Date: Fri, 25 Mar 94 23:35:15 PST
Subject: senate bill
[More depressing news, I'm afraid... -psl]
Forwarded-by: firstname.lastname@example.org (Mark Seiden)
Trust Congress? Not With This Unbelieveable Lair of Slop
PC Computing, April 1994, page 88.
By John C. Dvorak
When Vice President Gore began talking about the Information Highway, we
all knew the bureaucrats would get involved more than we might like. In
fact, it may already be too late to stop a horrible Senate bill from
The moniker -- Information Highway -- itself seems to be responsible for SB
#040194. Introduced by Senator Patrick Leahy, it's designed to prohibit
anyone from using a public computer network (Information Highway) while the
computer user is intoxicated. I know how silly this sounds, but Congress
apparently thinks that being drunk on a highway is bad no matter what kind
of highway it is. The bill is expected to pass this month.
There already are rampant arguments as to how this proposed law can
possibly be enforced. The FBI hopes to use it as an excuse to do routing
wiretaps on any computer if there is any evidence that the owner "uses or
abuses alcohol and has access to a modem." Note how it slips in the word
'uses'. This means if you've been seen drinking one lone beer, you can have
your line tapped.
Because this law would be so difficult to enforce, police officials are
drooling over the prospect of easily obtaining permits to do wiretaps. Ask
enforcement officials in Washington and they'll tell you the proposed law is
idiotic, but none will oppose it. Check the classified ads in the
"Washington Post" and you'll find the FBI, National Security Agency, and
something called the Online Enforcement Agency (when did they set that up?)
all soliciting experts in phone technology, specifically wiretapping.
It gets worse. The Congressional Record of February 19, 1994, has a report
that outlines the use of computerized BBSes, Internet, Inter-Relay Chat, and
CompuServe CB as "propagating illicit sexual encounters and meetings
between couples -- any of whom are underage...Even people purporting to
routinely have sex with animals are present on these systems to foster their
odd beliefs on the public-at-large." A rider on SB #040194 makes it a felony
to discuss sexual matters on any public-access network, including the
Internet, America Online, and CompuServe.
I wondered how private companies such as America Online can be considered
public-access networks, so I called Senator Barbara Boxer's office and
talked to an aide, a woman named Felicia. She said the use of promotional
cards that give away a free hour or two of service constitues public access.
You know, like the ones found in the back of books or in modem boxes. She
also told me most BBS systems fall under this proposed statute. When asked
how they propose to enforce this law, she said it's not Congress's problem.
"Enforcement works itself out over time," she said.
The group fighting this moronic law is led by Jerome Bernstein of the
Washington law firm of Bernstein, Bernstein and Knowles (the firm that first
took Ollie North as a client). I couldn't get in touch with any of the
co-sponsors of the bill (including Senator Ted Kennedy, if you can believe
it!), but Bernstein was glad to talk. "These people have no clue about the
Information Highway or what it does. The whole thing got started last
Christmas during an antidrinking campaign in the Washington D.C., metro
area," Bernstein said, "I'm convinced someone jokingly told Leahy's office
about drunk driving on the Information High and the idea snowballed. These
senators actually think there is a physical highway. Seriously, Senator Pat
Moynihan asked me if you needed a driving permit to 'drive' a modem on the
Information Highway! He has no clue what a modem is, and neither does the
rest of Congress."
According to Bernstein, the antisexual wording in the bill was attributed
to Kennedy's office. "Kennedy thought that technology was leaving him
behind, and he wanted to be perceived as more up-to-date technologically. He
also though this would make amends for his alleged philandering."
Unfortunately, the public is not much better informed than the Senate. The
Gallup Organization, at the behest of Congress, is polling the public
regarding intoxication while using a computer and online "hot chatting." The
results are chilling. More than half of the public thinks that using a
computer while intoxicated should be illegal! The results of the sexuality
poll are not available. But one question, "Should a teenage boy be
encouraged to pretend he is a girl while chatting with another person
online?" has civil rights activists alarmed. According to Kevin Avril of the
ACLU, "This activity doesn't even qualify as virtual cross-dressing. Who
cares about this stuff? What are we going to do? Legislate an
anti-boys-will-be-boys law? It sets a bad precedent."
I could go on and on with quotes and complaints from people regarding this
bill. But most of the complaints are getting nowhere. Pressure groups, such
as one led by Baptist ministers from De Kalb County, Georgia, are supporting
the law with such vehemence that they've managed to derail an effort by
modem manufacturers (the biggest being Georgia-based Hayes) to lobby against
the law. "Who wants to come out and support drunkenness and computer sex?"
asked a congressman who requested anonymity.
So, except for Bernstein, Bernstein, and Knowles, and a few members of the
ACLU, there is nothing to stop this bill from becoming law. You can register
your protests with your congressperson or Ms. Lirpa Sloof in the Senate
Legislative Analysts Office. Her name spelled backward says it all.
© 1994 Peter Langston