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All the News that Fits
Stare hits the 32.768K ceiling
All the Nudes that Fit
"Frank Wallis wants to democratize the nude" (from $5.00 to $10.95)
On Cops and Computers
Bruce Sterling finishes reading the cybercops his rights

. . .

All the News that Fits

This issue of Stare is almost filled by the conclusion of On Cops and Computers, Bruce Sterling's piece that began in Stare No. 803. Splitting the original half wasn't done to keep you looking forward to the next edition of Stare; bifurcating a writer's work isn't part of any clever Stare marketing plan. (Stare has so marketing plans, clever or otherwise.)

Technology, not aesthetics, determines which pieces run in their entirety and which are presented sequentially. Many email programs can't handle a single communiqué longer than 32,768 characters. Since Stare is distributed via email as well as over the World Wide Web, we try to keep the size well below that ceiling. Sterling's piece, which he allowed us to reprint on the condition it wasn't edited, is 35,453 characters long. Thus Stare's Group of Experts That Dare Not Speak Its Name® didn't even need a calculator to decide that Sterling's piece would be, er, hacked.

. . .

All the Nudes that Fit

The following email message is reprinted in its entirety:

. . .

From: Frank Wallis <fhwallis@delphi.com>
Newsgroups: rec.arts.fine
Subject: What to Say to a Nude Model (and how to find one)
Date: Sun, 7 May 95 07:41:01 -0500
Organization: Delphi (info@delphi.com email, 800-695-4005 voice)
Message-ID: <Je0-qlt.fhwallis@delphi.com>

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. . .

"Stupidity is always amazing, no matter how used to it you become."
-Jean Cocteau

. . .

On Cops and Computers

Bruce Sterling

(This is the conclusion of the piece that began in Stare No. 803)

I don't mind talking to you this morning, I'm perfectly willing to talk to you, but since I'm not a cop or a prosecutor, I don't really have much of genuine nuts-and-bolts value to offer to you ladies and gentlemen. It's sheer arrogance on my part to lecture you on how to do your jobs. But since I was asked to come here, I can at least offer you my opinions. Since they're probably not worth much, I figure I ought to at least be frank about them.

First the good part. Let me tell you about a few recent events in your milieu that I have no conceptual difficulties with. Case in point. Some guy up around San Francisco is cloning off cellphones, and he's burning EPROMs and pirating cellular ID's, and he's moved about a thousand of these hot phones to his running buddies in the mob in Singapore, and they've bought him a real nice sports car with the proceeds. The Secret Service shows up at the guy's house, catches him with his little soldering irons in hand, busts him, hauls him downtown, calls a press conference after the bust, says that this activity is a big problem for cellphone companies and they're gonna turn up the heat on people who do this stuff. I have no problem with this situation. I even take a certain grim satisfaction in it. Is this a crime? Yes. Is this guy a bad guy with evil intent? Yes. Is law enforcement performing its basic duty here? Yes it is. Do I mind if corporate private security is kinda pitching in behind the scenes and protecting their own commercial interests here? No, not really. Is there some major civil liberties and free expression angle involved in this guy's ripping off cellular companies? No. Is there a threat to privacy here? Yeah--him, the perpetrator. Is the Secret Service emptily boasting and grandstanding when they hang this guy out to dry in public? No, this looks like legitimate deterrence to me, and if they want a little glory out of it, well hell we all want a little glory sometimes. We can't survive without a little glory. Take the dumb bastard away with my blessing.

Okay, some group of Vietnamese Triad types hijack a truckload of chips in Silicon Valley, then move the loot overseas to the Asian black market through some smuggling network that got bored with running heroin. Are these guys "Robin Hoods of the Electronic Frontier?" I don't think so. Am I all impressed because some warlord in the Golden Triangle may be getting free computation services, and information wants to be free? No, this doesn't strike me as a positive development, frankly. Is organized crime a menace to our society? Yeah! It is!

