CDA Court Challenge: Update #3 (day 3), CDA HEARIN
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Computer underground Digest Wed Apr 3, 1996 Volume 8 : Issue 27
Editor: Jim Thomas (email@example.com)
News Editor: Gordon Meyer (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Archivist: Brendan Kehoe
Shadow Master: Stanton McCandlish
Field Agent Extraordinaire: David Smith
Shadow-Archivists: Dan Carosone / Paul Southworth
Ralph Sims / Jyrki Kuoppala
Cu Digest Homepage: http://www.soci.niu.edu/~cudigest
CONTENTS, #8.27 (Wed, Apr 3, 1996)
File 1--CDA Court Challenge: Update #3 (day 3)
File 2--CDA HEARING REPORT--Day 3, April 1
File 3--Howard Rheingold's Affidavit
File 4--Cu Digest Header Info (unchanged since 25 Mar, 1996)
CuD ADMINISTRATIVE, EDITORIAL, AND SUBSCRIPTION INFORMATION APPEARS IN
THE CONCLUDING FILE AT THE END OF EACH ISSUE.
Date: Tue, 2 Apr 1996 18:09:24 -0800 (PST)
From: Declan McCullagh <declan@EFF.ORG>
Subject: File 1--CDA Court Challenge: Update #3 (day 3)
The CDA Challenge, Update #3
By Declan McCullagh / email@example.com / Redistribute freely
April 1, 1996
PHILADELPHIA -- Chief Judge Dolores Sloviter's mouth fell open in
astonishment this afternoon when net.culture guru Howard Rheingold
testified that some online communities elect cyberjudges to hear
disputes. Sloviter asked if realspace judges "can escape to this
community?" Judge Stewart Dalzell wondered: "How are they selected?
Is there impeachment?"
The court's questions of Rheingold -- who appeared in a glowing blue
suit, an iridescent pink shirt, and the first tie he's worn in a
decade -- showed that the judges hearing our challenge to the CDA are
trying hard to understand the Net. But while the three-judge panel was
fascinated by Rheingold, they just didn't connect with him.
This was due largely to the skilled lawyering of the Department of
Justice's Patricia Russotto -- the Marcia Clark of this case. During
her cross-examination, Russotto repeatedly steered Rheingold away from
describing relatively understandable online communities like the WELL
-- and towards hangouts like MUDs and MOOs that he said are inhabited
by "dwarves, wizards, and princesses." Belittling those online
communities, Russotto repeatedly dismissed them as "these fantasy
worlds" and tried to confuse the judges by tossing a string of
acronyms at them, staccato.
Judge Dalzell rose to the challenge: "All right, I'll take the bait.
What's a MUD?"
Like Dalzell, Judge Sloviter is enjoying this case. As the chief judge
of the U.S. Third Circuit Court of Appeals, she usually deals with
lawyers, not expert witnesses, and clearly likes to quiz them herself.
Responding to Rheingold's description of MUDs, she said: "I don't know
about being a wizard, but I'd be a princess."
Eventually the line of questioning turned to BBSs, and Russotto tried
once again to damage Rheingold's credibility, saying he had stated
under oath that BBSs were "open to everyone" but had just testified
that adult BBSs were not. He clarified, and rallied when asked if he
let his 11-year old daughter surf the Net unsupervised: "I teach her
that just as there are nutritious things to put in your body, there
are nutritious things to put in your mind."
Russotto continued, rapidfire:
"Do you really think that Hamlet depicts sexual or excretory acts in a
patently offensive manner?"
"You have not participated in virtual communities built around
trading sexually-explicit images, correct?"
"You are aware that sexually-explicit networks can form around a BBS?"
"Virtual communities can form around such a BBS?"
"Some Usenet newsgroups carry sexually-explicit materials?"
"An ISP can decide to carry certain newsgroups?"
"The particular server you're on could decide to carry the alt.sex
and alt.binaries hierarchy?"
The tension had heightened earlier in the day, just before lunch, when
Russotto tried to prevent Rheingold from testifying. When we
introduced the celebrated author of "Virtual Communities" as our
witness, Russotto objected: "We would submit that his expert opinion
is not relevant to this case." Battering Rheingold with a quick series
of questions, the DoJer forced Rheingold to stumble. ACLU attorney
Chris Hansen quickly rescued his witness and Sloviter overruled
Russotto's objection: "The court will hear Mr. Rheingold."
