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Trust Congress? Not With This Unbelievable Lair of Slop PC Computing, April 1994, page 88. By John C. Dvorak When Vice President Gore began talking about the Information Highway, we all knew the bureaucrats would get involved more than 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 in 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 officials 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 whom 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 CompuServe. I wondered how private companies such as America Online can be considered public-access networks, 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 in 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 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., metro 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 needed a driving permit to 'drive' a modem on the Information 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 though this would make amends for his alleged philandering." Unfortunately, the public is not much better informed than the Senate. The Gallup Organization, at the behest of Congress, is polling the public regarding intoxication while using a computer and online "hot chatting." The results are chilling. More than half of 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, Bernstein, 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 Senate Legislative Analysts Office. Her name spelled backward says it all.