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TUCoPS :: Cyber Law :: prot_int.txt

Protection (of mindless sheeplike children from 1 to 99) and the Internet





Protection and The Internet
Steve Cisler
Apple Library
sac@apple.com
October 14, 1993
copyright 1993 Steve Cisler.

<This essay is available for anonymous ftp from ftp.apple.com in the
alug/communet directory in ascii. These files may be put on educational
and non-profit BBSes, gophers, and anonymous ftp sites. All other
online services and publishers must contact the author. First published
in The Apple Library Users Group Newsletter, Fall 1993>


"The unprecedented environment has produced a temperament volatile and
mercurial, marked by uncalculating ardor, enterprise, intrepidity, and
insatiable hunger for innovation, out of which has grown a society that
has been alternately the reproach and marvel of mankind."
--John Ingalls writing about the Great Plains (1902) quoted in W.P. Webb
The Great Plains  Grossett and Dunlap 1931.

Summary: Now that the Internet is becoming popular, many people and
organizations want to protect the Internet, protect people from the
Internet, protect individual systems from casual visitors, protect
children from access to certain files and online interactions, and
protect whole cultures from outside influences.

A few years ago, the head of a fee-based online service was asked when
the Internet could be used to access his system. "Why should we hook our
drinking water supply to a sewage system?" was the gist of his reply.
Some time after that a special librarian for a large corporate library
stated that she felt it was her duty to keep the engineers and other
patrons in the company from using a dangerous and dirty system like the
Internet. Of course, they were already using it; she just did not want
to get involved at that time.  Both of these people wanted to protect
their enterprise and their users from what they saw as an
uncontrollable, chaotic system, full of dirty data, unruly computer
intruders, foul-fingered Usenet orators, corrupted programs, and
unreliable connections. This view was indicative of the kind of
stratification of the online world. There was not very much knowledge
about or interest in learning about the different segments. Professional
online database searchers did not frequent the world of Usenet. Internet
users looked down at the bulletin board system operators, and commercial
consumer service providers were in their own separate world with only a
few links to these other worlds. CompuServe did not talk to Fidonet
which was unaware of Usenet, and the Internet was a loosely guarded
secret.

Suddenly that has changed, and the focus is on the Internet. The people
and organizations seeking connections, the ability to search for and
provide new information, and the countries where all of this is offered,
have increased at an exciting, alarming, and perhaps even exaggerated
rate.  Vinton Cerf, one of the founding fathers of the Internet, argues
that it can now be considered mass media.  It certainly has become
mainstream. Not only do we see jokes about the Internet in the New
Yorker, we find selections from the New Yorker on the Internet. It is
reaching Indian tribes in the U.S., the capitals in Azerbaijan,
Mozambique, Croatia, Peru, Beaverhead County, Montana, and schools
throughout Texas. While just a small fraction of the world's computer
users are connected, and even fewer understand all they are connected
to, the Internet offers the dream of connectivity to many millions in
rural and urban areas all over the world. Even the cable companies, who
looked upon the Internet as "invisible" or as a sideshow in early 1993,
are going to offer connections to their customers by the end of 1993.

Up to 1991 the culture of the Internet has been synonymous with
openness, lack of central control and governance, non-commercial in
nature, a place for experimentation and rapid implementation and change.
Some are fond of comparing the Internet to a frontier. This is due in
part to the growth of the Unix operating system and the intellectual
climate in the academic computing centers and government research labs
where Unix and the Internet spread in the 1980's. In the 1990's we are
seeing a concentration on new tools for users and administrators which
in turn is bringing ease of use, an enormous leap in the amount and kind
of content available, and this is attracting the rush of individuals,
companies, schools, libraries, governments, businesses, and non-profits
to the network. With the arrival of new users, many of them from the
commercial sector, a series of cultural and policy-based brushfires have
been started. Stated in crude binary terms, they center on fee versus
free, open and closed systems, anarchic versus governed, private and
anonymous versus centralized secure systems with accountability, indexed
information versus raw data, unimpeded rivers of data versus filtered,
bottled, and marketed information, free speech versus censorship, access
for some versus universal access, flat-rate pricing versus packets/mile
charges, cultural preservation versus cultural disintegration, and
centralized sources of information versus every user as publisher.