Over lunch in the courthouse cafeteria, I talked with Rheingold, who
was understandably nervous from the drumming he had experienced
minutes earlier. Of course, the very fact that we were chatting like
old friends demonstrated the power of a virtual community -- we had
communicated in one form or another every day for the last year, but
we had never met in person before.
Like the man himself, Rheingold's testimony was interesting and
colorful, unlike that of Bill Burrington, the director of public
policy for America Online, who was the first witness of the day. A
good number of courtroom observers, including myself and some
reporters, snoozed through most of Burrington's statements.
I was more-or-less awake enough to realize that Burrington was once
again characterizing AOL as a "resort pool with lifeguards" next to
the wild, untamed ocean of the Internet, with its predators and
sharks: "There is a channel to the Internet. You can be whisked out
into the sea." His evils-of-the-Net description confused Judge
Sloviter, who asked: "When you say whisked out into the sea, you don't
mean involuntarily whisked?"
Tony Coppolino from the DoJ cross-examined Burrington. Coppolino seems
to be the most cyber-savvy DoJer and the leader of their legal team on
this case. Like Russotto, he doesn't pass up an opportunity to damage
the credibility of our witnesses:
Judge Sloviter: "How many newsgroups are available on AOL?"
Burrington: "Up to 20,000."
Judge Dalzell: "I thought someone said 30,000."
Coppolino: "I have a stipulation here saying 15,000."
Pressed by Coppolino, Burrington admitted that AOL didn't carry
Playboy or Penthouse because the material was "inappropriate for
families and children." Later Coppolino suggested that AOL has
problems with pedophiles and child pornographers, asking Burrington to
describe a case where an AOLer found children's names from a chat room
then sent them sexually-explicit images. Burrington parried: "This is
the first such incident. We terminated his account immediately and are
cooperating with Federal law enforcement."
When HotWired honcho Andrew Anker took the stand, the questioning
turned to alt.sex.bondage. Judge Sloviter started by asking: "What is
alt.sex.bondage? What does that mean?"
Turns out that HotWired had published a story about the newsgroup,
though by the end of the questioning, the judges seemed convinced that
HotWired was a net.porn haven and were surprised when Anker estimated
that much less than 10 percent of his web site's content was
sexually-explicit. Again, Judge Dalzell tossed us a few sympathetic
questions: "If you were to label your web site as adult, would it
scare off advertisers?"
After some brief testimony by ACLU plaintiff Stephen Donaldson of Stop
Prisoner Rape, Barry Steinhardt took the stand. Steinhardt is the
associate director of the ACLU -- I first got to know him when he
blasted CMU for censoring its USENET feed years ago -- and was subject
to an antagonistic cross-examination from Craig Blackwell. Blackwell
relied on his boss Tony Coppolino for technical tips, and stumbled a
few times, like when he confused AOL with a web site on the Internet:
Blackwell: "The ACLU has two Internet sites, right?"
Steinhardt: "No. We have one Internet site and we are a content
provider on America Online."
During the DoJ's questioning of Steinhardt, a few points emerged:
* The content the ACLU posts to the web and AOL is educational.
* The ACLU controls content on its web site but not in AOL chat
rooms and discussion groups.
* The ACLU is concerned that the CDA subjects it to liability for
"indecent" material, including George Carlin's monologues it has
* The DoJ is trying to draw a distinction between "indecent" images
of couples engaged in sexual intercourse and educational
"indecent" material that they will claim is not going to be
prosecuted under the CDA.
We're still wondering who the DoJ will call as their pro-CDA
witnesses. The two prime suspects are someone supposedly from the
Department of Defense and a computer scientist from Carnegie Mellon
I suspect that the DoD guy is the gent who's been sharing the second
row of courtroom seats with me -- a grey-haired gentleman always
sporting a nondescript grey flannel suit. He's been sitting on the DoJ
side of the courtroom (the ACLU is on the left, of course), and after
court adjourned he was confabbing with them about plans to meet later
in the day.
I walked over and asked Grey Flannel Suit if he was with the DoJ, and
he replied: "I just do some computer work for them." I was asking Grey
Flannel for his name when DoJ attorney Jason Baron jumped between us:
Baron: "He can't talk to you."
McCullagh: "Why don't you let him make that decision for himself?"
Baron: "I make decisions for him."
McCullagh: "What's his name?"
