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TBTF for 1995-12-31: Compuserve censors Usenet; DigiCrime

Keith Dawson (dawson dot tbtf at gmail dot com) Sun, 31 Dec 1995 16:02:14 -0500

Threads German censorship of the Net
See also TBTF for
1999-12-16, 1997-04-04, 1996-08-08, 05-31, 02-04, 01-31, 01-22, 01-14, 1995-12-31

Compuserve's censorship of Usenet newsgroups

By now you've heard that Compuserve has blocked its 4 million subscribers worldwide from directly accessing 251 Usenet newsgroups said to contain sexually explicit material. (I've posted a complete list of the newsgroups on the TBTF archive.) Compuserve says it took this action at the direct request of German authorities, and had no role in choosing which newsgroups were blocked. Compuserve could not block access to the newsgroups only for a geographically defined subset of its subscribers and so chose to block them for all.

Germany, unlike the USA, does not mandate a separation between church and state, and both the Lutheran and the Catholic churches can and do directly impact political life there. The demand that Compuserve block access to the newsgroups originated in the office of a public prosecutor in Bavaria. An American who lives in Bavaria compared it to Texas in the USA, a stronghold of conservative Catholic culture. The Bavarian authorities apparently were acting on a law against the corruption of minors, which is posted in all taverns and other public places in the state.

There is good evidence that the targeted newsgroups were selected from a larger list of newsgroups based on their names, not on an actual examination of their content. Of the newsgroups banned, all but three have one of the words "sex" (165), "erotic" (68), or "gay" (18) in their names. The remaining three have names containing "lesbian," "lolita," and "nude." Among the banned newsgroups are three from the Clarinet News Service, whose content consists entirely of copyrighted newswire stories. A spokesman for Clarinet says that Compuserve is not a subscriber -- that is, the Clarinet groups are not even available to Compuserve members.

One of the most active gay discussion groups, alt.motss, was not banned, probably because the German authorities did not know that motss means "members of the same sex." Posters to the banned groups are being encouraged to cross-post to other groups not on the list such as alt.motss.

Compuserve members have many alternate ways to get to the banned newsgroups, including using the Compuserve network to reach a Usenet host unaffiliated with Compuserve. Here is how Duncan Frissell <frissell at panix dot com> did it:

> So I'd heard that CompuServe had banned access to all those naughty
> newsgroups including my favorite alt.binaries.erotic.senior-citizens.
> Could this be true? I fired up my CompuServe Internet Dialer (the PPP
> software packaged with WinCim) and logged on to the nets. Sure enough.
> The popular binaries groups were missing from news.compuserve.com. But
> not to be deterred...
> I grabbed a copy of the Free Agent newsreader:
> <http://www2.interpath.net/forte/agent/freagent.htm>
> <ftp.forteinc.com/pub/free_agent/fagent10.zip>
> I grabbed the latest list of open NNTP Servers from:
> <http://dana.ucc.nau.edu/~jwa/open-sites.html>
> I pointed my copy of Free Agent at CPCNET's open news server
> ( and grabbed a list of groups and sure enough, there
> were the seasoned citizens in all their glory. And I was checking
> out those binaries via CompuServe.
> Don't tell the Bavarians.

As John Gilmore has said, "The Net views censorship as damage and routes around it."

The hue and cry is loud around the world over this locally mandated act of global censorship. Some have speculated that this demonstration of the danger of ill-defined "indecency" laws might influence the debate over the US telecommunications bill, but personally I doubt that it will.

Essential tools

The complete Essential Tools collection is now available on the TBTF archive at <http://www.tbtf.com/essential-tools.html>.

Followup: Intuit's official statement on Social Security numbers

TBTF for 1995-12-22

Intuit's official response to customer concerns about the the use of SSNs was posted to the Usenet newsgroup comp.os.ms-windows.apps.financial and to AOL and Compuserve; I've put a plain-text copy in the TBTF archive.

>>From The Weekly Recap (1995-12-25):

> CyberCash Inc. has filed a registration statement with the SEC for
> an initial public offering of 2 million shares of common stock with
> an estimated price range of $15-17 per share, after giving effect
> to a 1-for-2 reverse stock split. The offering is being managed by
> an underwriting group led by Hambrecht & Quist LLC and Robertson,
> Stephens & Co.

CyberCash lists 22 organizations that accept this form of secure Net payment and settlement; see <http://www.cybercash.com/merchants/merchant_list.html>.


Check out DigiCrime at <http://www.digicrime.com/>, a spoof whose motto is "Make a crime out of bytes." This site is mostly the invention of Kevin S. McCurley, the "Thief Scientist." Fifteen other associates are listed including Ron Rivest (Prime suspect and Key salesman) and YPZBETRQ OHWUDRC (Manager of cryptographic services). The site offers an "airline rerouting service," a "wealth redistribution service," and a dozen others, with links to examples of the crimes for which DigiCrime disclaims responsibility. DigiCrime is hosted at Southwest Cyberport, Albuquerque, New Mexico, and its disclaimer reads:

> DigiCrime is a joke!!! While this site might seem real, it is not.
> We are quite sure that there are people with criminal intent in the
> world, but we are not among them. Unless of course satire is outlawed...


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Keith Dawson dawson dot tbtf at gmail dot com dawson@atria.com
Layer of ash separates morning and evening milk.


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