I can't say I've ever had anything much to do--knowingly that is--with wiseguy types, but I spent a little time in Moscow recently, and in Italy too at the height of their Tangentopoly kickback scandal, and you know, organized crime and endemic corruption are very serious problems indeed. You get enough of that evil crap going on in your society and it's like nobody can breathe. A protection racket--I never quite grasped how that worked and what it meant to victims, till I spent a couple of weeks in Moscow last December. That's a nasty piece of work, that stuff.

Another case. Some joker gets himself a job in a long distance provider, and he writes a PIN-trapping network program and he gets his mitts on about eight zillion PINs and he sells them for a buck apiece to his hacker buddies all over the US and Europe. Do I think this is clever? Yeah, it's pretty ingenious. Do I think it's a crime? Yes, I think this is a criminal act. I think this guy is basically corrupt. Do I think free or cheap long distance is a good idea? Yeah I do actually; I think if there were a very low flat rate on long distance, then you would see usage skyrocket so drastically that long distance providers would actually make more money in the long run. I'd like to see them try that experiment some time; I don't think the way they run phone companies in 1994 is the only possible way to run them successfully. I think phone companies are probably gonna have to change their act pretty drastically if they expect to survive in the 21st century's media environment.

But you know, that's not this guy's lookout. He's not the one to make that business decision. Theft is not an act of reform. He's abusing a position of trust as an employee in order to illegally line his own pockets. I think this guy is a crook.

So I have no problems with those recent law enforcement operations. I wish they'd gotten more publicity, and I'm kinda sorry that I wasn't able to give them more publicity myself, but at least I've heard of them, and I was paying some attention when they happened. Now I want to talk about some stuff that bugs me.

I'm an author and I'm interested in free expression, and it's only natural because that's my bailiwick. Free expression is a problem for writers, and it's always been a problem, and it's probably always gonna be a problem. We in the West have these ancient and honored tradition of Western free speech and freedom of the press, and in the US we have this rather more up-to-date concept of "freedom of information." But even so, there is an enormous amount of "information" today which is highly problematic. Just because freedom of the press was in the Constitution didn't mean that people were able to stop thinking about what press-freedom really means in real life, and fighting about it and suing each other about it. We Americans have lots of problems with our freedom of the press and our freedom of speech. Problems like libel and slander. Incitement to riot. Obscenity. Child pornography. Flag-burning. Cross-burning. Race-hate propaganda. Political correctness. Sexist language. Mrs. Gore's Parents Music Resource Council. Movie ratings. Plagiarism. Photocopying rights. A journalist's so-called right to protect his sources. Fair-use doctrine. Lawyer-client confidentiality. Paid political announcements. Banning ads for liquor and cigarettes. The fairness doctrine for broadcasters. School textbook censors. National security. Military secrets. Industrial trade secrets. Arts funding for so-called obscenity. Even religious blasphemy such as Salman Rushdie's famous novel Satanic Verses, which is hated so violently by the kind of people who like to blow up the World Trade Center. All these huge problems about what people can say to each other, under what circumstances. And that's without computers and computer networks.

Every single one of those problems is applicable to cyberspace. Computers don't make any of these old free-expression problems go away; on the contrary, they intensify them, and they introduce a bunch of new problems. Problems like software piracy. Encryption. Wire-fraud. Interstate transportation of stolen digital property. Free expression on privately owned networks. So-called "data-mining" to invade personal privacy. Employers spying on employee e-mail. Intellectual rights over electronic publications. Computer search and seizure practice. Legal liability for network crashes. Computer intrusion, and on and on and on. These are real problems. They're out there. They're out there now. And in the future they're only going to get worse. And there's going to be a bunch of new problems that nobody's even imagined yet.

I worry about these issues because guys in a position like mine ought to worry about these issues. I can't say I've ever suffered much personally because of censorship, or through my government's objections to what I have to say. On the contrary, the current US government likes me so much that it kind of makes me nervous. But I've written ten books, and I don't think I've ever written a book that could have been legally published in its entirety fifty years ago. Because my books talk about things that people just didn't talk about much fifty years ago, like sex for instance. In my books, my characters talk like normal people talk nowadays, which is to say that they cuss a lot. Even in Hacker Crackdown there are sections where people use obscenities in conversations, and by the way the people I was quoting were computer cops.

