TUCoPS :: Cyber Law :: interter.txt

Internet as Terrorist - Are info providers, not bombers, the real terrorists???

From: mech@eff.org (Stanton McCandlish)
Forwarded message:
Date: Thu, 11 May 1995 15:14:32 -0700
From: "Brock N. Meeks" <brock@well.sf.ca.us>
To: cwd-l@cyberwerks.com
Subject: CWD-Internet As Terrorist

CyberWire Dispatch // Copyright (c) 1995 //

Jacking in from the "One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest" Port:

Washington, D.C. -- The Internet had its head placed on the chopping block
during a Congressional hearing today (May 11th).

Sen. Arlen Specter (R-Pa.) put it there.  Sen. Herb Kohl (D-Wis.) tied its
hands, while Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) welded the axe.

Specter, as chairman of the Subcommittee on Terrorism, Technology and
Government Information, called the hearing to investigate "The Availability
of Bomb Making Information on the Internet."  The hearing focused on "the
use of the Internet by a variety of groups and individuals to propagate
'mayhem manuals,' which as their name suggests, are guides to assist people
in committing acts of violence," Specter said.

Specter didn't mince words about his intentions.  The subtext of the
hearing was that the Internet, somehow, now represents a "clear and present
danger" to the American way of life, threatening innocent citizens and
children.  "There are serious questions about whether it is technologically
feasible to restrict access to the Internet or to censor certain messages,"
Specter said.

Feinstein rode into the hearing with blinders on.  "I have a problem with
people teaching others" how to build bombs that kill, she said.  The First
Amendment doesn't extend to the that kind of information, she said,
especially when it resides in electronic format so easily available.

Her remarks were directed at a panel of experts who had, for the most part,
acknowledged that such information was readily available on the Net,
but nonetheless was indeed protected by the First Amendment.

The First Amendment argument didn't fly with Feinstein, who railed at the
panel's testimony.  "You really have my dander up," she said.  "This is not
what this country is about."

That remark drew a sharp response from Jerry Berman, executive director of
the Washington-based Center for Democracy and Technology: "Excuse me,
Senator, but that *is* what this nation is all about."

Feinstein would hear nothing of it.  "I believe there is a difference
between free speech and teaching someone to kill," she said,  "And all
we're doing here is protecting [terrorist information] under the mantle of
free speech."

Feinstein, former mayor of San Francisco, one of America's most liberal
cities, carried a lot of baggage into the hearing;  she was once the failed
target of a letter bomb addressed to her office while mayor, according to a
Subcommittee staffer.

Sen. Kohl waded into the hearing reading from a tired script,
saying that America would "be shocked" if they knew about "dark back
alleys" of the "information superhighway."   Kohl paid lip-service to the
Constitution, saying that government shouldn't "be in the business of
telling people what they can and cannot think."  However, that didn't stop
him from suggesting that government has every right to "prevent people from
endangering public safety," which really means restricting access --
somehow -- to the "dangerous" (ooohhh....) "dark back alleys" of the

His suggestions:  (1) Parents should be notified every time their kids get
an online account.  (2) Every parent should be able to block a kid's access
to whatever areas they want.  "If we have the technology to get kids on the
Internet, we should have the technology to get them off it," he said.  (3)
Online companies should rip out a page from the video game industry, where
"industry-wide cooperation to restrict access to minors has forestalled
government intervention," he said.

The vid-game industry, right, those cozy folks that bring Mortal Kombat
into your living room and shopping malls, where even 8-year olds know how
to punch in the infamous "blood codes"  which, when enabled, show defeated
characters being gutted while still alive, leaving the screen oozing.  And
this is the same video industry which drew a sharp rebuke from Sen. Specter
himself last December when he found out that the so-called "industry-wide
cooperation" to label games with "ratings" wasn't being implemented on
anything more than a piecemeal basis.

Fueling this hysteria-circus was Robert Litt, deputy assistant attorney
general, Criminal Div. of the Department of Justice.  Litt mouthed to the
Subcommittee  what will certainly become the "Scare Monger's Anthem":  "Not
only do would-be terrorists have access to detailed information on how to
construct explosives, but so do children."

... And so do children...

"This problem can only grow worse as more families join the Internet
'society,'" Litt warned.   .

"... And so do children..."

But does any of this so-called terrorist information require any kind of
congressional Constitutional tweaking?  Not according to Litt's own
testimony.  There are, on the books now, "a number of federal laws" that
can be used to "prosecute bomb-related offenses," and those can be directly
transferred to any such investigations linked to the Internet, Litt
testified, adding that such laws "can be applied even when the offense is
accomplished through speech."

Read it again:  "[A]pplied even... through speech."  If that was the sound
of a hammer falling -- or an axe -- you're right.

Litt outlined how current laws protect even bomb making materials on the
Internet as expressions of free speech;  however, he noted, with some glee,
that the proposals before Congress right now, offered up by the White
House, will "permit the government to better track and prosecute those who
misuse information available on the Internet...."

