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Anonymity, Journalism, and the Legal System
Here's an interesting case involving the use of the anon.penet.fi
remailer for journalistic purposes, in a sensational trial in Canada
that the the Canadian goverment has declared a press ban on. (You may
recall that issues of "Wired" were seized because a short article
dared to mention the press ban.)
The Karla Homolka-Paul Teale case allegedly involves Karla and her
husband killing her own sister during forced sex, kidnapping and
rituallistically torturing and murdering at least one other woman,
videotaping the tortures to show later victims, and--some
Karla Homolka (known to some as Karla the Kannibal) confessed. The
judge in the Teale trial declared a press ban a year or so ago. Since
then, several major Usenet newsgroups have--it is said, though I have
no way to verify this-been barred in some or all parts of Canada.
Ditto for newspapers and magazines.
But "information wants to be free," and information is reaching
Canadians via many other routes. This is causing calls for
crackdowns on the Net. Of direct interest to Cypherpunks.
(There are those who talk about Teale's need for a "fair trial." A
press blackout for over a year, and the threat that anyone who seeks
information or discussed the case will be thrown into the Bastille is
not consistent with the ideals of even a semi-free society. In my
personal opinion, the evidence against Teale is so heinous, so
overwhelmingly convincing, etc., that the trial could and should have
been completed in about 2 weeks after their arrest. I favor
decriminaling almost everything, of course, and then swiftly and
decisively pursuing and punishing murdereres, rapists, thieves, and
child molestors. Sounds fair to me.)
Anyway, as many of you may not be reading alt.fan.karla-homolka (which
is banned in Canada as I hear it...any of our Northern readers want to
confirm or refute this?), here's an excellent summary of how some
amateur journalists are using Julf's anonymizing service to get the
(Note that the article was also posted via anon.penet.fi)
Message-ID: <[email protected]>
From: [email protected] (Neal the trial ban breaker)
Organization: Anonymous contact service
Reply-To: [email protected]
Date: Wed, 11 May 1994 23:27:33 UTC
Subject: Id Article
This was a particularly well written article that gives some interesting
background to the the plight of yours truly and a couple of collegues :>
The Electronic Ban Breakers
How three computer users are getting information
out about the Karla Homolka trial - and why the
government can't do a thing about it.
by Chad Skelton
Word count : 1896
The day after Gordon Domm was arrested for distributing
information about the Karla Homolka case, "Abdul" sat in the
Ontario legislature, listening intently to the MPPs discuss the
publication ban. As Attorney General Marion Boyd fended off
criticism about the ban, Abdul sat quietly in the gallery. No
one in the legislature that day could have known that while they
were discussing a man who had distributed information on the
trial to 50 people, Abdul, who is responsible for sending some of
that same material to almost a thousand individuals, was watching
them all from above.
Abdul is one of a hand-full of computer users dedicated to
getting information about the Karla Homolka trial out to the
public, in a manner which is more quiet, and much more efficient,
than anything the many other trial ban breakers have done.
With the help of a computer system in Finland, three users known
only as Abdul, Neal, and Lieutenant Starbuck, are becoming the
most influential players in this illicit trade of information.
While newspaper pages are filled with stories on the printed ban
breakers, like Gordon Domm, and Frank magazine - the story of
these electronic ban breakers hasn't been told.
Interviewed for the first time, by any member of the media, the
three men gave detailed accounts of their connections to the
case, their methods of distribution, and their reasons for
The first person to tell the electronic community about Karla
Homolka and Paul Teale was Neal, who posted information on the
case before any of the international press stories broke. Neal,
self described resident of cyberspace, and, "freedom fighter",
claims to have several direct or indirect connections to the
case. These contacts, he claims, include the pathologist's
office, a nurse at a Southern Ontario Hospital, and a police
officer. Based on the information he received from these sources,
Neal posted one of the first notable messages in the
"alt.fan.karla-homolka" newsgroup. His message contained details
about the killings, the evidence, and the accused - all in
Neal delights in the freedom of the electronic network. Asked
why the courts instituted a ban, Neal concludes the decision was
"wishful longing (on the part of the courts) to be back in the
19th century before the days of the electronic medium."
