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EFFector - Volume 2, Issue 12 - Mitchell Kapor to Chair Governor’s Computer Crime Commission


EFFector - Volume 2, Issue 12 - Mitchell Kapor to Chair Governor’s Computer Crime Commission

########## ########## ########## | KAPOR CHAIRS MASS. COMPUTER CRIME |
########## ########## ########## |COMMISSION, SEEKS MEMBERS COMMENTS |
####       ####       ####       |                                   |
########   ########   ########   |       Howard Rheingold on         |
########   ########   ########   |     VIRTUAL COMMUNITIES, 1992     |
####       ####       ####       |      (Second of three parts)      |
########## ####       ####       |                                   |
########## ####       ####       |FREE SPEECH ONLINE: Berman on GEnie|
EFFector Online             July 1, 1992                   Issue 2.12|
         A Publication of the Electronic Frontier Foundation         |
                           ISSN 1062-9424                            |


Governor William Weld of Massachusetts has appointed EFF President
Mitchell Kapor to Chair the Massachusetts Commission on Computer Crime.
This group, a direct result EFF's efforts to defeat a poorly written
computer crime bill in Massachusetts early last year, will develop
recommendations for dealing with computer crime and proposing legislation
to implement them.  Last year's bill contained a number of fundamental
flaws, not the least of which was the assumption that a bill that
broadly criminalized whole ranges of computer-related activities
was even called for in the first place.

Staff Counsel Mike Godwin will be assisting Kapor with the committee,
which will consist of twenty-one other experts, ranging from industry
leaders, to district attorneys, to civil libertarians, to a representative
>from the local AFL-CIO chapter.

Some of the concerns they will be addressing include:

* Computer systems security and data protection
* Privacy and the protection of personal information
* Copyrights and intellectual property issues
* Deliberate contamination of information
* Use of computers in fraud
* Theft of services
* Viruses, worms, time bombs, and other forms of computer vandalism
* Security and privacy concerns vs. law enforcement needs
* Government intrusion into hardware and software design
* Protection of 1st and 4th amendment rights
* Need to establish a cooperative exchange between law enforcement
  agencies and the information technology industry.
It is the hope of EFF that the resulting legislation  will balance
property rights with civil liberties and serve as a model for other
states grappling with the same issues.

EFF members in Massachusetts and elsewhere are invited to comment
on the work of this commission. We'd like to know what you think
the central issues before the commission are and what its focus
should be. Please write directly to Mitchell at


                     FREE SPEECH ONLINE:
   Excerpts from a Real-time GEnie Conference with Jerry Berman
   which took place in the Public Forum*NonProfit Connection, 5/31/92

G.STOVER:      In our current Information Revolution, like in the
               Industrial Revolution, rights and other legal issues
               are being juggled and rearranged. A lot of freedoms
               and privileges are at stake. Are you optimistic
               about the outcome?

JERRY BERMAN   A big issue in the electronic age is insuring
               that the public network carries all speech and does
               not censor. Like telephone calls. It is not clear
               that this is the current regime... I am optimistic
               if we can join together to make sure rights are
               guaranteed and extended in cyberspace or the
               electronic age.

H.HAINES:      What would probably be your biggest concern
               regarding current electronic freedom, or the biggest
               threat you are aware of?

JERRY BERMAN   We need to insure that this telephone network that
               GEnie is on MUST carry all speech, and not be able
               to discriminate on the basis of content. Telephone
               companies are not carrying certain political "900"
               number accounts because they think they don't have
               to carry all services just like telephone calls.
               This could come to serve as a precedent for not
               carrying a controversial BBS service. These rules
               need to be worked out in law now before the Jesse
               Helms' of the world get into this technology when
               it is easier and see what's going on...

H.HAINES:      I hear a lot of reports that *P* (Tom PF knows this
               term I'm sure) is very restrictive about what can be
               said by its users. Would that be part of the problem
               you describe?

JERRY BERMAN   Good question. Prodigy is a private service. It is
               not big enough to be regulated like a public
               institution. So they can discriminate and make
               editorial decisions not to carry speech. We think
               this is a misguided policy and have told Prodigy so
               publicly and privately. However, we want Prodigy
               to have rights. We think the best answer is to make
               the telephone network better so there can be many
               Prodigy's and similar services and make it easier
               for everyone to use a GEnie or some other provider
               that has a more open policy. We need to make the
               telephone network digital now. We can do this well
               before we get to fiber optics and other 21st century
               technologies. But it will require political action.
               It is EFF's highest priority now.