I'm forty years old; I can remember when people didn't use the word "condom" in public. Nowadays, if you don't know what a condom is and how to use it, there's a pretty good chance you're gonna die. Standards change a lot. Culture changes a lot. The laws supposedly governing this behavior are very gray and riddled with contradictions and compromises. There are some people who don't want our culture to change, or they want to change it even faster in some direction they've got their own ideas about. When police get involved in cultural struggles it's always very highly politicized. The chances of its ending well are not good.

It's been quite a while since there was a really good ripping computer-intrusion scandal in the news. Nowadays the hotbutton issue is porn. Kidporn and other porn. I don't have much sympathy for kidporn people, I think the exploitation of children is a vile and grotesque criminal act, but I've seen some computer porn cases lately that look pretty problematic and peculiar to me. I don't think there's a lot to be gained by playing up the terrifying menace of porn on networks. Porn is just too treacherous an issue to be of much use to anybody. It's not a firm and dependable place in which to take a stand on how we ought to run our networks.

For instance, there's this Amateur Action case. We've got this guy and his wife in California, and they're selling some pretty seriously vile material off their bulletin board. They get indicted in Tennessee. What is that about? Do we really think that people in Memphis can enforce their pornographic community standards on people in California? I'd be genuinely impressed if a prosecutor got a jury in California to indict and convict some pornographer in Tennessee. I'd figure that Tennessee guy had to be some kind of pretty heavy-duty pornographer. Doing that in the other direction is like shooting fish in a barrel. There's something cheap about it. This doesn't smell like an airtight criminal case to me. This smells to me like some guy from Tennessee trying to enforce his own local cultural standards via a long-distance phone line. That may not be the actual truth about the case, but that's what the case looks like. It's real hard to make a porn case look good at any time. If it's a weak case, then the prosecutor looks like a bluenosed goody-goody wimp. If it's a strong case, then the whole mess is so disgusting that nobody even wants to think about it or even look hard at the evidence. Porn is a no-win situation when it comes to the basic social purpose of instilling law and order on networks.

I think you could make a pretty good case in Tennessee that people in California are a bunch of flakey perverted lunatics, but I also think that in California you can make a pretty good case that people from Tennessee are a bunch of hillbilly fundamentalist wackos. You start playing off one community against another, pretty soon you're out of the realm of criminal law, and into the realm of trying to control people's cultural behavior with a nightstick. There's not a lot to be gained by this fight. You may intimidate a few pornographers here and there, but you're also likely to seriously infuriate a bunch of bystanders. It's not a fight you can win, even if you win a case, or two cases, or ten cases. People in California are never gonna behave in a way that satisfies people in Tennessee. People in California have more money and more power and more influence than people in Tennessee. People in California invented Hollywood and Silicon Valley, and people in Tennessee invented ways to put smut labels on rock and roll albums.

This is what Pat Buchanan and Newt Gingrich are talking about when they talk about cultural war in America. And this is what politically correct people talk about when they launch eighteen harassment lawsuits because some kid on some campus computer network said something that some ultrafeminist radical found demeaning. If I were a cop, I would be very careful of looking like a pawn in some cultural warfare by ambitious radical politicians. The country's infested with zealots now, zealots to the left and right. A lot of these people are fanatics motivated by fear and anger, and they don't care two pins about public order, or the people who maintain it and keep the peace in our society. They don't give a damn about justice, they have their own agendas. They'll seize on any chance they can get to make the other side shut up and knuckle under. They don't want a debate. They just want to crush their enemies by whatever means necessary. If they can use cops to do it, great! Cops are expendable.