Baron: "He has no comment."
I'll bet anyone five bucks that Grey Flannel is from the NSA.
The other pro-CDA witness is almost certainly Dan Olsen, a Mormon who
is the head of the computer science department at Brigham Young
University and the incoming director of the Human Computer Interaction
Institute at Carnegie Mellon University. (The HCI Institute at CMU is
known as a dumping ground for faculty who can't make the cut in the
justly-renowned CMU computer science department.)
Of course, CMU is the school that is considering what cyberlibertarian
attorney Harvey Silverglate calls an "Orwellian speech code," and
erotic USENET newsgroups are still banned from almost all campus
computers. Since CMU spawned Marty Rimm, who tried to sell his
unethical research to the DoJ and whose study helped pass the CDA,
it's appropriate that CMU affiliates are helping the DoJ defend the
damned CDA after all.
Today's testimony ended our case, with the exception of one of our
witnesses who couldn't make it earlier. Albert Vezza is the associate
director of MIT's Lab for Computer Science and a PICS guru who will be
testifying for us on April 12 or April 15. With the exception of
Vezza, those two days will be devoted to the DoJ's arguments alleging
that the CDA is constitutional and should be upheld by the court.
Stay tuned for more reports.
We're back in court on 4/12, 4/15, and 4/26. The DoJ will reveal the
identity of their expert witnesses on 4/3 or 4/8.
Mentioned in this CDA update:
Howard Rheingold <http://www.well.com/~hlr/>
CMU and the Rimm study <http://www.cs.cmu.edu/~declan/rimm/>
CMU's HCI Institute <http://www.cs.cmu.edu/~hcii/>
Dan Olsen at BYU <http://www.cs.byu.edu/info/drolsen.html>
Censorship policy at BYU <http://advance.byu.edu/pc/releases/guidelines.html>
Censorship at CMU <http://joc.mit.edu/>
USENET censorship at CMU <http://www.cs.cmu.edu/~kcf/censor/>
HotWired / WIRED <http://www.hotwired.com/>
PICS information <http://www.w3.org/pub/WWW/PICS/>
These and previous CDA updates are available at:
To subscribe to the fight-censorship list, send "subscribe" in the
body of a message addressed to:
Other relevant web sites:
Date: Wed, 3 Apr 96 23:24:19 PST
Subject: File 2--CDA HEARING REPORT--Day 3, April 1
CDA HEARING REPORT--Day 3, April 1
By Mark Mangan, firstname.lastname@example.org, co-author of Sex, Laws and
Cyberspace (http://www.spectacle.org/freespch/). Please repost freely
in relevant forums.
I arrived at the third day of the hearing and said hello to the free
speech contingent. We all rose as the three judges entered the court,
then took our seats and prepared to begin. Facing us was the
panel--needless to say, all dressed in black. Judge Dalzell, a
balding gentleman with wild, white hair, glasses and an easy going
demeanor. On the right sat Judge Buckwalter, with glasses, a greyish
full head of hair and a somewhat serious disposition. In the middle
sat Judge Sloviter, a woman with a bright smile, darkish pulled back
hair and a laptop opened in front of her. She is the head judge of
the panel and the 3rd circuit court of appeals. She ran the
Unusually, all of the direct testimony from the plantiffs in this case
was received in written form. The DOJ then had the opportunity to
call the plaintiffs, and their witnesses, into court for some cross
examination. The government did not come out blazing with tough
questions. In retrospect it seems that they were simply trying to
show that the CDA is not at all broad and those who would fall afoul
of this toothless new law, could easily take precautions to sidestep
First up to the stand was William Burrington, an Assistant General
Counsel for America Online. He was well dressed and well spoken:
clear, concise, and prepared. As the DOJ's Tony Cappelletti
questioned him, he did much to educate the panel on the nature of
online services in relation to the Internet at large.
In describing his company, Burrington chose the metaphor of a closed,
private pool: it has lanes, lifeguards, and hands which check the
the pool. AOL also provides a quick channel out to the sea of
information--the Internet. In contrast, Internet Service Providers
(ISPs) offer a straight, unmonitored conduit out to this sea.
He went on to explain how AOL draws together original content from
some third parties, such as the New York Times, Atlantic Monthly, and
other popular newspapers and magazines. Judge Sloviter asked about
Penthouse and if AOL carried it. Burrington responded, "No." Looking
for smut, she tried to continue her questioning, but admitted "I don't
know any more" such magazines.