The hysteria of these doomsayers, however, ran into an unexpected brick
wall during the hearing.  Sen. Specter asked Litt point-blank if he had
*any* kind of statistics or "direct knowledge" of any "criminal act" that
had resulted from anyone obtaining information off the Internet.  "No
Senator, we do not," Litt answered somewhat shyly.  Specter reframed the
question -- twice -- giving Litt a chance to weasel an answer, but there
was no weasel room.

The cold, hard facts are and remain:  No law enforcement agency has been
able to link any criminal act to any information now residing on the

But this wasn't good enough for Specter, who asked Litt to go back and
"investigate" the question and report his findings back to the

Another blow to Internet foes was the testimony of Frank Tuerkheimer.
Tuerkheimer, a professor of law at the U. of Wisconsin, made his fame in
the 1970s as the U.S. Attorney which successfully argued to stop the
publication of the "How to Make an H-Bomb" article in the _Progressive_
magazine.  He won that case, which he admitted today, he had little
enthusiasm for trying because the information in the article was gathered
from public domain sources. However, all of that effort was moot point, he
noted:  Some other publication printed the article anyway.

Information will find a way to get out, Tuerkheimer said.  "We're not
talking about regulating information," he said, "we're talking about
regulating 'information-plus."  That's when the information is taken and
used in the commission of a criminal act, and it's that combination that
needs to be addressed, not the information, he said.

Putting a fine point on his arguments, Tuerkheimer noted in his
testimony that the Encyclopedia Britannica "reveals great detail on
explosive manufacture."  [It's all right there on on pages 275-282 of Vol.
21 of the 1986 edition.]   Adding insult to injury, he pointed out that on
page 279 of that section, there is a description of the Ammonium
Nitrate/Fuel oil mixture bomb like that used in the Oklahoma City bombing!

I wonder, now, if Sen. Feinstein will rush to outlaw the encyclopedia... or
maybe she'll introduce a bill that will have librarians issued X-acto
knives to cut out just those pages. "...so the children" won't have

Perhaps Tuerkheimer's finest blow was when he noted that the Department of
Agriculture Forestry Service publishes the "Blaster's Handbook" (written
with taxpayer money) that also includes a recipe for the Ammonium
Nitrate/Fuel oil bomb like that used to blow little kids into chunks in the
Oklahoma City bombing.

America's online sweetheart, America Online, was represented ably by
William Burrington.  He admitted to the Subcommittee that although his
company monitored "selected areas" for violations of the company's terms of
service, there was no possible to keep an eye on every public message.  The
point he hammered on -- and rightly so -- is that the "information ocean"
that is the Internet is impossible to place restrictions on "because of its
international nature," he said, more than once.  Any laws the U.S. might
try to apply don't mean shit internationally, as Burrington tried to point
out, a point that apparently fell on deaf ears.

One pair of ears that didn't fail to hear were those of Sen. Patrick Leahy
(D-Vermont).  This old warhorse continued to be what increasingly sounds
like the only voice of reason on Capitol Hill.  "Before we head down a road
that leads to censorship," he said, "we must think long and hard about its

Leahy is bothered about "tragic events" such as the Oklahoma bombing as
much as anyone, he said.  However, the "same First Amendment that protects
each of us and our right to think and speak as we choose, protects others
as well," he said.  It is "harmful and dangerous *conduct*, not speech,
that justify adverse legal consequences," Leahy noted.

There is "little to be gained in the way of safety by banning" access to
so-called terrorist information "over electronic media," Leahy said,
especially when it's so readily available in paper form... even from the
Agriculture Department.  Hell, there's probably even an government
sponsored 800 number you can call to order the "Blaster's Handbook."

In one lengthy discussion, Specter cited an Internet posting in which the
poster asked for bomb making information that he (or she, gender wasn't
noted) could use against "zionist government officials."  Specter asked the
panel if such a message could be considered a crime.

"No," said the Justice Department's Litt.  "But what about the response to
message?" Specter asked.  Such a response "approaches, if it hasn't already
crossed the line, a prosecutorial offense," Litt said.

Tuerkheimer disagreed.  "Too general," he said.  There's "no
target" identified, "it's hard to see how the Justice Department could
prosecute" the responder to that message, he said.

Of course, Specter's query begs the question:  Would it be a crime to
respond to the "bomb information wanted" message by sending them a copy of
the taxpayer funded, government-sponsored "Blaster's Handbook"?  You make
the call, because if you don't, Congress will.

"In other words, the industry acts now or Congress will do it for you," Kohl

I doubt he was joking.

Meeks out...
<A HREF="http://www.eff.org/~mech/">          Stanton McCandlish
</A><HR><A HREF="mailto:mech@eff.org">        mech@eff.org
</A><P><A HREF="http://www.eff.org/">         Electronic Frontier Foundation
</A><P><A HREF="http://www.eff.org/1.html">   Online Services Mgr.      </A>

Rick Lithgow, rlith@pcms.com, moderator BOCA_MODEMS & Z1_GERMER

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