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TCP-group 1991


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FCC Citation of Packet BBSs for Store-and-Forward Msg



Several BBSs on the east coast have been cited by the FCC for the
CONTENT of a packet radio message passing thru their systems. The
following is a 4-part BIDed bulletin I have sent to @USA for national
distribution describing the situation. Please feel free to circulate
this info on your local distribution channels since it is most important
to get the word out.

FYI -- this is the >>LAST<< @USA messages thru W3IWI before I close
that distribution channel here!



SB  URGENT@USA < W3IWI  $38140_W3IWI
FCC CITES BBSs FOR @USA MSG (Part 1/4)
R:910131/0445z 38140@W3IWI.MD.USA.NOAM [Balto/Wash MD/DC]

                   FCC CENSORS/CENSURES PACKET RADIO
                            Tom Clark, W3IWI
                            January 30, 1991

Today a number of packet BBSs on the east coast received citations from
the FCC's Norfolk (actually Virginia Beach) Field Office which may well
spell the end to much of amateur packet radio. According to Jim, WA4ONG
the following packet BBSs (and perhaps others) are involved: N3LA,
WA3TSW, KA3CNT, KA3T, WA3ZNW, W3IWI, WA4ONG, WB0TAX and N4HOG [my copy
of the citation has not yet arrived in the mail -- the details in this
message are taken from a copy WA4ONG faxed to me].

The letter dated January 25th from Mr. J. J. Freeman, Engineer in Charge
at the Norfolk Office, to WA4ONG states:

"I have received a report that indicates you may have operated your
 amateur radio station, call sign WA4ONG, in violation of Section
 97.113(a) of the Commission's Rules. It appears that you used the Ama-
 teur Radio Service to facilitate the business activity of THE COALITION
 TO STOP U.S. INTERVENTION IN THE MIDDLE EAST."

"Specifically, on or about January 5, 1991 you received a packet radio
 message originated by amateur radio station WA3QNS. You then transmitted
 this packet radio message to another amateur radio station. The message
 was:

   { Here appears a copy of the message sent by WA3QNS@N3LA.PA originat-
     ed at 22:22z on Jan.5 with the BID #21035_N3LA, Subject: Call This
     Number ASAP. The message listed the business telephones and fax
     numbers for "The Coalition" as well as a 1-900-xxx-xxxx number to
     call to "register your voice" I won't repeat the bulletin here,
     because repeating the bulletin would make it illegal to send this
     message! }
(Continued in Part 2)
/EX

SB  URGENT@USA < W3IWI  $38141_W3IWI
FCC CITES BBSs FOR @USA MSG (Part 2/4)
R:910131/0445z 38141@W3IWI.MD.USA.NOAM [Balto/Wash MD/DC]

                FCC CENSORS/CENSURES PACKET RADIO cont'd

"This activity was a facilitation of the business affairs of the Coali-
 tion to Stop U.S. Intervention in the Middle East and therefor {sic} in
 violation of Section 97.113(a)."

The FCC citation then contains the boilerplate demanding a response
within 10 days explaining circumstances and correct actions, and then
closing with a chilling "to determine what, if any, enforcement action
is required to insure current and future rule compliance" and a state-
ment that future transgressions will bring fines and/or license revoca-
tion.

That's the facts. I'll now discuss some of the implications and recommended
actions.

                            THE IMPLICATIONS

The implications of the action by the FCC's Norfolk Field Office are
absolutely appalling. What is implied is that each and every station in
a store-and-forward network is responsible for the actual message CONTENT
passing through each node. The BBSs were cited because their calls
were in the message header "audit trail". The  FCC's action states that
each BBS SYSOP is personally responsible for the "correctness" of all
messages merely passing through his system. Here, the W3IWI mail switch
handles about 10,000 messages per month automatically. There is NO WAY
that I can vouch for every bit that passes through!

If the FCC had instead gleaned its information from on-the-air monitor-
ing, then all the THENET/NETROM/ROSE/TCPIP/DIGIPEATER switches handling
the message would have been equally culpable! The implication of the FCC
action is that a node control operator must read all information and be
prepared to shut the system down at the first hint of an "inappropriate"
message. It's hard enough to watch the information passing on 1200 BPS
links -- imagine the impossibility of "censoring" 56 kBPS or faster
channels.
(Continued in Part 3)
/EX

SB  URGENT@USA < W3IWI  $38142_W3IWI
FCC CITES BBSs FOR @USA MSG (Part 3/4)
R:910131/0445z 38142@W3IWI.MD.USA.NOAM [Balto/Wash MD/DC]

                     THE IMPLICATIONS cont'd

In future networks where redundant channels exist, it is quite possible
that a given message will be fragmented and parts of it sent via several
parallel paths. The message may exist as a complete entity only at the
ends of a virtual path. It would be impossible to implement the censor-
ship the FCC seems to be demanding with such a network, so the "legali-
ty" will interfere with development of new technology.