DOJ: "I know one more. Do you have Hustler?"
WB: "No. We have Boating magazine."
Some laughter rippled through the courtroom.
The government then asked Burrington about magazines such as
Smithsonian Monthly. If AOL provided pictures of naked people from
remote African tribes (as seen in National Geographic) would this, in
his opinion, put it at risk of being prosecuted under the CDA.
Burrington's response: "Absolutely."
They then went into a discussion of America Online's Terms of Service,
which enforces its own kind of decency standard. Burrington explained
that AOL, with 4 to 5 million users, promoted the concept of community
and banned hateful, obscene, harmful, and offensive material.
Burrington explained the parental control features that allow the
holder of the master account to restrict certain functions and areas
of the service for children with a different userid on the same
account. Parents can block access to any or all of the different chat
rooms as well as "Instant Messages" between members. In the context
of the Internet, parents can restrict newsgroups or just disable the
ability to download binary graphic files from usenet messages. AOL
has also permenantly blocked certain groups which "are so obvious on
the face to carry such things as child porn." Burrington then
described AOL's negotiations with certain companies that offer
filtering services for the World Wide Web, saying that his company
expected to integrate such controls by the summer. AOL has also
agreed to incorporate a browser which is compliant with the rating
system standards being developed. Importantly, he explained that AOL
could never expect to control the content of the Internet in the way
it monitors its "pool."
When Burrington was questioned about the ability of children to get to
all AOL offerings if they obtain the password, he stressed the
importance of parental responsibility. He said giving the kids the
keys is like leaving the keys in the car in the garage. He also
stressed the fact that AOL has created a community which encourages
users to keep their eyes out for any criminal activity.
WB: "We are trying to educate parents. Just because you are in front
of a computer screen, don't throw away common sense. Just like in the
physical world, don't leave your children alone in shopping malls."
When asked by Judge Buckwalter whether he felt AOL was complying with
the good faith defense of the CDA, Burrington responded, "I'm not
sure. I don't know. There are many parts of it that are not clear."
When asked by Judge Sloveter about the "surveillance" on AOL,
Burrington became unusually defensive about this term. He said he
prefered the word "patrolling."
Judge Sloveter: "I don't know what else to call it."
WB: "Our people are sensitive to that."
The judges were finished and Burrington stepped down. He had given a
polished testimony, covering all the bases and never at a loss for
words or a clear explanation. During a brief recess I talked to a few
people who were a bit skeptical of AOL's indecency policy and vague
"Terms of Service," which seemed to broadly restrict much of the
material covered under the CDA. Perhaps they felt that the government
would be able to make the argument that if an online service can
competently and peacefully enforce decency in their pool, the FCC can
do it in the sea.
Personally, I felt that Burrington presented an excellent example of
an alternative for children. The testimony showed that the government
is not implementing the "least restrictive means" of caring for our
children if there are other choices and online alternatives.
The next plantiff to take the stand was Stephen Donaldson, the
president of Stop Prisoner Rape. A man with a buzzcut, long sideburns
and reserved demeanor, Donaldson answered affirmatively to questions
establishing that his organization attempted to inform the public
about the problem of prisoner rape and the concomitant issues of
sexually transmitted diseases, such as AIDS. When asked if his Web
site included a lot of "street language," he answered, "most prisoners
are not educated in latin. They use anglo-saxon english."
Donaldson's testimony was short. He simply made the point that much
of the material on his site is of a serious nature and in a language
that prisoners, many of them uneducated, can understand. He feared
that much of the material--stories, advice, and statistics--would be
found illegal under the CDA.
Up next was Andrew L. Anker, the president of Hotwired. DOJ lawyer
Craig Blackwell started with a reference to an exhibit that recently
ran on his site, that included material by Allen Ginsberg.
Blackwell asked if was concerned that this would be prosecuted under
AA: "I don't understand what patently offensive' and indecent' mean
and under what community standards they would be prosecuted.
Considering the vague language, I'm concerned about everything."
Blackwell then talked about a Wired magazine piece on
"alt.sex.bondage" that recently ran on the site. Judge Sloviter
interrupted to inquire about "alt." When told that it meant
alternative, she asked, "So people can talk about alternative sexual
The judges then began to hit Anker with some tough, direct questions.