G.STOVER:      Are BBS operators currently held responsible for the
               information on their BBSes? Should they be held

JERRY BERMAN   It depends. There is very little case law. But if a
               BBS has a forum like this one open to all, it should
               not be liable if, for example, I libel one of you or
               commit a crime on line... But today, we are not sure
               what responsibilities BBSs have. Some case law
               suggests that it is limited and that a BBS is like a
               newsstand, and newsstand operators don't have to
               know everything in every magazine or book on the stand.

VASSILOPOULO:  How large is the movement in Washington to legislate
               morality in general and specifically in electronic
               media, and who spearheads that movement?

JERRY BERMAN   Today, all sides--but especially the right--want to
               legislate one kind of morality or another. Our job
               is to make sure it is not inconsistent with the
               constitution when electronic technology is involved.
               We have had Congress several years ago try to outlaw
               certain gay BBS systems because of possible child
               pornography. Such bills will come up again when this
               technology is more widely used. You can be sure that
               the morality gang in Congress will try to regulate
               adult, political BBSs when they are really in a
               majority of American homes. And as you know, this is
               not far off. We need to establish the rules now
               before we have Congress looking at very
               controversial situations with no rules in mind, or
               a precedent.

GRAFFITI:      It may be too fine a distinction, but all online
               systems are actually store & forward messaging
               systems (voice mail & pager systems, too), instead
               of direct communications channels like the phone
               lines. That seems to make the BBS or online service
               a publisher, by re-broadcasting (or narrowcasting,
               to one person) the messages as if it had originated
               the message, even though system operators had
               nothing to do with the content. That seems to be
               where confusion over liability for defamation and
               criminal conduct occurs. Any comment?

JERRY BERMAN   Yes. Analogies break down but the store and forward
               does not always mean the ability to edit or know of
               the contents in such a way as to be liable. For
               example, under current law, a service that offers
               E-mail to its users violates the law if it reads a
               stored message (email) before it is forwarded or
               while it is stored. In fact the FBI has to get a
               warrant from a court to get such a message. This is
               one of the issues in Steve Jackson case. Did they
               have a warrant for all the email in Jackson's

GRAFFITI:      They got it, didn't they? :) Seriously, then, online
               and BBS systems are not liable for the contents of

JERRY BERMAN   That is correct. Thus, one could shield a BBS from
               liability by encouraging anything controversial be
               carried as email between those who wanted to send
               and receive the messages.

G.STOVER:      Do you think the proposed (?) partial deregulation to
               allow the telcos to produce TV is a good idea? Could
               this produce abuses like those with the old railroad
               tycoons? Comments?

JERRY BERMAN   Good question. The issue is whether a carrier (like
               the telcos) can also publish content and not
               discriminate against other information providers.
               There is good reason to worry, but did you know that
               while the telcos can't do cable TV yet over their
               lines, they NOW can do information services and
               compete with others?

POLICE:        I just came in on this a short time ago so I may
               have missed this, but does an online service such as
               GEnie or Prodigy have a right to censor public
               messages on the BBSs?

JERRY BERMAN:  The answer is Yes. For example, if GEnie did not
               want a DAVID DUKE conference it could turn Duke
               down.  Or it could end the conference. GEnie is a
               private publisher and its BBS conferences are like
               letters to the editor in some respects. GEnie is not
               the government. We want GEnie to have the right to
               editorialize so that we all have similar rights to
               choose how we speak. We need a diversity of BBSs to
               cover political diversity. Does anyone disagree?

GRAFFITI:      Could you comment on the FBI's  "demand" to be given
               access to the plain text of the digital phone network?
               Why did they publish editorials and go on TV with this
               request to re-engineer modern phone & data equipment?

JERRY BERMAN:  Good question. The FBI is worried that fiber optic
               networks, services like Call-Forwarding, etc. will
               make it difficult for them to conduct lawful
               warrants. This is a real concern, but we do not
               believe the solution is to allow them backdoors to
               all networks or easy access to encryption keys.

SHERMAN:       You said something about these issues being settled
               in the courts or in Congress. Which would you
               prefer? Is working through EFF, CPSR, ACLU etc. the
               best way to influence the outcome?

JERRY BERMAN   I do not think we can solve large technology issues
               in the courts. It took the courts 40 years to figure
               out that wiretapping violated privacy. Bad cases,
               like national security threats, tend to make bad
               law... and this is not a liberal Supreme Court, is
               it? We need broader technology policy and that
               requires working out new relationships between
               converging technologies, like computers, telephones,
               cable, mass media.