Consider another recent development: amateur packet radio satellites.
PACSAT is licensed by the FCC with a US trustee and a cadre of US sy-
sops. PACSAT is, in essence, a flying BBS with the sysops on the ground.
In order to screen out "offensive" messages, a ground-based SYSOP has to
use a radio channel to verify message CONTENT. But the FCC letter says
that the very act of reading an "offensive" message on the radio is
illegal. If the Norfolk FCC action is allowed to stand, the logical
implication is that PACSATs must be turned off!

A number of us have discussed such issues with responsible individuals
at the FCC in Washington ever since the first fledgling days of packet
radio. The signal that the FCC sent was that the sole responsibility for
the CONTENT of a message lays with the ORIGINATOR. The actions of the
Norfolk Office seem to indicate a new policy has been adopted which
effectively kills packet radio.

Or -- perhaps -- the Norfolk Engineer in Charge who issued the citations
was offended by the particular message and chose to take out his frus-
trations on all the "King's Messengers" who brought the message to him?

                   W3IWI COMMENTS AND RECOMMENDATIONS

It is ironic that the WA3QNS message that brought down the wrath of the
FCC a number of the BBSs that "touched" his message brought a very
vocal response from the packet community informing him that

 (1) 1-900-xxx-xxxx are in fact commercial ventures designed to raise
     money and that a call to the number would cost the caller.

 (2) The subject message was probably in violation of 97.113(a) and
     probably illegal
(Continued in Part 4)
/EX

SB  URGENT@USA < W3IWI  $38143_W3IWI
FCC CITES BBSs FOR @USA MSG (Part 4/4)
R:910131/0445z 38143@W3IWI.MD.USA.NOAM [Balto/Wash MD/DC]

              W3IWI COMMENTS AND RECOMMENDATIONS cont'd

Personally, I have been silent (but very frustrated) that about the 10% of
bulletins addressed @USA (or @ALLUS, @ALLBBS, etc.) that are in poor
taste. I have grown tired if blather about censorship, First Amendment
Rights and the incredible volumes of hate mail. WA3QNS, by his statements
and by the responses to his statements from other folks, has been
one of the causes of this frustration. I have longed for the return to
normalcy with messages on technical topics and personal communications.
I have found it frustrating to pay the electric power bill and pay for
the W3IWI hardware for others to engage in marginally offensive "Free
Speech". I have wished that the (ab)users of @USA would have exercised
more discretion with self-censorship.

But I have gritted what teeth I have left and avoided being a censor.
Now, the FCC's CENSURE has left me with no alternative than to be a CENSOR.

Until the FCC tells me that I can do otherwise, I will only release @USA
messages that I personally screen and am willing to stake my license on.
The priority on my time is such that I don't expect to have time to
screen @USA bulletins. Any complaints about my decision will be sent to
/dev/null.

 { For other SYSOPs: my way to do this is to have my SWAP file change
   all @USA etcetera to a dummy address like @HOLD -- thereby preserving
   any BIDs so I don't get deluged with multiple copies of the same mes-
   sage. Until we get a clarification I would recommend that you also
   use a similar message condom and practice "Safe BBS". }

For the vast majority of you who do not abuse the system, I'm sorry that
this situation has come up and that your ability to "fan out" informa-
tion will be hindered. Since there have been very few instances of
"offensive" personal messages, I'll take the risk of keeping all other
packet mail flowing here and I hope the other BBS SYSOPs do likewise.
But PLEASE exercise self-policing. The BBS SYSOPs don't want to be held
responsible for YOUR words.

The ARRL has already been informed about the Norfolk citations. Because
of the potentially devastating impact on all packet radio if the Norfolk
situation is allowed to stand, I anticipate a lot of phone calls to be
made in the next few days!

73 de Tom, W3IWI
/EX





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Created 2004-12-21. Last modified 2004-12-21. Your visit 2020-10-20 11:49.15. Page created in 0.0534 sec.
 
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