Buckwalter: " You are a content provider doing nothing to identify
your content and restrict your material to minors."
Judge Dalzell raised the concept of the PICS rating system. This had
first been mentioned during Burrington's testimony, at which time
asked for a technical explanation. Before he could answer, however,
she asked Cappelletti if someone more technical would be called later
to go over this and he answered yes. This concept continued to
intrigue the judges, who subsequently brought it up a few times.
Unfortunately neither the court nor the witnesses were properly versed
on the subject.
Judge Dalzell: "Are you familiar with the PICs proposal? It would
involve self-rating. How would you rate yourself?"
Anker was unprepared to pigeonhole his site according to a
hypothetical system--particularly one that he was not familiar with.
He avoided the direct question.
Judge Dalzell: "If it were based on the movie rating system, how would
you rate yourself?"
AA: "To be honest..."
Judge Sloveter (interrupting): "--we assume you're being honest."
Anker did not like the line of questioning and tried to extricate
himself from it. He attempted to show that it was more complicated
than a single rating for the whole site. When he explained that he
did not agree with how this system mildly rated violence which he
found more offensive than the gratuitous sex shots in film, Judge
Dalzell kept on him. Asking about the Ginsberg material: "So what
would you rate it: G? PG? R?" He then brought up the
alt.sex.bondage article: "Would you have to rate the whole thing
AA: "Well, there are a lot of pages, a lot of systems?"
Anker was simply not prepared to rate his site on the stand. He said
that he had children and would not want them to read the
al.sex.bondage article, but was noncommittal on how to block them via
a rating system.
Howard Rheingold was then called to the stand. He was dressed in a
bright pink shirt, a crazy colored tie, and a pastel, aqua-blue suit.
He has a buzz cut and a big mustache. The government immediately
stood up to argue that he could offer nothing factual or relevant to
the case and had not even reviewed any of the sites in question.
Judge Sloviter seemed ready to boot him, when Chris Hansen intervened
to explain that the
debate was not just about Web sites and Rheingold was being offered
to describe the community aspects of the Net--on which he had written
a very popular and well-respected book. Judge Sloviter acquiesced,
"It will be accepted for what it's worth. Now let's break for lunch."
When everyone returned Rheingold described MUDs and MUSEs, which allow
people to interact in real time creating fantasy lands online. The
DOJ lawyer asked what exactly would be limited in these virtual
community discussions on the Net if the CDA were enforced. The DOJ
lawyer put on a high brow tone and tried to come right at him: "Do you
think Michelangelo's David would be found as depicting sexual or
excretory functions or organs in a patently offensive manner according
to community standards?"
Rheingold kindly brought her full force to a full stop: "Which
The court stopped dead for a moment as he effectively touched one of
the absurd holes of the CDA language. She fumbled around and
continued somewhere else. She raised the question of his daughter
that he had mentioned earlier, eliciting that he did not supervise her
on the Net.
HR: "No. I teach her that just as there are nutritious things to put
in your body, there are nutritious things to put in your mind."
The questioning returned to the subject of MUDs, MUSEs and certain
moderated groups that he had started. But the philosophical bent of
his replies seemed to irk the panel--particularly, Judge Sloviter, who
perhaps thought his dress was a mockery. When the lawyer was done she
questioned him about the nature of these MUDs and MUSEs. Judge
Sloviter: "So stop me if I'm wrong,... this fantasy world allows
people to masquerade,... or rather correct me if I'm wrong, ... this
fantasy land --"
"...actually, no, let me add--" Rheingold tried to interrupt but she
bluntly gestured that she had not finished.
Judge Sloveter (a bit impatient): "It allows them to masquerade, so
they can play act and pretend they are other people..."
Rheingold pulled up and interjected his point: "You're leaving
something out. These users create an environment independent of
whether they are there or not."
Sloveter looked at him. "Leave that for the existentialists."
It was a harsh statement, the court hushed and it looked as though
Sloviter had it in for him. In response to a question raised earlier
in the testimony about how much sexual content existed in these online
fantasylands, Rheingold had thrown out the number 10%. Sloveter now
came back with it. "What would happen if sexual content were removed?
You said less than 10% existed..." Rheingold tried to respond--she
continued, "...they could still play their castles in the air."
With the head judge of this panel and the 3rd circuit court of appeals
hitting him with her attorney blows, there wasn't much he could do.
His testimony ended soon after.