                          (Part Two)
                  by Howard Rheingold  June 1992

[ Continued from EFFector Online 2.11 June 22, 1992. Available via or by email from]

    Social Contracts, Reciprocity, and Gift Economies in Cyberspace

    The network of communications that constitutes a virtual community
can include the exchange of information as a kind of commodity, and
the economic implications of this phenomenon are significant; the
ultimate social potential of the network, however, lies not solely in
its utility as an information market, but in the individual and group
relationships that can happen over time. When such a group accumulates
a sufficient number of friendships and rivalries, and witnesses the
births, marriages, and deaths that bond any other kind of community,
it takes on a definite and profound sense of place in people's minds.
Virtual communities usually have a geographically local focus, and
often have a connection to a much wider domain. The local focus of my
virtual community, the WELL, is the San Francisco Bay Area; the wider
locus consists of hundreds of thousands of other sites around the
world, and millions of other communitarians, linked via exchanges of
messages into a meta-community known as "the net."

    The existence of computer-linked communities was predicted twenty
years ago by J.C.R. Licklider and Robert Taylor, who as research
directors for the Department of Defense, set in motion the research
that resulted in the creation of the first such community, the
ARPAnet: "What will on-line interactive communities be like?"
Licklider and Taylor wrote, in 1968: "In most fields they will consist
of geographically separated members, sometimes grouped in small
clusters and sometimes working individually. They will be communities
not of common location, but of common interest..."

    My friends and I sometimes believe we are part of the future that
Licklider dreamed about, and we often can attest to the truth of his
prediction that "life will be happier for the on-line individual
because the people with whom one interacts most strongly will be
selected more by commonality of interests and goals than by accidents
of proximity." I still believe that, but I also know that life also
has turned out to be unhappy at times, intensely so in some
circumstances, because of words on a screen. Events in cyberspace can
have concrete effects in real life, of both the pleasant and less
pleasant varieties. Participating in a virtual community has not
solved all of life's problems for me, but it has served as an aid, a
comfort and an inspiration at times; at other times, it has been like
an endless, ugly, long-simmering family brawl.

    I visit the WELL both for the sheer pleasure of communicating with
my newfound friends, and for its value as a practical instrument
forgathering information on subjects that are of momentary or enduring
importance, from child care to neuroscience, technical questions on
telecommunications to arguments on philosophical, political, or
spiritual subjects. It's a bit like a neighborhood pub or coffee shop.
It's a little like a salon, where I can participate in a hundred
ongoing conversations with people who don't care what I look like or
sound like, but who do care how I think and communicate. There are
seminars and word fights in different corners. And it's all a little
like a groupmind, where questions are answered, support is given,
inspiration is provided, by people I may have never heard from before,
and whom I may never meet face to face.

    Because we cannot see one another, we are unable to form
prejudices about others before we read what they have to say: Race,
gender, age, national origin and physical appearance are not apparent
unless a person wants to make such characteristics public. People who
are thoughtful but who are not quick to formulate a reply often do
better in CMC than face to face or over the telephone. People whose
physical handicaps make it difficult to form new friendships find that
virtual communities treat them as they always wanted to be treated --
as thinkers and transmitters of ideas and feeling beings, not carnal
vessels with a certain appearance and way of walking and talking (or
not walking and not talking). Don't mistake this filtration of
appearances for dehumanization: Words on a screen are quite capable of
moving one to laughter or tears, of evoking anger or compassion, of
creating a community from a collection of strangers.

    How does anybody find friends? In the traditional community, we
search through our pool of neighbors and professional colleagues, of
acquaintances and acquaintances of acquaintances, in order to find
people who share our values and interests. We then exchange
information about one another, disclose and discuss our mutual
interests, and sometimes we become friends. In a virtual community we
can go directly to the place where our favorite subjects are being
discussed, then get acquainted with those who share our passions, or
who use words in a way we find attractive. In this sense, the topic is
the address: You can't simply pick up a phone and ask to be connected
with someone who wants to talk about Islamic art or California wine,
or someone with a three year old daughter or a 30 year old Hudson; you
can, however, join a computer conference on any of those topics, then
open a public or private correspondence with the previously-unknown
people you find in that conference. You will find that your chances of
making friends are magnified by orders of magnitude over the old
methods of finding a peer group.

