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Levy, Steven. The Senate's bomb scare.(Senate proposal to ban
     information on  the making of explosive devices on the Internet).
     In Newsweek August 12 1996, v128, n7, p48(1). 


Yes, it's easy to get explosive information. It's even easier to      
blame the Internet.                                                   
                                                                      
HOW DO YOU MAKE A PIPE bomb? Whether your curiosity is idle or        
deadly, you can find the answer on the Internet. "It's a pipe, a      
plain old plumbing pipe, threaded ends with caps screwed to both      
ends," we learn from one site on the World Wide Web, that portion of  
the Internet where anyone can reach a potential audience of millions. 
A diagram is helpfully supplied, and we see where to put the powder,  
the fuse and even the tissue paper, which seems to be a handy filler  
at the bottom of the pipe.                                            
                                                                      
You want this stopped? Tell it to Ted Turner: that diagram appears on 
his Cable News Network Web site. But graphic descriptions of the      
heartbreakingly simple pipe bomb were ubiquitous last week, and not   
just on the Net. The American media's collective news judgment was    
that the public needed to know exactly how easy it was to build one   
of those devices, and how deadly they can be. Reasonable people can   
argue with that assessment, but I doubt that many would suggest that  
Turner and his fellow publishers should spend 20 years in jail. Yet   
that is the U.S. Senate's suggested penalty for those who "distribute 
by any means information pertaining to ... the manufacture of         
explosive materials," if there is an intent or expectation that       
readers may act on that information. That's language vague enough to  
possibly cover not only a news organization that posts the blueprints 
of a pipe bomb but a high-school chemistry teacher who demonstrates   
what happens when unfriendly materials go swoosh in the night.        
                                                                      
But the legislation's real target is the government's favorite        
punching bag, the Internet. "When technology allows for bomb-making   
material over computers to millions of people in a matter of          
seconds," said Sen. Dianne Feinstein, Democrat of California, at a    
hearing for the proposed amendment to a defense bill, "I believe that 
some restrictions on speech are appropriate."                         
                                                                      
It's easy to see what's bugging her, and it's not CNN. Last week I    
connected to Alta Vista, an Internet search location, and typed in    
"explosives." Bingo. On the screen came the names of 10 sites, the    
first set of thousands that matched my request. One of these, only a  
mouseclick away, was the notorious "Terrorist's Handbook," offering a 
complete hands-on tutorial of bomb construction. A mass murderer's    
"Joy of Cooking." Without a thought to tragic effects, the anonymous  
author explains tube explosives, tripwire switches, ammonium nitrate  
and Molotov cocktails, and even provides tips for passing through     
airport security. No wonder Feinstein railed against this tome in a   
press release.                                                        
                                                                      
But if her amendment were used against "The Terrorist's Handbook,"    
would it pass constitutional muster? She claims to have carefully     
written the amendment to respect free speech; it's directed only at   
those who publish information with intent or belief that it will      
actually be used for criminal purposes. But note the disclaimer       
heading "The Terrorist's Handbook": "The processes and techniques     
herein SHOULD NOT BE CARRIED OUT UNDER ANY CIRCUMSTANCES]] This is    
merely for reading enjoyment, and not intended for actual use]]" This 
may not quite ring true; nonetheless, those running that Web site are 
not directly engaged in a conspiracy with killers--they're simply     
publishing, leaving the audience to, uh, its own devices. When you    
get down to it, the same goes for those who set up the CNN Web site,  
whose pipe-bomb diagram is virtually identical to the one in "The     
Terrorist's Handbook." Ditto for the Encyclopaedia Britannica and the 
Government Printing Office, which both provide literally explosive    
information. Because of this, civil libertarians believe that         
Feinstein's amendment violates the Constitution. Even the Justice     
Department seems to agree. "Bomb-making information is protected by   
the First Amendment," a spokesperson told me.                         
                                                                      
Even if the courts upheld Feinstein, "The Terrorist's Handbook" would 
still be available--the book's text is stored offshore. Because the   
Internet passes through borders with the freedom of a feather on the  
jet stream, though, it's just as easy to access this German Web site  
as your next-door neighbor's home page. Without some global attempt   
to censor the Internet, no laws can stop such forbidden information.  
                                                                      
Such an international effort may be forthcoming. At last week's G-7   
conference on terrorism, Canadian Foreign Minister Lloyd Axworthy     
described his shock when his 11-year-old son showed him how to pull   
down bomb information from cyberspace. The delegates vowed to devise  
ways to stop this threat. That's a threat in itself. You can bet your 
modem that if global censorship of the Net begins with bomb-making    
information, it won't stop there.                                     
                                                                      
Only an idiot would deny that "The Terrorist's Handbook" is a         
frightening document. But if we are to embrace the Internet's         
gifts--a bounty of information delivered instantly--we must also      
accept that not all forms of electronic speech will be constructive.  
We must also remember that the issue is not weapons, but speech. If   
someone is sufficiently motivated to kill, does it really make a      
difference if the fatal blueprints are acquired by mail order, in a   
library or on the Web? The Internet didn't kill in Centennial         
Park--that deed was committed by a murderer who built and detonated   
the device. Here's the real problem: making a bomb is too easy.       
Unfortunately, so is blaming the Internet.                            
                                                                      
COPYRIGHT Newsweek Inc. 1996