Barry Steinhardt, Associate Director of the ACLU, was the last to take
the stand. He took his oath and the questioning began with the normal
rigamorole about who he is and what he does. Soon he was talking
about the ACLU's Web site and its presence on AOL. The DOJ introduced
a particular discussion which had recently taken place on their online
bulletin board, had involved the former Surgeon General Joyce Elders
and covered masturbation. He expressed his fear that such serious
kind of debate would be prosecuted by the government if found online.
When asked if the ACLU site had posted any sexually explicit pictures,
Steinhardt responded, "No. But we wouldn't hesitate to. If we had
the site up during the Mapplethorpe controversy, we would have
certainly put up examples of his work." He was being a little
agressive, trying to throw it back in the DOJ's face.
Steinhardt recounted an incident in which an organization which goes
by ACLU (Always Causing Legal Unrest) posted a Jake Baker story on
their bulletin board and the ACLU (American Civil Liberties Union) let
it stand--in the name of free speech. He then quickly digressed into
a quick discussion of the Jake Baker case for the court's edification.
(See http://www.spectacle.org/freespch/baker.html) The court turned to
the exhibit of the posted story and it must have turned their
stomachs. (Baker liked to write about mutilating and raping young,
When it was the judges' turn they recalled an earlier statement in
which Steinhardt had said the ACLU had reviewed the possibility of
limiting access to their site to adults via a credit card verification
system and found that it would cost $144 thousand for a month.
Buckwalter raised the hypothetical of the passage of the CDA: "I don't
think you would shut down your site. I think you would find a way to
raise the money." The judge seemed to be goading him. Steinhardt
said, "You can't put a price on free speech in cyberspace. And if you
did, the ACLU probably couldn't afford it."
Bringing up the self rating system, Judge Dalzell then asked, "Would
the ACLU rate itself?"
Steinhardt responded that the rating system is an "empty vessel where
third parties could step in and rate. I don't want to rate the ACLU,
but I'm sure there are others who would."
Referring to how he understood the PICS to work, the Judge returned,
"If you don't rate, you're blocked. What would you rate yourself?"
Steinhardt: "We offer important, educational material for minors and
would rate ourselves G. Others would probably rate us X."
Judge Sloviter: "Would you not, as a matter of principle, refuse to
Although some of the more interesting moments came when the judges
questioned the witnesses, there were virtually no major cracks in the
whole of the testimony. The DOJ was rarely aggressive and seemed on
the whole to be taking notes for later, rather than pursuing a
The case resumes on April 12 when the government will begin presenting
its witnesses. On April 3 it will file papers with the court revealing
who these witnesses are.
The Ethical Spectacle
ACLU v. Reno plaintiff
Co-author, Sex, Laws and Cyberspace
(Henry Holt, 1996)
Date: Thu, 4 Apr 1996 14:32:51 -0800 (PST)
From: Declan McCullagh <declan@EFF.ORG>
Subject: File 3--Howard Rheingold's Affidavit
[This is the rough draft of Howard Rheingld's affidavit. Read it! --Declan]
I, Howard Rheingold, declare that:
(1) I am a parent of an eleven year-old daughter, Mamie. My wife, Judy,
and I recently celebrated our 28th anniversary. I'm an active PTA member,
a small business owner, and a voter. My wife and I believe strongly that
parents have an obligation to teach our children values, to give them the
opportunity to make their own moral choices. We also believe that open
communication among citizens, free from fear of government control, is
what holds democracies together.
(2) I've written books about technology and its effects on people and
institutions for the past ten years ("Tools for Thought," 1985,"
"Virtual Reality," 1991, "The Virtual Community," 1993). I write
"Tomorrow," a column about the Internet and its effects, syndicated by
King Features. I spend hours a day online, and have done so for ten
years. I have a real life with real people around me as much as anyone
else, but much of my business and social communication takes place
online. For me, it's a real place, inhabited by real people who can forge
(3) I know from long personal experience that people can build
communities from the relationships they grow online with other people who
share their interests and concerns. The new medium that connects
computers and communications networks transforms every desktop into a
printing press and place of assembly, a component of community-building
in technological society. An important part of civic life takes place there.
(4) Among the many things left out of the distorted popular image of the
Internet are people for whom the Net is a lifeline: the cancer support
groups, the disabled people who find a new freedom in this medium, the
artists and educators and small businesses who use the Internet as a way
for citizens to publish and communicate to other citizens. Experience has
taught me that many-to-many communication, used wisely, can magnify the
power of individuals to discuss and publish and make possible
collaborative thinking among people all over the world.
