Jacking in from the "To Hell In A Handbasket" Port:

Capitol Hill -- This is the beginning of the end.

Tonight, June 7, the Senate passed its Anti-terrorism bill by a stunning vote of 91-8. The bill contains a broadening of the wiretap entitlements for law enforcement -- the so-called "Roving Wiretaps." This allows any law enforcement agency, including your local sheriff, to institute a wiretap of an entire area, in order to catch the mobile bad guys.

As nefarious as that provision of the bill is, it harbors a much darker side: The Feinstein amendment that flies in the face of the First Amendment and places a legal prohibition on the distribution of "information relating to explosive materials for a criminal purpose" on the Internet or local bulletin board systems or through mail order, for that matter.

This amendment, tossed into the terrorism mix by unanimous consent, will put you in jail for 20 years and make you pony up a quarter of a million dollars if "by any means" you place information on bomb making in an electronic format.

"So, why should I give a shit? I'm not putting bombing making information on the Net!" you say. Well, think again.

What Sen. Dianne Feinstein's amendment does is open a chilling precedent for regulating content on the Internet. It is the break in the dyke; the trickle that could become a river of regulatory hammers meant to turn the rough and tumble, open and free-flowing online discourse into something with all the appeal and intellectual acumen of Tofu. The cyberspace equal of the domino effect.

Feinstein waged a verbal defense of her assault on the First Amendment while introducing her amendment. "Now, I have heard people say, oh, but the Encyclopedia Britannica has eight pages on explosives.... Well, I have read the eight pages and it does not say how to make a toilet paper roll booby trap. What legitimate purpose is there for a toilet paper roll booby trap other than to kill somebody? You do not blast out the stump of a tree. You do not need it for mining."

Those last two references were a glancing blow at the arguments that even the U.S. government distributes bomb making material. Such "mayhem manuals" are available from the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Forestry Service that publishes, at tax payer expense, something called the "Blaster's Handbook." Feinstein, apparently, couldn't care less about this material. What?! Why shouldn't she? After all, this handbook contains a recipe for an Ammonium Nitrate/fuel oil bomb, like that could be used to... oh, say, BLOW UP a federal building in Oklahoma City.

I guess somebody forgot to tell her that these legal recipes killed some 160 people in Oklahoma City. Must have slipped her mind. It's easy to understand, she was too focused on attacking free speech.

"I do not think our first amendment, or the framers of the Constitution, want to protect the freedom of speech for criminal purposes," she said on the floor of the Senate. "Clearly these [toilet paper and the like] bombs are there for one reason and one reason only and that is a criminal purpose."

The amendment doesn't degrade the first amendment, Feinstien argued, because it is "specifically aimed at preventing... distribution of material that will be used to commit serious crimes external to the distribution itself." And just how does she expect to discern that?

She even shunted aside a current law that says essentially the same thing that her amendment says. She says her law is needed anyway, current statutes be damned.

Because computers are involved; because technology allows bomb making material to be distributed "in a matter of seconds, I believe that some restrictions on speech are appropriate," she said. Well, then, why not ban fax machine transmissions while you're at it, Senator?? Her staff had no answer.

Sen. Joe Biden (D-Del.), one of the Senate's staunchest first amendment defenders, rose to battle Feinstein in the beginning. He acknowledged that the intent of the encyclopedia publisher wasn't the same as those putting the Terrorist Handbook online. "But for the purpose of Lady Justice, blindfolded, weighing her scales, it is hard to tell the difference sometimes, other than looking at the person or the organization that is publishing the material to determine their intent. And we do not want the courts getting into that kind of business," Biden said.

Biden later caved when Feinstein agreed to make a technical change in her bill and passed off on the amendment.

And so what if you don't like how the good Senator has trashed the First Amendment. "Fuck you," is basically her attitude. "I know, though, that the true test of of the amendment's constitutionality will be if and when it comes before the courts," she said, thumbing her nose at you. "I welcome that opportunity."

Well, of course she does. The protracted legal fees won't come out of her pocket; they will come out of yours and mine, as the Justice Department is forced to defend her brain dead provision.

And the question Feinstein never, ever addressed: How in hell does she ever hope to stop the flow of such information from OFF-SHORE Internet sites? Answer: She can't.

Which begs the question: What the hell did she accomplish in the end?

Meeks out...

Copyright © 1995 CyberWire Dispatch / Brock N. Meeks <brock@well.com>