that's the kind of thing we're going to have to do to succeed as educators." Turbeville said Internet pornography raises constitutional issues: "You have the right to speak your mind, but do you have the right to (in effect) walk into somebody's home and say it? That's interesting." In general, according to various legal sources, computer use and abuse represent developing areas of law, with few issues settled. Beyond pornography and free speech, the technology raises broad fears of vulnerability. Even as Internet is finding its way into all walks of society, society is realizing the network wasn't designed to be secure. In late May, federal and state agencies intensified a nationwide sweep of computer hackers. Noting that more than 40 computer systems and 23,000 data disks already had been seized in the last two years, network experts launched a counter-attack. A legal defense fund is now being put in place. The hackers reacted to the crackdown in predictable fashion -- they're using the Internet to build support. They are publishing special extracts of 2600, the hacker's magazine, detailing the government's two-year-old campaign. "There are civil rights and civil liberties issues here that have yet to be addressed,' wrote one 2600 contributor. "Every time there is a perceived crisis, law enforcement agencies and legislators overreact, and usually due process and civil liberties suffer," said Rep. Don Edwards, D-Calif., reacting to the crackdown. The most famous hacking case is that of former Cornell University student Robert Tappan Morris, 25. Last month, he was placed on three years' probation, fined $10,000, and ordered to perform 400 hours of community service for unleashing a "worm" program that paralyzed thousands of Internet-linked computers nationwide in 1988. He was the first person convicted under the Federal Computer Fraud and Abuse Act prohibiting interference with the performance of a government computer. Computer luminary Mitch Kapor, the founder of Lotus Technology, believes society will rise to the challenge of making the most of Internet's promise while guarding against its perils. "I think (Internet) is a terrific social experiment from which there's an enormous amount to learn, but I think it's time somebody took the lessons and build something of more lasting value," he said. "Regional-based systems like the WELL (Whole Earth 'Lectronic Link) in San Francisco that draw a constituency and see themselves as members of an electronic community... are a much better basis for beginning this sort of global electronic community. "I don't think it's the government's business to ban (controversial material), or to take any position on it," Kapor added. " I don't know how to solve it without causing all sorts of First Amendment problems. If there's a paying market for ',' we should tolerate it. "I just don't think the government ought to fund it." - - ----------------------------------------------------------------------------- Photograph of Bill Schmidt hunched over an ancient terminal. Caption: "Bill Schmidt uses Internet at the Houston Advanced Research Center in the Woodlands. Schmidt, a Texas A&M University student, uses the network to communicate electronically." Photograph by Ben DeSoto, Chronicle photographer. - - ----------------------------------------------------------------------------- (box) THE LANGUAGE OF INTERNET Address: A designation for sending electronic mail to a specific user. Backbone: the nationwide data transmission connections and switching equipment that support electronic traffic such as that generated by Internet. Cyberpunk: a new age cult among computer fanatics wherein the machine is viewed as an extension of the person, creating a creature of superhuman abilities. Cybersex: the computerized version of phone sex. Two or more individuals have "sex" by exchanging erotic E-mail. Cybermarriage: an ongoing agreement by two or more people to engage in cybersex. E-Mail: Electronic mail, a system of computerized correspondence between users. File transfer: the movement of text, software, images or other data between computers. Hacking: gaining unauthorized computer access to a network. LAN: local area network, an interconnected group of personal computers or work station, perhaps with a mainframe computer. Many businesses use LANs. Mail bomb: the intentional overfilling of a user's electronic mailbox by other users who object to something he or she has done on the network. Mail bombs can make an account unusable and can cause structural damage to the network, to the extent that the activity qualifies as a felony in Texas. Modem: A MOdulator/DEModulator that allows an isolated computer not connected to a LAN to talk with other computers via the phone lines. Flames, Flame wars: when one takes a stand on an issue, the stand is likely to draw "flames," the network's jargon for vicious personal attacks. SESQUInet: The Texas Sesquicentennial Network, administered by Rice University and the main conduit into Texas for Internet. Site: a computer host offering Internet or Usenet access. TTHEnet: The Texas Higher Education Network, which provides Internet access to Texas locations outside the Houston metropolitan area. THEnet is largely administered by the University of Texas and Texas A&M systems. Usenet: the formal name given to Internet newsgroups. While Internet access is granted only to those involved in research and education, anyone can have access to the Usenet and E-mail