(5) In my life, the virtual community became my real community. The
people I first got to know in open, group conversation online have become
my friends in the real world where real things happen to people. I sat
with two people when they were dying, spoke at two funerals, danced at
two weddings, passed the hat quietly among other virtual community
members to help out a member in dire circumstance. The community I know
takes place among people who matter to me, and online communication is
what that enables thousands of geographically dispersed interest groups
to build communities. For people who live in remote areas, who share
certain special interests, from mathematics to politics to the problems
of being an Alzheimer's caregiver to the civic affairs of a small town or
large city, virtual communities enable people to form associations that
can enrich their lives and often carry over into face to face society. In
modern society, it is often difficult to find people who share interests
and values; the virtual community enables people to find and get to know
one another and to establish relationships they might otherwise never
have formed, relationships that often carry over into face to face
(6) I grew so fascinated with the nature of online communities that I
travelled the world, visiting virtual communities in Japan and Europe, as
well as America. I interviewed the people who built the ARPAnet and grew
it into the Internet. I interviewed the people who built the Minitel
system in France. In both instances, these media for social communication
were never intended for people to communicate in new ways. The ARPAnet
was a defense-funded experiment in remote computing over
telecommunication wires because it was necessary for the scattered ARPA
computer researchers to run their data on each other's computers. The
programmers who built the first network started using it for social
communication. The early ARPA directors were wise enough to see that a
new medium for group communication had emerged, unexpectedly. Minitel was
designed as a distributed database, an electronic yellow pages, but
people insisted on using it to chat.
(7) The emergence of "social computing" via the Internet is an example of
people using a new tool as a means of human to human communication, and
the medium of many to many communication is still in its infancy. People
are not only building communities, but businesses, and political
information and communication associations. We have only begun to see the
social and civic uses people will make of the emrging medium. As these
examples show, the real virtue of cyberspace is its ability to permit and
even encourage innovation. If strict standards had been set at the
beginning, or if planners had insisted on one structure, and by either
means prohibited the ARPA or Minitel from carrying email and other
messages, one of the most vibrant and important parts of cyberspace would
never have developed.
(8) The topics that people discuss online constitute an enormous variety.
Every scientific specialty you could think of has its electronic mailing
list, text archive, web site. Support groups for scores of diseases are
especially important online. The online breast cancer or AIDS patients in
a small town who don't have any other support group, the Alzheimer's
caregivers and others who cannot leave the house or hospital, the
disabled who find a liberating barrier-free space online, derive vital
knowledge, comfort, and human connection for people in need. The
nonprofit organizations that set up shelters for battered children and
abused spouses. The international networks of medical researchers who
collaborate to cure disease. So many people will suffer tremendously if
censorious laws shut down Internet providers and unmoderated forums where
nobody can guarantee that nobody will say a taboo word at some time. Some
of these topics of necessity will involve speech that discusses "sexual
or excretory activities or organs.' In some cases, the people speaking
or the people listening will be minors for who the information is
important and useful. It would be a tragedy if fear of prosecution for
failing to police the utterances of every member of a virtual community
would lead to the closing of communities that alleviate suffering and
help people cope with some of the difficulties of modern life such as
life-threatening diseases or domestic violence.
(9) Several months ago, a very bright and articulate young man by the
name of Blaine Deatherage sent me an e-mail questionnaire as part of a
school project. I started an electronic correspondence. I learned, after
I got to know him, that he was born with spina bifida and hydrocephalus,
is confined to a wheel chair in near-total paralysis, and has trouble
communicating vocally. I didn't know that. All I knew was that he had a
lively mind and a way with words. Blaine and millions of others like him
have no other place to go. He's only sixteen. To deprive him of adult
conversation in the chess groups he participates in online would be a
tragedy. The groups to which he belongs, such as the chess discussions,
are likely to choose to exclude all minors rather than risk the
consequences should an adult member of the community use a taboo word.
(10) The examples of community I've mentioned are real people to me. When
my long online friend and sometime online verbal opponent Tom Mandel grew
fatally ill, he said goodbye online. The poignance of that experience,
and the looks on the faces of Tom's online friends when I stood up for
him at his funeral and gave a eulogy, are definitely real to me. When
Casey needed an operation, enough of her online conversational partners
bought posters from her to finance the medical procedure. When Kathleen
Johnson announced that she was dying, dozens of us, including myself,
took turns sitting with someone we had only known from the words we had
read on a computer screen.