Asked if he thought his actions were criminal, he replied, "There
comes a time when you have to resist the tyranny of the state.
Did the Americans holding the Boston Tea Party think they were
criminals? In the eyes of the British law they were - but in
their own, they felt they were fighting to uphold some basic
freedoms. And that's what I'm doing!"
Neal says he decided to tell the network what he knew to, "get
the snowball rolling downhill - if I could post some details,
others could perhaps tell what they [knew] as well."
And others did.
Several people posted rumours and speculation on the case into
the Homolka newsgroup. Soon the rumours required some sort of
organization, so Lt. Starbuck decided to make a FAQ. FAQ stands
for "Frequently Asked Questions". As somewhat of an institution
on the network, FAQs serve as useful information files on a given
topic. They exist for sex, atheism, movies, and television, just
to name a few. But in September of 1993, a different kind of FAQ
was created. September saw the debut of, "The Paul Teale/Karla
Homolka Frequently Asked Questions List".
Lt. Starbuck, the moderator of the FAQ, is a student of Science
at a Southern Ontario University. In his mid 20s, Starbuck
updates the FAQ regularly as new rumours and information are made
available. The latest version, "Version 2.1", was released on
February 1st, 1994.
Starbuck posts the FAQ on several newsgroups, and sends it out in
electronic mail to those that request it. Asked to estimate how
far his FAQ has reached he said it was, "impossible to know how
many people have seen the FAQ posts in newsgroups like
`alt.censorship' and `alt.true-crime', in addition to people who
regularly access (other computers that have it available)."
Starbuck doesn't claim that all, or even most, of the rumours are
true. In fact, even while widely distributing the FAQ, Starbuck
believes the rumours may be harmful. "The existence of the ban",
he says, "And the speculation that followed it, are just as
dangerous as not having (a ban)."
Abdul, known as, "the Electronic Gordon Domm", is unquestionably
the most influential of the electronic trial ban breakers. In
the first few months of the "alt.fan.karla-homolka" newsgroup,
Abdul (still using his real name) was one of the most active
rumour posters. A student at a Toronto University, in his early
20s, and living in Scarborough - Abdul found himself hearing
plenty of rumours about the case, which he quickly posted to the
newsgroup. In addition to the rumours, however, he also knew
people with connections to the case, including someone he met at
a party that knew Karla Homolka's sister Tammy, and a friend
whose father was the Durham Region Staff Sergeant.
In the beginning, Abdul posted the information he had on the case
to as many newsgroups as possible - but this led to mainstream
groups, such as "soc.culture.canada" being banned from network
sites, angering many people. So, as an alternative, Abdul
decided to begin an electronic mailing list, by compiling the
electronic mail (e-mail) addresses of people that wanted to be
sent information on the case.
Newsgroups are like newspapers, and electronic mail is like a
private letter. Very few network sites will search e-mail, as
they consider it private and confidential. This allowed Abdul a
method of getting the information about the case out - even
though "alt.fan.karla-homolka" was rapidly being banned at
universities and network sites all across the country, including
the University of Guelph, Toronto, and Waterloo - and Canada
Remote Systems, a computer bulletin board.
As he worked out the logistics of the electronic mailing list,
Abdul was, as he put it, "getting tired of reciting the FAQ at
every party." So he decided that in addition to his electronic
efforts to get information out, he would also help to distribute
facts about the case in more conventional ways. This led Abdul
to collect all the articles and rumours he had on the case, and
organize them into one large file he called the, "Teale Tales
Using three printer ribbons, and a full box of computer paper -
he printed over 50 copies of the digest. "(I) gave them to
everyone I knew, and some I didn't," Abdul recalls, "I left five
on the TTC and three in the washrooms of a Toronto university."
Talking to people he gave the digest to, he says, "some of their
copies have been photocopied up to fifteen times."