    You can be fooled about people in cyberspace, behind the cloak of
words. But that can be said about telephones or face to face
communications, as well; computer-mediated communications provide new
ways to fool people, and the most obvious identity-swindles will die
out only when enough people learn to use the medium critically. Sara
Kiesler noted that the word "phony" is an artifact of the early years
of the telephone, when media-naive people were conned by slick talkers
in ways that wouldn't deceive an eight-year old with a cellular phone

    There is both an intellectual and an emotional component to CMC.
Since so many members of virtual communities are the kind of
knowledge-based professionals whose professional standing can be
enhanced by what they know, virtual communities can be practical,
cold-blooded instruments. Virtual communities can help their members
cope with information overload. The problem with the information age,
especially for students and knowledge workers who spend their time
immersed in the info-flow, is that there is too much information
available and no effective filters for sifting the key data that are
useful and interesting to us as individuals. Programmers are trying to
design better and better "software agents" that can seek and sift,
filter and find, and save us from the awful feeling one gets when it
turns out that the specific knowledge one needs is buried in 15,000
pages of related information.

    The first software agents are now becoming available (e.g., WAIS,
Rosebud), but we already have far more sophisticated, if informal,
social contracts among groups of people that allow us to act as
software agents for one another. If, in my wanderings through
information space, I come across items that don't interest me but
which I know one of my worldwide loose-knit affinity group of online
friends would appreciate, I send the appropriate friend a pointer, or
simply forward the entire text (one of the new powers of CMC is the
ability to publish and converse with the same medium). In some cases,
I can put the information in exactly the right place for 10,000 people
I don't know, but who are intensely interested in that specific topic,
to find it when they need it. And sometimes, 10,000 people I don't
know do the same thing for me.

    This unwritten, unspoken social contract, a blend of strong-tie
and weak-tie relationships among people who have a mixture of motives,
requires one to give something, and enables one to receive something.
I have to keep my friends in mind and send them pointers instead of
throwing my informational discards into the virtual scrap-heap. It
doesn't take a great deal of energy to do that, since I have to sift
that information anyway in order to find the knowledge I seek for my
own purposes; it takes two keystrokes to delete the information, three
keystrokes to forward it to someone else. And with scores of other
people who have an eye out for my interests while they explore sectors
of the information space that I normally wouldn't frequent, I find
that the help I receive far outweighs the energy I expend helping
others: A marriage of altruism and self-interest.

    The first time I learned about that particular cyberspace power
was early in the history of the WELL, when I was invited to join a
panel of experts who advise the U.S. Congress Office of Technology
Assessment (OTA). The subject of the assessment was "Communication
Systems for an Information Age." I'm not an expert in
telecommunication technology or policy, but I do know where to find a
group of such experts, and how to get them to tell me what they know.
Before I went to Washington for my first panel meeting, I opened a
conference in the WELL and invited assorted information-freaks,
technophiles, and communication experts to help me come up with
something to say. An amazing collection of minds flocked to that
topic, and some of them created whole new communities when they

    By the time I sat down with the captains of industry, government
advisers, and academic experts at the panel table, I had over 200
pages of expert advice from my own panel. I wouldn't have been able to
integrate that much knowledge of my subject in an entire academic or
industrial career, and it only took me (and my virtual community) a
few minutes a day for six weeks. I have found the WELL to be an
outright magical resource, professionally. An editor or producer or
client can call and ask me if I know much about the Constitution, or
fiber optics, or intellectual property. "Let me get back to you in
twenty minutes," I say, reaching for the modem. In terms of the way I
learned to use the WELL to get the right piece of information at the
right time, I'd say that the hours I've spent putting information into
the WELL turned out to be the most lucrative professional investments
I've ever made.

    The same strategy of nurturing and making use of loose
information-sharing affiliations across the net can be applied to an
infinite domain of problem areas, from literary criticism to software
evaluation. It's a neat way for a sufficiently large, sufficiently
diverse group of people to multiply their individual degree of
expertise, and I think it could be done even if the people aren't
involved in a community other than their company or their research
specialty. I think it works better when the community's conceptual
model of itself is more like barn-raising than horse-trading, though.
Reciprocity is a key element of any market-based culture, but the
arrangement I'm describing feels to me more like a kind of gift
economy where people do things for one another out of a spirit of
building something between them, rather than a spreadsheet-calculated
quid pro quo. When that spirit exists, everybody gets a little extra
something, a little sparkle, from their more practical transactions;
different kinds of things become possible when this mindset pervades.
Conversely, people who have valuable things to add to the mix tend to
keep their heads down and their ideas to themselves when a mercenary
or hostile zeitgeist dominates an online community.

