Privacy and the PC

Previous | TOC | Next



by Chip Berlet,

Secretary, National Lawyers Guild Civil Liberties Committee Chicago, IL


Since it will be important to celebrate our victories no matter how small, I am happy to announce that we have a small one to celebrate. John Podesta, the Congressional aide who is writing the "Telecommunication Privacy" legislation for Senator Patrick Leahy, has agreed that BBS's constitute a special factor for the legislation. Leahy and Podesta are willing to consider writing language that attempts to takes the unique needs of BBS's into consideration. This is a foot in the door for us.

To help them understand the issues, Podesta has requested that various BBS's conduct a debate on the issues, and then send him a printed output of the running comments. He needs this material sometime in late August or early September.


The debate on California's WELL/Legal conference BBS is already underway, and it should continue.

Paul Bernstein of the National Association of Bulletin Board System Operators (NABBSO) in Chicago will be coordinating the SYSOP response, and providing information on how to download current information and all future BBSLAW messages.

If you are a SYSOP, please write him a letter with your BBS name and phone number, and he will send you the information on dowloading. NABBSO, c/o Paul Bernstein, Attorney at Law, #509A 600 N. McClurg Court, Chicago, IL 60611.

We hope to see discussion on Source, Compuserve, Delphi, etc. regarding the legislation. Watch local BBS's for the BBSLAWxx.MSG's like this one.


There has been one Congressional oversight hearing on the Federal BBS/Child pornography Bill, and the legislation was introduced the week of June 17th. The Telecommunications Privacy Bill is in draft form, and is expected to be introduced in the next three months. The BBS laws in California have been introduced, and the response to them will affect the situation in Congress.


This Bill follows a similar law regulating broadcast of sexually explicit material on cable television. The BBS Bill was introduced by Senator Trible (R-VA). One Star Trek "Trekkie" has suggested we title our opposition "The Trouble With Trible's", but I have doubts the general population would get the joke.

According to my contacts in Washington, D.C., Trible is a very conservative Republican with support from the direction of the New Right/Moral Majority crowd. He is unlikely to be swayed by either Constitutional or First Amendment arguments. It makes more sense to target other members of the Committee for a letter writing campaign.

The Trible Bill is prompted by concern over child pornography and child molestation. It appears that some rather foul individuals have set up a BBS where child molesters and pedophiles discuss in explicit detail sexual experiences with small children. The Senator's response to this is to write legislation that could affect all BBS systems. We have to figure out how to draw the distinctions between the issues here. Needless to say, we have an uphill battle. In defending BBS Freedom, we will be accused of defending child molestation. Yech!

The Trible Bill is officially the "Computer Porography and Child Exploitation Prevention Act" S. 1305. "To establish criminal penalties for the transmission by computer of obscene matter, or by computer or by other means, of matter pertaining to the sexual exploitation of children." It has been referred to the Senate Committee on the Judiciary.

On the plus side, the law as presently worded, clearly focuses on the perpetrator. While the Senator apparently wanted to directly regulate BBS's that carried child pornography, the Justice Department warned that such action might be UnConstitutional.

This is good news for us, since it means the Justice Department recognizes at least some Constitutional issues relating to BBS's. We need to read the language of the Bill to make sure it does not hurt BBS's or SYSOPS, and be sure that attempts to broaden the scope of the legislation fail. I will download the text of that Bill shortly.


There are also rumors that some federal legislation might be introduced to address the problem of the KKK/Aryan Nations BBS Network, and the general problem of illegal material on BBS's. We have an easier time here in arguing that any legislation should be aimed at criminal activity discussed on the BBS, not at all BBS's in general. Still, this Bill could be the worst of them all, if it is introduced. One rumor from several sources says that Sen. Jeremiah Denton has discussed just such legislation.


The Telecommunications Privacy Bill is in draft form, and will be introduced within the next three months. Senator Patrick Leahy (D-VT) is the principal sponsor. In the near future a copy of the new draft text of the Bill will be made available to us for circulation. We should thank Leahy for soliciting our comments and encourage sensitivity to the needs of BBS's in the legislation.

As of July 24, Senator Leahy and Representative Kastenmeier are working on preparing a bill to be introduced jointly in the House and Senate, probably in late August or September. They are both willing to listen to our side of things.

Several other computer/telecommunication Bills are expected to be introduced in the current session.

More to follow.


Previous | TOC | Next

Online Articles:

Spotlight On

Browse Topics | Site Guide | Multimedia Bookstore | Magazine | Publications | Activists Resources

Political Research Associates

Copyright Information, Terms, and Conditions

Please read our Terms and Conditions for copyright information regarding downloading, copying, printing, and linking material on this site; our disclaimer about links present on this website; and our privacy policy.

Updates and Corrections