And while his conventional methods of distributing information
match those of his namesake, Gordon Domm, Abdul's most notable
breach of the ban was, and is, electronic.
When interviewed, Abdul's electronic mailing list was growing at
an incredible rate. He claimed to have over 800 e-mail
addresses, with 200 of those having signed up within the last
week. Having directly given the information to at least 800
people, Abdul believes that he has already been indirectly
responsible for giving information on the case to about 10,000
people. A number that is increasing every day as the electronic
articles and rumours are printed out, photocopied, and
distributed - over and over again.
In addition to sending regular updates to interested individuals,
Abdul is also equipped to provide computer users with exactly
what they want. With computerized copies of everything from the
Washington Post article on the trial, to a transcript of the
tabloid show "A Current Affair", Abdul has virtually everything
that has ever been printed or broadcast in the foreign press
about the case. And each article can be requested individually
from his electronic mail address. Abdul promotes these articles,
and the mailing list, by posting messages in over 30 newsgroups,
telling people how to get them.
Although what Abdul is doing is on a scale much larger than that
of Gordon Domm, or any of the other trial ban breakers, Abdul
insists he isn't afraid of being arrested. In fact, all three
electronic trial ban breakers said they don't feel they will ever
be arrested for what they're doing.
This is due mainly to the common link of the electronic trial ban
breakers - a computer service in Finland and a Finnish computer
user named Julf.
Julf is a self-employed businessman living in Helsinki, who runs
what is called, "The anon.penet.fi Anonymous Server". The
server, originally intended for Scandinavians, allows computer
users to post messages and send electronic mail anonymously - by
bouncing it off the Finnish system. Traceable electronic mail
addresses are replaced with generic anonymous accounts, which
conceal the location and name of the sender, making it next to
impossible for the messages to be traced back to their original
Julf's service has existed for over a year. He says his
intentions with the server are to, "provide a means for
discussion on sensitive topics without having to fear
repercussions from peers, employers, totalitarian regimes and
Julf hasn't actively been involved in distributing information on
the trial, even though his service is involved in cloaking the
information sent by others. Julf, for whom English is a third
language, isn't even particularly interested in the case. He
only learned about it when computer users complained that his
service was being used to post information on the trial.
However, as Julf puts it, "it is impossible, and unethical, for
me to monitor the over 4000 messages handled by my server every
Julf says the only way that investigators in Canada could
possibly track down Abdul, Neal, Lt. Starbuck, or any other user
posting information on the trial, would be to seize his computer,
in Helsinki, which contains logs of where mail has been sent.
However, Julf isn't concerned. "It would definitely take a
Finnish court," he stresses, "And involve a fair bit of
international jurisdiction juggling."
However, that may all be irrelevant, as it's not even clear as to
whether the police, or Attorney-General's office, are actively
pursuing the electronic ban breakers. While Abdul, Neal, and Lt.
Starbuck are very hard to identify and locate, they are easy to
contact through the Finnish server. And all three say they
haven't received anything in electronic mail from law enforcement
or government agencies.
Barbara Krever, of the Attorney-General's Office, refused to
comment specifically on the electronic trial ban breakers, saying
all potential breaches of the ban brought to the attention of the
Attorney General's office are reviewed. Asked whether there were
people qualified to deal with the electronic breaches of the ban,
Krever refused to "talk about specifics". She also refused to
comment when asked why the people mentioned in this article
hadn't been contacted.
In the meantime, Abdul's electronic mailing list continues to
grow. When asked if he had a message for those trying to enforce
the ban, Abdul had this to say:
"There is no way you can stop us. For years you have tried to
regulate us ... Now we can go wherever there is a phone line,
without you looking over our shoulder. You'll have to shut down
every phone, every radio transmitter, to keep us quiet."
To find out more about the anon service, send mail to [email protected]
Due to the double-blind, any mail replies to this message will be anonymized,
and an anonymous id will be allocated automatically. You have been warned.
Please report any problems, inappropriate use etc. to adm[email protected]