Privacy and the PC
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by Chip Berlet,
Secretary, National Lawyers Guild Civil Liberties Committee Chicago, IL
GOOD NEWS & MORE NEWS
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.
PUBLIC AWARENESS CAMPAIGN
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
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
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.
STATUS OF FEDERAL LEGISLATION
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
BBS/CHILD POROGRAPHY BILL
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.
TELECOMMUNICATIONS PRIVACY ACT
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
Several other computer/telecommunication Bills are expected to be introduced
in the current session.
More to follow.
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