PROTECT: to cover or shield from that which would injure, destroy, or
detrimentally affect; secure or preserve usually against attack,
disintegration, encroachment, or harm.  --Webster's Third New
International Dictionary


As the network traffic explodes in size, diversity, and number of users,
many people including users, administrators, and people not on the Net
are trying to "protect" people, systems, data from use, abuse, or
access. As a librarian, I am interested in extending access to more
people, helping them find  the information, as well as, the personal
contacts they need, and in encouraging the use of the networks to
publish that information.  While I understand the motivation for the
practices, it is obvious that many of the protection methods will
decrease the amount of information and narrow the conditions by which a
group of users can get the information. You will always find some on the
Net who believe that it is justified, and many more who think it's
wrong, impossible, or just foolish to try and restrain access.

The most obvious forms of protections are restricting access to a
computer system,  protecting intellectual property, or keeping certain
people from seeing, doing, or using certain resources. I am not going to
discuss the cryptology wars now raging over the Clipper Chip, RSA
algorithms, and Pretty Good Privacy (PGP) software except to say that
it's a very large issue. In mid-September small American encryption
firms are being called in for some serious discussions with federal
officials. Contact the Electronic Frontier Foundation (ssteele@eff.org)
for updates on this controversy.

Anonymity

A long-running argument about the value or danger of anonymity can
generate as much heat as light. Some  argue that many people will be
afraid to post their thoughts and comments if they cannot be anonymous.
Frequently cited are people wanting an open forum on substance abuse,
mental illness, rape, and other sensitive topics. Anonymous mailing
services have been set up in Australia and Finland. However, the
anonymous mailers have been used by individuals who carry online flame
wars into another realm. They have used these services to attack their
enemies, make false accusations, one of which resulted in the loss of
the victim's job. While the victims are fairly sure of the perpetrator,
they cannot prove it because he is using an anonymous mailing service.


There are some more subtle issues we all must face. These are related to
the use of the Internet by young people, by cultural groups where the
users are not aware of the range of information on the Internet, use of
anonymous mailers for spreading slanderous information, the manipulation
of software tools  to change information access, and the editing of
files to "cleanse" them of objectionable information. Even though
librarians have had a lot of experience with book, video, and music
censorship battles, these are much less clear-cut from an intellectual
freedom standpoint, and that is only one aspect of the discussion in
most cases.

Access for Elementary and Secondary Schools

Mike Roberts of EDUCOM says that approximately 10% of the American K12
schools have some sort of Internet connection. Materials used and
activities undertaken by elementary and secondary school students comes
under a good deal of scrutiny. This varies by grade level, by school, by
district, and by state. It will be no different when Internet activities
are included in many classrooms. Educators who plan to offer Internet
access immediately confront the challenge of Usenet and anonymous ftp
files. There is a fairly strong consensus that the students must be
protected from some of these discussions and some of the files. The
reasoning comes in various flavors: Some say that they personally don't
find the material objectionable but if the conservative elements in the
state found out, the project would be threatened or canceled.  The
nightmare they have is of some legislator waving around a raunchy GIF
image "paid for with tax dollars and found on the State Educational
Network", or reading some choice posting from alt.sex.furry.critters or
alt.sex.necrophelia. This fear may be unfounded, but it tends to make
some administrators restrain themselves and avoid all Usenet groups. A
sensible compromise is taken by the Boulder Valley School District. Ken
Klingenstein, reported at INET'93 in San Francisco that school
committees are combing through the Usenet groups to save the best and
most relevant. With thousands available, few sites can subscribe to all
of them (the traffic is about 70 megabytes of messages each day).
Providing access to scientific and mathematical information is
relatively uncontroversial for most districts (unless creationism is
vying for a place in the curriculum), but many people are worried about
the software, text files, and images that anyone can access, providing
the students learn how to use the arcane ftp commands and tools for
unpacking, converting and displaying the pictures. Students with time
and curiosity may become far more adept at using these tools than over-
worked teachers in some schools connected to the network. And now the
tools are improving where access is much easier.

