TUCoPS :: Cyber Law :: sting1.txt

Cops sting BBSers

The following is an article which appears in the April 7 issue of


By Jim Forbes
Infoworld Staff

   AUSTIN, TX - Law enforcement officials here have joined a
growing number of police agencies nationwide running "sting"
operations to catch persons using bulletin boards for illegal

   Based on information posted on a bulletin board it operated,
the Austin Police Department said it has been able to turn off
two pirate boards here and expects shortly to make a number of
arrests for misdemeanor violations of Texas' newly enacted
computer crime law.

   For more than two years, the department secretly ran a board
called the Underground Tunnel, which was set up to appear as a
bulletin board run by a system operator called Pluto.  But late
last month - to the surprise of the board's more than 1,000 users
- Pluto was revealed as Sgt. Robert Ansley, a seven-year veteran
of the police department.

   "Most of the users were people interested primarily in several
on-line fantasy games or in electronic messaging," Ansley said. 
"To get to the levels where people posted information on how to
crash corporate systems, the user had to ask for increased
access.  We were very careful not to solicit or entrap anyone
into leaving illegal information."

   The Austin police department disclosure caught most of the
board's users by surprise.  "I liked the board's electronic
messaging capabilities," said user Michael Whalen, the managing
editor of the Daily Texan, the student newspaper of the
University of Texas here.  "I was really surprised at how the
officer was able to pull this off."

   What the police found, according to Ansley, included access
codes belonging to the world's largest credit reporting
organization, TRW Information Services Systems Division of
Orange, California.  "Most offenders seem to be real big on
TRW," said Ansley.

   Sting and intelligence gathering bulletin board operations are
on the rise throughout the country, according to law enforcement
officials.  Several police departments nationwide have already
used bulletin boards to track down and arrest microcomputer users
who post illegally obtained calling card codes, mainframe access
procedures and passwords, or other confidential information.
According to one high-level West Coast law enforcement officer
who declined to be identified, federal officials are now joining
local authorities in running bulletin boards in several key
metropolitan areas.

   "You better believe law enforcement agencies are interested
and, in some cases, running bulletin boards," said Dan Pasquale,
a sergeant with the Fremont, California, police department.  Last
month, police in Fremont capped three and a half months of
bulletin board operations by arresting eight individuals for
alleged credit card fraud, misuse of telephone credit card
operations, and technical trespass.  Pasquale said most
corporations whose passwords or calling card numbers were posted
on Fremont's board were unaware that their information had been

   Although police are pleased with their results, some users say
they feel the sting bulletin boards are unfair to both innocent
users and suspected criminals alike.  Whalen said students at the
University of Texas used the board extensively, and he claimed
that some people accused of posting access codes and other
information on the board felt they had been entrapped when they
discovered that the board was a police sting operation.

   Whalen also said that some users where concerned about the
privacy and sanctity of electronic mail left on the board."Ansley
said users are foolish if they don't think a system operator
reads the mail on the board," he added.

   Indeed, as police turn increasingly to bulletin boards to
catch suspected criminals, the issue of entrapment has also
become a growing concern, one to which police are sensitive.

   "At no time did the police department urge users to leave
access codes, applications, or passwords for corporate computers
on the Tunnel," Ansley said.

   To prove entrapment, a suspect would have to clearly show that
a government agent offered some type of inducement to promote
criminal activity, said Jim Harrington, the legal director of the
Texas Civil Liberties Union here.  "The whole area of police
gaining information on [criminal activities] by reading
electronic mail is very interesting."

   Fremont police held a series of meetings with a district
attorney before they started the board, according to Pasquale."We
established a point where entrapment began and made sure we never
crossed that point," he said.  "In fact, messages on the board
were scripted in conjunction with the district attorney's


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