    If you give useful information freely, without demanding tightly-
coupled reciprocity, your requests for information are met more
swiftly, in greater detail, than they would have been otherwise. The
person  you help might never be in a position to help you, but someone
else might be. That's why it is hard to distinguish idle talk from
serious context-setting. In a virtual community, idle talk is context-
setting. Idle talk is where people learn what kind of person you are,
why you should be trusted or mistrusted, what interests you. An agora
is more than the site of transactions; it is also a place where people
meet and size up one another.

    A market depends on the quality of knowledge held by the
participants, the buyers and sellers, about price and availability and
a thousand other things that influence business; a market that has a
forum for informal and back-channel communications is a better-
informed market. The London Stock Exchange grew out of the informal
transactions in a coffee-house; when it became the London
International Stock Exchange a few years ago, and abolished the
trading-room floor, the enterprise lost something vital in the
transition from an old room where all the old boys met and cut their
deals to the screens of thousands of workstations scattered around the

    The context of the informal community of knowledge sharers grew to
include years of both professional and personal relationships. It is
not news that the right network of people can serve as an inquiry
research system: You throw out the question, and somebody on the net
knows the answer. You can make a game out of it, where you gain
symbolic prestige among your virtual peers by knowing the answer. And
you can make a game out of it among a group of people who have dropped
out of their orthodox professional lives, where some of them sell
these information services for exorbitant rates, in order to
participate voluntarily in the virtual community game.

    Virtual communities have several drawbacks in comparison to face-
to-face communication, disadvantages that must be kept in mind if you
are to make use of the power of these computer-mediated discussion
groups. The filtration factor that prevents one from knowing the race
or age of another participant also prevents people from communicating
the facial expressions, body language, and tone of voice that
constitute the inaudible but vital component of most face to face
communications. Irony, sarcasm, compassion, and other subtle but all-
important nuances that aren't conveyed in words alone are lost when
all you can see of a person are words on a screen.

    It's amazing how the ambiguity of words in the absence of body
language inevitably leads to online misunderstandings. And since the
physical absence of other people also seems to loosen some of the
social bonds that prevent people from insulting one another in person,
misunderstandings can grow into truly nasty stuff before anybody has a
chance to untangle the original miscommunication. Heated diatribes and
interpersonal incivility that wouldn't crop up often in face to face
or even telephone discourse seem to appear with relative frequency in
computer conferences. The only presently available antidote to this
flaw of CMC as a human communication medium is widespread knowledge of
this flaw -- aka "Netiquette."

    Online civility and how to deal with breaches of it is a topic
unto itself, and has been much-argued on the WELL. Degrees of outright
incivility constitute entire universes such as alt.flame, the Usenet
newsgroup where people go specifically to spend their days hurling
vile imprecations at one another. I am beginning to suspect that the
most powerful and effective defense an online community has in the
face of those who are bent on disruption might be norms and agreements
about withdrawing attention from those who can't abide by even loose
rules of verbal behavior. "If you continue doing that," I remember
someone saying to a particularly persistent would-be disrupter, "we
will stop paying attention to you." This is technically easy to do on
Usenet, where putting the name of a person or topic header in a "kill
file" (aka "bozo filter") means you will never see future
contributions from that person or about that topic. You can simply
choose to not see any postings from Rich Rosen, or that feature the
word "abortion" in the title. A society in which people can remove one
another, or even entire topics of discussion, from visibility. The
WELL does not have a bozo filter, although the need for one is a topic
of frequent discussion.

Note: In 1988, _Whole Earth Review_ published my article, "Virtual
Communities." Four years later, I reread it and realized that I had
learned a few things, and that the world I was observing had changed.
So I rewrote it. The original version is available on the WELL as

Portions of this will appear in "Globalizing Networks: Computers and
International Communication," edited by Linda Harasim and Jan Walls
for MIT press. Portions of this will appear in "Virtual Communities,"
by Howard Rheingold, Addison-Wesley. Portions of this may find their
way into Whole Earth Review.

This is a world-readable file, and I think these are important issues;
encourage distribution, but I do ask for fair use: Don't remove my
name from my words when you quote or reproduce them, don't change
them, and don't impair my ability to make a living with them.
                                            Howard Rheingold
                                            Editor, Whole Earth Review
                                            27 Gate Five Road
                                            Sausalito, CA 94965
                                            Tel: 415 332 1716
                                            Fax: 415 332 3110

(The second of three parts. To be continued....)


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