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Drunk driving on the Information Highway

Trust Congress?  Not with this Unbelievable Lair of Slop
[By:  John C. Dvorak]

   When Vice President Gore began talking about the Information Highway,  
we all knew the bureaucrats would get involved more that we might like.   
In fact, it may already be too late to stop a horrible Senate bill from  
becoming law.
   The moniker -- Information Highway -- itself seems to be responsible  
for SB #040194.  Introduced by Senator Patrick Leahy, it's designed to  
prohibit anyone from using a public computer network (Information  
Highway) while the computer user is intoxicated.  I know how silly this  
sounds, but Congress apparently thinks that being drunk on a highway is  
bad no matter what kind of highway it is.  The bill is expected to pass  
this month.
   There already are rampant arguments as to how this proposed law can  
possibly be enforced.  The FBI hopes to use it as an excuse to do  
routine wiretaps on any computer if there is any evidence that the owner  
"uses or abuses alcohol and has access to a modem."  Note how it slips  
the word uses.  This means if you've been seen drinking one lone beer,  
you can have your line tapped.
   Because this law would be so difficult to enforce, police officials  
are drooling over the prospect of easily obtaining permits to do  
wiretaps.  Ask enforcement officlais in Washington and they'll tell you  
the proposed law is idiotic, but none will oppose it.  Check the  
classified ads in the Washington Post and you'll find the FBI, National  
Security Agency, and something called the Online Enforcement Agency  
(when did they set that up?) all soliciting experts in phone technology,  
specifically wiretapping.
   It gets worse.  The Congressional Record of February 19, 1994 has a  
report that outlines the use of computerized BBSes, Internet Inter-Relay  
Chat, and Compuserve CB as "propagating illicit sexual encounters and  
meetings between couples -- any of whome are underage...Even people  
purporting to routinely have sex with animals are present on these  
systems to foster their odd beliefs on the public-at-large."  A rider on  
SB #040194 makes it a felony to discuss sexual matters on any  
public-access network, including the Internet, America Online, and  
CompuServ.
   I wondered how private companies such as America Online could be  
considered public-access networksm so I called Senator Barbara Boxer's  
office and talked to an aide, a woman named Felicia.  She said the use  
of promotional cards that give away a free hour or two of service  
constitues public access.  You know, like the ones found in the back of  
books or modem boxes.  She also told me most BBS systems fall under this  
proposed statute.  When asked how they propose to enforce this law, she  
said it's not Congress's problem.  "Enforcement works itself out over  
time," she said.
   The group fighting this moronic law is led by Jerome Bernstein of the  
Washington Law Firm of Bernstein, Bernstein and Knowles (the firm that  
first took on Ollie North as a client.)  I couldn't get in touch with  
any of the co-sponsors of the bill (including Senator Ted Kennedy, if  
you can believe it!), but Bernstein was glad to talk.  "These people  
have no clue about the Information Highway or what it does.  The whole  
thing got started last Christmas during an antidrinking campaign in the  
Washington, D.C., metra area," Bernstein said.  "I'm convinced someone  
jokingly told Leahy's office about drunk driving on the Information  
Highway and the idea snowballed.  These senators actually think there is  
a physical highway.  Seriously, Senator Pat Moynihan asked me if you  
need a driving permit to 'drive' a modem on the Informaion Highway!  He  
has no clue what a modem is, and neither does the rest of Congress."
   According to Bernstein, the antisexual wording in the bill was  
attributed to Kennedy's office.  "Kennedy thought that technology was  
leaving him behind, and he wanted to be perceived as more up-to-date  
technologically.  He also thought this would make amends for his alleged  
philandering."
   Unfortunately, the public is not much better informed than the  
Senate.  The Gallup Organization, at the behst of Congress, is polling  
the public regarding intoxication while using a computer and online "hot  
chatting."  The results are chilling.  More than half the public thinks  
that using a computer while intoxicated should be illegal!  The results  
of the sexuality poll are not available.  But one question, "Should a  
teenage boy be encouraged to pretend he is a girl while chatting with  
another person online?" has civil rights activists alarmed.  According  
to Kevin Avril of the ACLU, "This activity doesn't even qualify as  
virtual cross-dressing.  Who cares about this stuff?  What are we going  
to do?  Legislate an anti-boys-will-be-boys law?  It sets a bad  
precedent."
   I could go on and on with quotes and complaints from people regarding  
this bill.  But most of the complaints are getting nowhere.  Pressure  
groups, such as one led by Baptist ministers from De Kalb County,  
Georgia, are supporting the law with such vehemence that they've managed  
to derail an effort by modem manufacturers (the biggest being  
Georgia-based Hayes) to lobby against the law.  "Who wants to come out  
and support drunkenness and computer sex?" asked a congressman who  
requested anonymity.
   So, except for Bernstein, Berstein and Knowles, and a few members of  
the ACLU, there is nothing to stop this bill from becoming law.  You can  
register your protests with your congressperson or Ms. Lirpa Sloof in  
the State Legislative Analysts Office.  Her name spelled backwards says  
it all.

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