PGP in Fidonet

anonymous at anonymous at
Sat Oct 2 21:28:51 PDT 1993

 * Reply to msg originally in CYPHERPUNKS

 > You haven't been listening at all to Mr. Godwin, have you?

Frankly, no.  I have however followed this same endless debate among
lawyers in BBS_LAW, however, and (if I understand all parties correctly)
their assessment for the most part disagrees with the one you cite here.

 > 1) The ECPA *DOES* apply to the BBSes whether they want it to or not.

Perhaps we misunderstand each other; I do not mean, literally, that
"hobby BBSs are exempt from ECPA," but that the situations addressed are
generally avoided by sysop policies.  Let me make sure I understand your
point; are you saying that:

1]  On a privately-owned computer...
2]  Operating a noncommercial BBS without monetary compensation...
3]  On which a repeating log-on notice informs users that all messages
    are subject to sysop viewing...
4]  Sysop/sole owner viewing of non-public (as opposed to "private")
    messages during system maintenance or monitoring for unlawful
5]  Is prosecutable under ECPA?  If so, has such a prosecution been

 > 2) The BBS operators are NOT liable UNLESS they censor the mail. If
 > they censor the mail, they are liable for anything they fail to
 > censor. If they do not censor, they are common carriers, and have
 > no liability.

It is my understanding that noncommercial FIDOnet participants are not
in fact common carriers and that technical, legal common carrier status
requires more than simply ignoring e-mail.  I understand it also brings
more potential liabilities than FIDO can handle.

In any case, I am informed hobby sysops have been arrested and their
systems seized for allegedly illegal traffic on their systems of which
they claim to have had no knowledge.  I believe this is the case in the
CT case pending.  Even if these cases are eventually dismissed, the
legal expense and personal disruption to a private party (usually a
young person of very limited means) is catastrophic and without
practical recourse.

 -> There has been a very heated war in FIDOland over PGP and other
 -> encryption.  Considering the risk that sysops take on by permitting
 -> secure (?) communication on their BBSs,

 > They take NO risk. They are common carriers if they stop censoring
 > their mail. People don't seem to understand that the law on this is
 > very clear.

As I say, there seems to be a great deal more to legal "common carrier"
status than simply ignoring e-mail.  In FIDOdom common carrier status is
regarded as a much larger can of worms, with more potential problems and
liabilities for sysops than other options.

 > Actually, as I've just noted, you have not protected yourself. You
 > have opened yourself up for massive legal liability where you had none
 > before.

I believe you are confusing me with someone else.  I am not, nor would I
_ever_ be, a BBS sysop.  This thread gives a perfect example of why not.
As far as I can tell, it's purely a fool's errand:  Paying good money
and personal time and trouble to no better end than incurring grief and
liabilities with unpleasant, ungrateful and parasitic users, as well as
potential hassles with cops, lawyers and bureaucrats.

There's zero payback here; BBS sysops are crazy.

Direct followup to FIDOnet BBS_LAW.

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