Gopher

One of the more interesting Internet software projects are the gopher
clients and servers (See "Cool Tools for the Macintosh" Apple Library
Users Group Newsletter , Summer 1993). There are over 1500 public gopher
spaces, and the information being served is about everything imaginable.
It ranges from electronic texts of out-of-copyright books, to campus
phone directories, software libraries, pictures, archives of
discussions, and many unstructured databases. A special program called
Veronica has been written to help users find information within gopher.
Veronica runs at several different sites in the U.S. and Italy. Earlier
this year, one site was informed that when you did a veronica search on
the word 'camping' you reached information about homosexuals. The site
modified the program not to deliver any hits on 'camping'. They decided
to protect their users from material that might offend. Veronica can be
configured to avoid searching on any list of words. A 'stop word' list
is usually done to save computer cycles from looking up 'a', 'the',
'of', and the like. It can also be used to omit seemingly innocent words
like 'camping' or some of George Carlin's favorite terms. Most users are
not aware this is going on, that the database is searched with a filter.

Some companies are working with the education community to provide
network access and services. Here is Richard Perlman of Pacific Bell
describing their effort:

"Pacific Bell is setting up access to the Internet for elementary and
secondary schools in California.  This, project part of Pacific Bell's
"Knowledge Network", is currently in a technology test authorized by the
California Public Utilities Commission. Pacific Bell is using the
Internet Gopher to present information in a variety of organizational
schemes to meet the needs of students in elementary, junior high school,
high school and community college as well as teachers and librarians.
Pacific Bell is working with the schools to devise curriculum and lesson
plans that encourage and support the use of information networks as part
of the educational process.  They are also working with school staff and
administration to address issues of content acceptability and
appropriate use."

One possibility is that a young child would have access to one set of
menus, an older student to  more information, and the teacher or
librarian would have full access to all the gophers on the Knowledge
Network. However, Pacific Bell makes it clear that the most persistent
user can find ways around gopher filters, so no school should expect
complete protection.

Gophers reflect the open culture of the Internet, and this has caused
some system administrators to wish for more tools to restrict access to
the power of gopher or even to the server itself.  John Stanley manages
a gopher server at the Coastal Imaging Laboratory at Oregon State
University. It is not openly advertised, but it is not totally closed
either. In late August, a heated discussion took place on
comp.infosystems.gopher on Usenet about Stanley's request that the
Veronica sites not index his gopher. Some felt that he was not abiding
by unwritten etiquette (open, free information, free access anytime),
but what angered Stanley was that he asked the indexers not to include
information from his gopher, yet they continued to do so. It seems as
though it was more of a communications (personal) problem than anything
else. Stanley believed that the indexing placed an unwelcome load on his
machine, and he wanted to conserve his computing resources for his
users, not an indexing program in Italy.  Michael Morse of the National
Science Foundation has proposed that the gopher server software be
delivered with the default set to "no index" and allow each
administrator to turn it on or leave it off.

While some argue about indexes to the information, others object to the
information itself. One gopher site received a great deal of criticism
because the letter writers thought the gopher administrator was posting
unflattering information about the Koran. The discussion in
soc.culture.islam on Usenet prompted many people to write and complain
about the definition of 'Koran" that is found in Ambrose Bierce's
Devil's Dictionary at wiretap.spies.com

KORAN, n.  A book which the Mohammedans foolishly believe to have been
written by divine inspiration, but which Christians know to be a wicked
imposture, contradictory to the Holy Scriptures.

The actual electronic file was not at the index site, only a pointer to
another gopher where the document resided.   By doing a search for other
locations of the same document, I found that the gopher at
ccat.sas.upenn.edu included a version of Bierce's dictionary and left
out the definition for Koran but included this one for Christian:

CHRISTIAN, n.  One who believes that the New Testament is a divinely
inspired book admirably suited to the spiritual needs of his neighbor.
One who follows the teachings of Christ in so far as they are not
inconsistent with a life of sin.

That edition was broken up into folders for each letter of the alphabet
with each definition being a separate entry. Oddly, in another menu
there was a pointer to the wiretap.spies.com 'unexpurgated' version.
Keep in mind I was only looking for the 'koran' definition. Indeed,
there may be several versions of this dictionary floating around in ftp
sites.  While the Devil's Dictionary is not the Satanic Verses, this
does raise the issue of who is responsible for culling, controlling, and
disseminating information, even barbed witicisms written 80 years ago.

The gopher involved in the Koran controversy now posts this to head off
criticisms:

IF YOU FEEL THAT INFORMATION YOU HAVE OBTAINED VIA <the> GOPHER OR OTHER
INFORMATION SERVERS IS INACCURATE OR OFFENSIVE, WE SUGGEST YOU CONTACT
THE ORIGINAL PRODUCER/DISTRIBUTOR OF THAT INFORMATION.