There's another porn case that bugs me even more. There's this guy in Oklahoma City who had a big FidoNet bulletin board, and a storefront where he sold CD-ROMs. Some of them, a few, were porn CD-ROMs. The Oklahoma City police catch this local hacker kid and of course he squeals like they always do, and he says don't nail me, nail this other adult guy, he's a pornographer. So off the police go to raid this guy's place of business, and while they're at it they carry some minicams and they broadcast their raid on that night's Oklahoma City evening news. This was a really high-tech and innovative thing to do, but it was also a really reckless cowboy thing to do, because it left no political fallback position. They were now utterly committed to crucifying this guy, because otherwise it was too much of a political embarrassment. They couldn't just shrug and say, "Well we've just busted this guy for selling a few lousy CD-ROMs that anybody in the country can mail-order with impunity out of the back of a computer magazine." They had to assemble a jury, with a couple of fundamentalist ministers on it, and show the most rancid graphic image files to the twelve good people and true. And you know, sure enough it was judged in a court to be pornography. I don't think there was much doubt that it was pornography, and I don't doubt that any jury in Oklahoma City would have called it pornography by the local Oklahoma City community standards. This guy got convicted. Lost the trial. Lost his business. Went to jail. His wife sued for divorce. He lost custody of his kids. He's a convict. His life is in ruins.

The hell of it, I don't think this guy was a pornographer by any genuine definition. He had no previous convictions. Never been in trouble, didn't have a bad character. Had an honorable war record in Vietnam. Paid his taxes. People who knew him personally spoke very highly of him. He wasn't some loony sleazebag. He was just a guy selling disks that other people just like him sell all over the country, without anyone blinking an eye. As far as I can figure it, the Oklahoma City police and an Oklahoma prosecutor skinned this guy and nailed his hide to the side of a barn, just because they didn't want to look bad. I think a serious injustice was done here.

I also think it was a terrible public relations move. There's a magazine out calld Boardwatch, practically everybody who runs a bulletin board system in this country reads it. When the editor of this magazine heard about the outcome of this case, he basically went nonlinear. He wrote this scorching furious editorial berating the authorities. The Oklahoma City prosecutor sent his little message all right, and it went over the Oklahoma City evening news, and probably made him look pretty good, locally, personally. But this magazine sent a much bigger and much angrier message, which went all over the country to a perfect target computer-industry audience of BBS sysops. This editor's message was that the Oklahoma City police are a bunch of crazed no-neck gestapo, who don't know nothing about nothing, and hate anybody who does. I think that the genuine cause of computer law and order was very much harmed by this case.

It seems to me that there are a couple of useful lessons to be learned here. The first, of course, is don't sell porn in Oklahoma City. And the second lesson is, if your city's on an antiporn crusade and you're a cop, it's a good idea to drop by the local porn outlets and openly tell the merchants that porn is illegal. Tell them straight out that you know they have some porn, and they'd better knock it off. If they've got any sense, they'll take this word from the wise and stop breaking the local community standards forthwith. If they go on doing it, well, presumably they're hardened porn merchants of some kind, and when they get into trouble with ambitious local prosecutors they'll have no one to blame but themselves. Don't jump in headfirst with an agenda and a videocam. Because it's real easy to wade hip deep into a blaze of publicity, but it's real hard to wade back out without getting the sticky stuff all over you.

Well, it's generally a thankless lot being an American computer cop. You know this, I know this. I even regret having to bring these matters up, though I feel that I ought to, given the circumstances. I do, however, see one large ray of light in the American computer law enforcement scene, and that is the behavior of computer cops in other countries. American computer cops have had to suffer under the spotlights because they were the first people in the world doing this sort of activity. But now we're starting to see other law enforcement people weighing in in other countries. To judge by early indications, the situation's going to be a lot worse overseas.

Italy, for instance. The Italian finance police recently decided that everybody on FidoNet was a software pirate, so they went out and seized somewhere between fifty and a hundred bulletin boards. Accounts are confused, not least because most of the accounts are in Italian. Nothing much has appeared in the way of charges or convictions, and there's been a lot of anguished squawling from deeply alienated and radicalized Italian computer people. Italy is a country where entire political parties have been annihilated because of endemic corruption and bribery scandals. A country where organized crime shoots judges and blows up churches with car bombs. They got a guy running the country now who is basically Ted Turner in Italian drag--he owns a bunch of television stations--and here his federal cops have gone out and busted a bunch of left-wing bulletin board systems. It's not doing much good for the software piracy problem and it's sure not helping the local political situation. In Italy politics are so weird that the Italian Communist Party has a national reputation as the party of honest government. The Communists hate the guts of this new Prime Minister, and he's in bed with the neo-fascist ultra-right and a bunch of local ethnic separatists who want to cut the country in half. That's a very strange and volatile scene.

