Privacy and the PC

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FROM: Chip Berlet

Secretary, National Lawyers Guild Civil Liberties Committee

Re: Federal Legislation Affecting Computer Bulletin Boards

#3 in a series


If you agree with the wording, print and circulate the following petition:

* * * * * * * *

We, the undersigned, support the following principles:

NO LEGISLATION WITHOUT REPRESENTATION. Congress and state legislatures should delay passage of any BBS legislation until BBS users and SYSOPS have a chance to discuss the legal issues and make their opinions known in a series of Congressional and state-level hearings.

PUNISH PERPETRATORS NOT COMMUNICATORS. If any legislation is needed it should focus on criminal penalties for persons placing illegal messages on BBS's.

DUE PROCESS OF LAW. SYSOPS should be guaranteed that their homes, equipment, data and electronic communications be given the same Constitutional protections from unreasonable search and seizure enjoyed by all other Americans.

PROTECT DIGITAL COMMUNICATION. All Americans who choose to communicate using computerized "digital" typed messages should expect those communications be covered by all current laws applying to spoken and written communication. This includes laws relating to expectation of privacy, due process, freedom of speech, freedom of association, freedom from unreasonable search and seizure.

RECOGNIZE DIVERSITY. No law that singles out BBS's as one single form of communication can possibly apply to the wide diversity of usages for BBS systems. Message posting, private mail, public forums, publishing, attorney/client conferencing, contract negotiations, games, educational centers, consulting services, private and public conferences are just a few of the current uses for BBS's.

Name Address ZIP


Please send completed petitions to National Association of Bulletin Board System Operators (NABBSO), c/o Paul Bernstein, #509A, 600 N. McCLurg Court, Chicago, IL 60611.

* * * * * * * *


Steps in the process:

    · Prevent legislation from being filed.

    · Delay Committee hearings.

    · Testify at hearings. Promote publicity.

    · Form coalitions with other interests.

    · Introduce conflicting bill to cause debate and delay. Lobby Committee members to kill or amend bill.

    · Lobby Full Congress to kill or amend bill.

    · Lobby President to veto bill.

    · Fight in courts to challenge validity of law.

I think with the current President and Supreme Court we can write off the last two tactics as pointless.

In this situation it might also be wise to pressure the ACLU to direct its staff to help us. Until Bills are actually introduced, this may be the best first step. But maybe telling people to target the introducing legislators or Committee members might be the best course. Or both. It's always guesswork before the Bill is introduced.

Remember, however, the best time to affect legislation is BEFORE it is introduced, when only the legislative staffs and "experts" are having input into the wording. We should try to squeeze ourselves into that process, but the Washington, D.C. crowd always resents outsiders like plain citizens intervening in their little tea party....


Oddly enough, the telecommunications industry might be our best allies. At the Chicago conference some industry people wondered what will happen to phone companies or The Source, or E-Mail services.

Media - always sensitive to First Amendment issues.

Use your imagination.


My argument is that SOMEONE has to be legally liable for illegal messages. Not the SYSOP, but the perpetrator, who I think it wise to refer as an "illegal electronic graffiti artist." Frankly, ain't no law yet that protects the owner of a supermarket bulletin board who leaves posted an illegal message after being notified of its existence. Argument, legal types?


The Judiciary Committees of the House and Senate will most likely be considering the legislation that involves BBS's and telecommunications.

The most effective letters come from constituents, Check the lists below for Judiciary committee members from your state. Express your views in a short letter. Ask for copies of pending legislation.

U.S. Senate
The Honorable (Name of Senator)
Senate of the United States
Washington, D.C. 20510
Senate Judiciary Committee (as of 1984)

Republicans: Chairman - Strom Thurmond (SC), Charles M. Mathias, Jr. (MD), Paul Laxalt (NV), Orrin G. Hatch (UT), Robert Dole (KS), Alan K. Simpson (WY), John P. East (NC), Charles E. Grassley (IA), Jeremiah Denton (AL), Arlen Spector (PA)

Democrats: Joseph R. Biden Jr. (DE), Edward M. Kennedy (MA), Robert C. Byrd (WV), Howard M. Metzenbaum (OH), Dennis DeConcini (AZ), Patrick J. Leahy (VT), Max Baucus (MT), Howell Heflin (AL)

House of Representatives
The Honorable (Name of Representative)
U.S. House of Representatives
Washington, D.C. 20515

House Judiciary Committee (as of 1984)

Democrats: Chairman - Peter W. Rodino, Jr. (NJ), Jack Brooks (TX), Robert W. Kastenmeier (WI), Don Edwards (CA), John Conyers, Jr. (MI), John F. Seiberling (OH), Romano L. Mazzoli (KY), William J. Hughes (NJ), Sam B. Hall, Jr. (TX), Michael Lynn Synar (OK), Patricia Schroeder (CO), Dan Glickman (KS), Barney Frank (MA), George W. Crockett, Jr. (MI), Charles E. Schumer (NY), Bruce A. Morrison (CT), Edward F. Fieghan (OH), Lawrence J. Smith (FL), Howard Berman (CA)

Republicans: Hamilton Fish, Jr. (NY), Carlos J. Moorehead (CA), Henry J. Hyde (IL), Thomas N. Kindness (OH), Harold S. Sawyer (MI), Daniel E. Lungren (CA), F. James Sensenbrenner, Jr. (WI), Bill McCollum (FL), E. Clay Shaw (FL), George W. Gekas (PA), Micahel DeWine (OH)


In Chicago we are setting up a small committee to brainstorm some ideas on how to deal with the federal legislation expected soon. We are now testing a BBS for news updates, text of legislation, & messages. When it is online, we will distribute the phone number.

Protocols for messages from the Chicago folks will be: BBSLAWxx.MSG for periodic messages to the general public.

BBSLAWxx.SOP for messages to SYSOPS and Key Contacts. BBSLAWxx.CMT for the "committee"

Please do not rewrite these files, they are bulletins, save comments for other file names or Boards. The Chicago board, lets call it BBSLAW, will also have discussions.


Some poeple want to know who I am and my interest in this matter. OK so who am I? Chip Berlet, nice to meet you. I edit the Public Eye Magazine which is affiliated with the National Lawyers Guild Civil Liberties Committee. I'm the national secretary of that Committee, but not a lawyer. As a paralegal investigator, I've worked on civil liberties lawsuits for ten years, including a three-year stint working on the ACLU government surveillance case against the Chicago Police "Red Squad." I wear a lot of hats, but try to keep them separate ... not always with success.

I spent five years in Washington D.C. - half of that time writing about federal legislation (emphasis on higher education), the other half lobbying and doing publicity & organizing for educational groups.

As a journalist, I write a monthly computers & law feature for the "Chicago Lawyer" newspaper. For the past several months I've been writing about computer privacy issues. Because of that (and my BBS user hobby) I was hired to write a research paper on BBS's and the law. What I found out scared me - there is NO law that covers BBS's as currently adjudicated. That means any legal right for BBS depends on success in the first cases to hit the courts, and drafting relevant legislation as soon as possible.

See ya later...


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