(11) My daughter has used e-mail and the Internet for social communiction
and for researching her homework since she was eight years old. I told
her that she knows to use common sense and be alert when dealing with
adult strangers. If someone she doesn't know calls on the telephone, she
knows not to answer personal questions. I told her that some people
aren't who they pretend to be in real life and in cyberspace, and just
because someone sends her e-mail, it doesn't mean that person is a
friend. She knows the importance of nutritious food for her body, so I
told her that she has to be careful to put nutritious knowledge into her
mind, because the Internet consists of all kinds of mind-food, some of it
not very nutritious. I told her that if anyone said anything to her or
sent anything to her that made her feel bad or suspicious, that it was
okay and a good idea to show it to mommy or daddy.
(12) When I wired up her fifth-grade class to the Internet, on a line
donated by a local small Internet service provider, I told her class that
they were pioneers. I told them there were wonderful ways to learn and
communicate with interesting people on the Internet, and they were going
to show the rest of the people in the school, the school district, the
county, how you could help us use the Internet as a fun way to learn. I
told them that if they were caught doing anything they wouldn't be proud
to do in front of their parents, then the experiment would fail, and the
other classes and schools would probably think Internet for fifth graders
is a bad idea. But I also told them that I was showing them how to do
this because I knew I could count on them to make the right decisions.
They didn't fail me.
(13) Many people think cyberspace is just the World Wide Web and
solely involves information retrieval. That is incorrect. As the ARPA and
Minitel example illustrate, many if not most people who use cyberspace
find the most important and most used parts to be those that facilitate
many to many communication. Thus, I believe the most important parts are
newsgroups, chatrooms, mail exploders, and the like. There are many
different ways people around the world can use the network to communicate
with each other. Many scholarly and scientific groups use an automated
service that sends e-mail to everyone in the group of subscribers, who
can automatically send their responses to everyone in the group. There is
no human moderator who decides which e-mail to send to the group. People
who participate in such groups generally regulate their behavior
voluntarily. Bulletin board systems and conferences and newsgroups are
different ways of organizing public group conversations where nobody is
the moderator or editor.
(14) There are moderated groups where an expert in the field acts as
editor, deciding which of the submissions are published. Moderators
generally do not screen the membership; they only decide what is published.
(15) If the Communications Decency Act is enforced, all unmoderated sites
will either have to go out of business or set up pre-screening to make
sure only adults get access. Most unmoderated sites are non-profit. They
have a volume of both participants and of messages that is too large and
too widespread to permit prescreening. In addition, many unmoderated
sites have been set up long ago and the person who set them up is no
longer involved. Thus, there is no one around to do the screening. For
these reasons, many of the sites would have to be totally eliminated.I
fear that moderated groups won't fare much better. They also have so much
volume that no mderator can screen each message and presecreen each
(16) Even if a moderator could screen each message, I'm afraid that the
standards of the Act are so vague that they won't know what to screen.
(17) I'm concerned about the difficulty of defining a "community
standard" for a worldwide network. The way the Internet works, if a
geographic standard is applied to everyone in US jurisdiction, it would
have to be that of the most conservative place in the country. That would
stifle the net, not only domestically, but globally.
(18) I am convinced that screening of sexual and other objectionable
material can be accomplished with the kinds of software filtering that
all major online services and several commercial companies have offered.
I believe the power to determine what goes on or off the prohibited list
of knowledge in my household should stay in the household, and shouldn't
be seized by the State and used against citizens who don't conform to the
moral standards of a small segment of the population.
(19) Probably the most important potential of the Internet is in
community-building. People who are able to make contact with others who
share interests, to continue conversations with people in other
locations, of other races and beliefs and political persuasions, to get
together with fellow citizens locally and nationally, are engaged in
activities that are vital to the health of civic life and democracy. I
fear that a chilling effect on the use of online forums could damage
these important activities.
I declare under penalty of perjury that the foregoing is true and correct."
Executed on March 25, 1996."
Date: Thu, 21 Mar 1996 22:51:01 CST
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Subject: File 4--Cu Digest Header Info (unchanged since 25 Mar, 1996)
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