The hell of it is, in the long run I think the Italians are going to turn out to be one of the better countries at handling computer crime. Wait till we start hearing from the Poles, the Romanians, the Chinese, the Serbs, the Turks, the Pakistanis, the Saudis.

Here in America we're actually getting used to this stuff, a little bit, sort of. We have a White House with its own Internet address and its own World Wide Web page. Owning and using a modem is fashionable in the USA. American law enforcement agencies are increasingly equipped with a clue. In Europe you have computers all over the place, but they are imbedded in a patchwork of PTTs and peculiar local jurisdictions and even more peculiar and archaic local laws. I think the chances of some social toxic reaction from computing and telecommunications are much higher in Europe and Asia than in the USA. I think that in a few more years, American cops are going to earn a global reputation as being very much on top of this stuff. I think there's a fairly good chance that the various interested parties in the USA can find some kind of workable accommodation and common ground on most of the important social issues. There won't be so much blundering around, not so many unpleasant surprises, not so much panic and hysteria.

As for the computer crime scene, I think it's pretty likely that American computer crime is going to look relatively low-key, compared to the eventual rise of ex-Soviet computer crime, and Eastern European computer crime, and Southeast Asian computer crime.

I'm a science fiction writer, and I like to speculate about the future. I think American computer police are going to have a hard row to hoe, because they are almost always going to be the first in the world to catch hell from these issues. Certain bad things are naturally going to happen here first, because we're the people who are inventing almost all the possibilities. But I also feel that it's not very likely that bad things will reach their full extremity of awfulness here. It's quite possible that American computer police will make some really awful mistakes, but I can almost guarantee that other people's police will make mistakes worse by an order of magnitude. American police may hit people with sticks, but other people's police are going to hit people with axes and cattle prods. Computers will probably help people manage better in those countries where people can actually manage. In countries that are falling apart, overcrowded countries with degraded environments and deep social problems, computers might well make things fall apart even faster.

Countries that have offshore money-laundries are gonna have offshore data laundries. Countries that now have lousy oppressive governments and smart, determined terrorist revolutionaries, are gonna have lousy oppressive governments and smart determined terrorist revolutionaries with computers. Not too long after that, they're going to have tyrannical revolutionary governments run by zealots with computers, and then we're likely to see just how close to Big Brother a government can really get. Dealing with these people is going to be a big problem for us.

Other people have worse problems than we do, and I suppose that's some comfort to us in a way. But we've got our problems here, too. It's no use hiding from them. Since 1980 the American prison population has risen by one hundred and eighty eight percent. In 1993 we had 948,881 prisoners in federal or state correctional facilities. I appreciate the hard work it took to put these nearly one million people into American prisons, but you know, I can't say that the knowledge that there are a million people in prison in my country really makes me feel much safer. Quite the contrary, really. Does it make keeping public order easier when there are so many people around with no future and no stake in the status quo and nothing left to lose? I don't think it does.

We've got a governor's race in my state that's a nasty piece of work--the incumbent and the challenger are practically wrestling in public for the privilege of putting on a black hood and jabbing people with the needle. That's not a pretty sight. I hear a lot about vengeance and punishment lately, but I don't hear a lot about justice. I hear a lot about rights and lawsuits, but I don't hear a lot about debate and public goodwill and public civility. I think it's past time in this country that we stopped demonizing one another, and tried to see each other as human beings and listen seriously to each other. And personally, I think I've talked enough this morning. It's time for me to listen to you guys for a while.

I confess that in my weaker moments I've had the bad taste to become a journalist. But I didn't come here to write anything about you, I've given that up for now. I'm here as a citizen and an interested party. I was glad to be invited to come here, because I was sure I'd learn something that I ought to know. I appreciate your patience and attention very much, and I hope you'll see that I mean to return the favor. Thanks. Thanks a lot.

. . .
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