Privacy and the PC

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From Chip Berlet, Public Eye Magazine.




A new federal law that would outlaw some BBS systems and severely restrict all others could be passed by Congress in 1985. A mobilization of SYSOPS and BBS users is urgently needed to ensure we have a chance to speak out on the new law.

Watch BBS's for messages with "BBSLAWXX.MSG" headers or "HELP FIGHT BAD BBS LAWS - XX" titles. An ad-hoc group will be posting these messages on BBS's and the commercial systems.

LAWMUG SYSOP Paul Bernstein and I have learned the law could be introduced as soon as MID JULY! Although aspects of the new law have been discussed for months by "experts" in Washington, NOT ONE SYSOP WAS CONSULTED until a June 20 conference in Chicago which Paul and I attended. Vague language in another telecommunications law already introduced in Congress might also restrict BBS activities.

We urged the Congressional aide involved in that legislation to exempt BBS systems until we could let SYSOPS and lawyers study the language more carefully. We must also monitor this law.

The law restricting BBS operations was prompted by panic over the possibility that children (minors) might read pornographic material, and by the wave of publicity regarding the malicious hackers and illegal credit card and phone information posted on BBS's by electronic graffiti vandals. Among the ideas SERIOUSLY DISCUSSED for the new federal law restricting BBS's are provisions which would require:

· Registration of all BBS's as a public utility.

· BBS users to log in with, and post their legal names. * SYSOPS to keep a log of all names of users.

· SYSOPS to keep a log of all messages & access times.

· Criminal penalties for SYSOPS whose BBS's containing illegal messages posted on them, even if the SYSOP was not aware of the message and had not been informed the message was there nor given a chance to remove it!

While the law is currently only being discussed, there is much pressure to restrict and regulate BBS's. A good BBS law could protect BBS's and SYSOPS. A bad law could destroy BBS's in their infancy as a telecommunications phenomena.

BBS's put the individual back into mass society in the age of telecommunications. BBS's encourage information sharing and remove barriers to discussion posed by social status, wealth, class, race, sex, physical size, and many physical handicaps. BBS's encourage the democratic process and are a powerful new communications system which deserves Constitutional protection and First Amendment Rights.


There will be differing views of wording, law, and tactics; all should be given a chance to be heard. Congress 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 hearings. Our discussion must start immediately and we must organize to block bad BBS legislation until our voices are heard.

We share the responsibility. Time is short. Spread the word.

It is the electronic age. We are all Paul Revere....


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