capabilities of Internet. WAN: Wide-area network, an interconnected group of computers much larger than a LAN. Internet, a WAN, covers 35 countries. - - ----------------------------------------------------------------------------- (box) INTERNET MAY HAVE 10 MILLION USERS here are brief answers to some basic questions about Internet. Q: What is Internet? A: It is an international computer network for research and higher education. Any of the computer users with Internet access -- who may number 10 million -- can share information and resources with other users almost instantly. Q: Who uses it? A: Everybody who's anybody in technological circles, including most military facilities, universities, and businesses and individuals engaged in research. In Texas, noted participants include Baylor College of Medicine, Houston Advanced Research Center, Rice University, Southwestern Bell, Texas A&M University System, University of Texas system, University of Houston, and Southern Methodist University. State high schools may soon receive access. Q: Who runs it and how is it organized? A: The National Science Foundation provides guidance for the maintenance of the data transmission facilities that connect individual sites. The sites, which are usually universities or laboratories, maintain their own internal networks. Ultimately, the network is designed so that the users themselves are largely responsible for the use and contents of Internet. Q: Who pays for it and how much does it cost? A: Network officials ("net.gods" in user jargon) put a price tag on Internet of $2 billion to $4 billion. Noone can get much closer than that wide-ranging guess because the system is so big and loosely organized. It's possible to determine what a public university spends on computer operations, for example, but not to calculate how much of that is Internet. And it's certainly not possible to determine whether costs are associated with legitimate research or controversial pursuits such as pornography. At Clear Lake High School, it took $250,000 just to set up four computers with initial access to Internet. A private school or business doesn't even have to provide a general figure. One source estimated two-thirds of the network's cost is paid for by the federal and state governments. The National Science Foundation is the most visible funding agency, and it has a budget of $20 million dedicated to Internet. But the Department of Defense is almost certainly spending more on the technology, as are other agencies such as [NASA]. Q: How is the government involved? A: Through direct grants and through the budgets of other agencies, the government funds the National Science Foundation, which built and maintains the "backbone" that makes Internet possible. Various government agencies like Internet because it's an enormously useful research tool -- and a manager can run the office from anywhere in the world. Congress is scheduled to debate funding this week for a bill that would provide $2 billion to expand Internet and create the next generation of related technology. In addition, state governments participate through their funding of public universities. In the long term, the [NSF] would like to move toward a self-supporting, high-performance nationwide backbone with a way of monitoring and charging for use. But most sources agree that's along way off. Q: What security measures protect sensitive material on Internet? A: Internet was built for academics and researchers, with an expectation that an honor system and trust would keep it secure. But nobody knew 20 years ago that in 1990 the network would double in volume of activity every two months. They didn't know that it would be accessible through businesses and community computer bulletin board systems. Security has emerged as the next big issue, as demonstrated by the feds' current crackdown on hackers. The military maintains private networks within the national network that are supposed to protect classified information. Q: How do hackers fit in? A: Hacking is exploring the services on a network, and doesn't necessarily mean attempting to break in. But the term hacker often is used to describe someone with malicious intent who tries to guess a password or exploit known security flaws in order to gain access to a mainframe computer. Anyone on Internet is already in touch with the nation's finest supercomputers -- that's the point of the network. But there is no handbook of what's available, so the hackers explore various computers hooked to the network to see what's stored on them. Most hacking is not destructive, and little law has developed on hacking. There are rudimentary protections for the privacy of personal materials stored on computers. And a two-year-old law makes it a crime to interfere with the operation of a government computer. Most actions against hackers cite laws on the abuse of credit cards or theft of long distance services. Q: Why does Internet raise issues of academic freedom and free speech? A: Anything you can write, publish, broadcast, or yell from the top of the building, Internet can propagate faster, further, more elegantly. Thus, age-old issues of freedom of speech and expression vs. public safety and moral sensibilities have moved into this high-tech arena. The technology is just now being refined, so nobody has really asked the questions yet -- much less come up with the answers. That's what is happening now.


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