Usenet

And now let us turn from religion to sex, figuratively speaking. New
communications media have frequently been used to convey sexual content.
In Victorian times there was much discussion about the way the telephone
might be used by people normally polite and restrained. The VCR industry
began by tapping the huge market of people wanting to view pornography
(what you like) and erotica (what I like) in their own homes. The French
Minitel system message traffic in the late 1980's included a huge
proportion of casual sexual banter, online cruising, and gender
swapping.Some of the most popular CD-ROMs don't mention ERIC and MARC,
but Valerie is exposed for all to see.

Because the Internet includes more and more information about human
needs and concerns, there is a load of discussions about sex, pictures,
and even animated video clips. Many old network hands hate to see this
mentioned because it's always over-emphasized by novice reporters who
are looking for the sensational.

Joe Abernathy, who used to report for the Houston Chronicle, wrote an
introduction to the Internet and its use as a vehicle for sexual
material. The firestorm of criticism has not totally died down after
several years, partly because of the opening lines

"Westbury High School student Jeff Noxon's homework was rudely
interrupted recently when he stumbled across the world's most
sophisticated pornography ring."
 -posted on com-priv@psi.com July 11, 1991 by Abernathy

Abernathy weathered the criticism and went on to write about other
Internet events.Some people forgave him for his initial article; others
did not. People feel strongly about the Internet...and about sex. The
clashes occur on the network and in discussions about access to
pictures, jokes, discussions, and stories. These are all found in
Usenet, where some of the most popular news groups are the controversial
alt (for alternate) hierarchy. Estimates place the readership of
alt.binaries.pictures.erotica at 150,000 in August 1993. 853 messages
were posted, but because they were large image files, this group
accounted for about 43 megabytes of traffic in a month whereas
rec.arts.tv.soaps had 45,000 readers, 5125 messages accounting for about
10.5 megabytes per month. About 56% of the Usenet sites receive the
erotica group. Why don't the others? There are many reasons. Some
administrators consider all of the alt.groups a waste of disk space and
cpu time; others omit the picture groups because of the file size and
sometimes because of the content. For instance, Apple does not carry the
picture groups because of copyright problems with some of the scanned
images, and the administrator does not have time to figure out which
present intellectual property problems and which do not. Other firms are
concerned about sexual harassment charges from employees who find the
material offensive, so the manager removes it. In some cases, women have
complained when the groups were removed, even more than male readers.
Using gopher and a little perseverance any of the Usenet groups can be
accessed, even those that have been dropped from the Usenet master list
of your home machine.

Public Archives

In addition there are public (ftp) archives that contain controversial
material. Some of these may show up in a gopher listing; other archive
lists are passed among interested parties. Usually, they are not posted
because the flood of ftp sessions would slow down the file server.In one
case several years ago, administrators ruled that public directories on
the university system should not devote space to nudes and X-rated
images. The solution was for each individual to copy favorite files into
the personal directory (some on the same machine). This took up much
more room than having a central, public file, but it permitted the
university from totally removing the files.

It is my opinion that the number of files that will offend are hidden by
the vast total number of files available, but the resource discovery
tools are being sharpened, polished, and are easier to use. This will
bring more people online, and the curious will be able to cruise the
backwaters of the Net with relative ease. Many will come back to share
their adventures.

Many cultures express concern about cultural disintegration by trying to
keep out alien influences: rock music, foreign languages, other
political ideas, alternative ways for men and women to relate to each
other, poetry, This will be done by stressing the negative points of the
outside influence and the strengths of the home culture. Because more
traditional and sometimes authoritarian groups (countries, companies,
Indian nations, and religions) have a growing presence on the Internet,
they will be looking for ways of filtering what their users see and use
as access is extended.

We are working with some Indian tribes to put historical photographs and
artwork online to share with others. One museum curator showed me some
photographs repatriated from the Smithsonian to the tribe. "Actually,
these will only be available to initiated males over 14 years old." The
photographs of the sacred dances (and the dances themselves) must be
protected. So there is a constant tension between the Indians wish to
make information available and to protect sacred information.

I hope the few issues that I have raised will generate discussion in the
library community because we have strong ideals of openness that are not
always well understood in a new environment like the Internet. If our
role as guides, editors, and electronic librarians is valid, we will
have to repeatedly confront these challenges.


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