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By Chief Alfred Olsen
Warwick Township Police Department
315 Clay Road, Box 308,
Lititz, Lancaster County, Pa.
Over the years, as more and more pressure is applied, pornography (especially that involving children) is being driven further and further underground. Resourceful pornographers and suppliers have employed a variety of methods for sneaking their goods into the country and then distributing the product to their customers. Of all these techniques, none has been more successful than the worldwide use of computer bulletin board networks.
To briefly explain, there are literally tens of thousands of computer bulletin boards around the world and millions of actual users (subscribers). In central Pennsylvania alone, there are at least 500 known boards currently in operation. For the uninitiated, these bulletin boards are capable of connecting any home computer (with a modem - cost, approximately $50.00) to almost any place in the world. Now, bulletin boards (which are very much like electronic magazines or clubs) come in every range of interest. If you were interested, you could find bulletin boards with themes that range from cooking to dogs, to baseball cards, to religion, to sex, to satanism, to the KKK, to drugs, to murder and every other topic in between. Wandering through a bulletin board (BBS) is very much like reading a club newsletter and attending a meeting at the same time. Some of the information can be found in files areas (and copied to your home computer - including graphic photographs and full action movies), some of it is in message bases and the rest is exchanged during "live" chat sessions (one computer to another).
I realize, that this is at once amazing and infinitely confusing, but bear with me just one moment. For the time being, simply keep in mind that a computer in central Pennsylvania, can connect itself to a computer in the Far East in about thirty seconds. Once that connection is made, whatever goes on in the Orient is now going on here. For example, if you had an interest in obtaining sexual materials featuring young boys (something that is clearly illegal in the United States), all you need do is select that topic from a menu (a bill of fare, so to speak) and see what they have to offer. Typically, you would be able to find stories depicting child sex (including a wide variety of rape fantasies), a list of still photographs that can be viewed on your screen and copied to your home computer and a selection of short films which can also be viewed on your screen. If you would like to order full length films or actual photographic prints, that service is available as well. And, as if that is not enough, if you would like to have an actual child-sex encounter, you may also find a listing of contacts who can make that arrangement for you. Are you shocked? Well don't be, because this is only the beginning.
You may have come to expect that an enterprise of that sort might exist in the Far East, and you might even reluctantly concede the fact that modern technology is capable of connecting the criminal element all over the world. But, what if I told you that this very same thing is happening all across the United States. The fact of the matter is that in this country anyone with a personal computer can connect himself to any vile activity he or she can think of. If the computer operator happened to be a thirteen year old boy, for example, he could make contact with a sexual network (in the privacy of his own bedroom, without anyone's knowledge) and obtain virtually any material his little heart desires.
Okay, now hang on, because it gets worse from here on in. In many cases, while collecting these sexual materials, the youth may also be invited to attend a "social gathering" or perhaps make arrangements for a "private encounter" with someone he has never met before. I'm sure you can guess the purpose of these meetings, so I won't elaborate.
On the other hand, our 13 year old may not be all that interested in sex, so he finds something a little different. Perhaps he wants to buy a stereo system that his parents can not afford, so he calls a bulletin board that broadcasts stolen credit card numbers, or maybe he hates his parents and logs onto a board that will teach him how to steal from his father without getting caught or how to blow up the family car. Does this seem far fetched? Well it's not! Along the same lines, a child may log onto a seemingly innocent Star Trek Fan Club Bulletin Board and suddenly find himself invited to a satanic mass, might be offered drugs through the mail or might meet some new friends who want to help him to kill his parents.
I realize that everything I have told you is rather vague and if you do not already have an understanding of how computer bulletin boards operate, that all of this is very confusing. For the moment, it is probably enough jhust to know that this sort of thing exists. If you realize that, you can at least keep an eye out for unusual telephone numbers, unexplained long distance phone calls on your monthly bill and perhaps become suspicious when you hear of someone (whether an adult or a child) who seems to be addicted to his or her computer. You should also keep in mind that computer bulletin boards are a wonderfuly communications tool and that the vast majority are completely legitimate and well intentioned. But, just like anything else, they are subject to corruption by the criminal element are are easily transformed into effective criminal implements. The inherent danger of computer bulletin boards - above and beyond many other forms of communication - is the fact that computers are intensely private. Unless you are standing over the shoulder of the computer operator and reading the screen, you have no idea what is being silently transmitted into your home.
In closing, I would like to ask you for your help. I am attempting to identify and investigate as many computer bulletin boards as I can, no matter where they are located. I am being joined in the effort by a number of law enforcement agencies around the country and we are pooling our information in an effort to disrupt this network of criminal activity. Therefore, if you become aware of any BBS telephone numbers (or even just the name of any BBS), I would appreciate it if you could pass this information on to me. I will of course keep all of the information confidential. I can be reached by phone number on the other side of this handout, or you can simply drop the information into the mail. You may also contact me if you would like additional information on the dangers of computer bulletin boards, or if you would like me to lecture your group on the subject and provide you with a visual demonstration.
Thank you for taking the time to read this and I appreciate any help you can give us.
Alfred O. Olsen
The following comments are intended as a guide for Parents. The comments are extracted from material supplied by the Warwick Township Police Dept., and enlarge upon, by the writer:
*****SOME CHILD BEHAVIORAL WARNING SIGNS****
(WITHDRAWS FROM FRIENDS, FAMILY, ETC.) MAY LOSE INTEREST IN SOCIAL ACTIVITIES USE OF NEW (UNUSUAL) VOCABULARY, HEAVY WITH COMPUTER TERMS, SATANIC PHRASES OR SEXUAL REFERENCE (OR SUDDEN INTEREST IN RELATED POSTERS, MUSIC, ETC) LOOK FOR RELATED DOODLING OR WRITING.
USE OF WORDS SUCH AS: HACKING, PHREAKING (OR ANY WORDS WITH "PH" REPLACING "F")
LACK OF INTEREST IN SELF AND APPEARANCE OR INDICATIONS OF LACK OF SLEEP (WHICH MIGHT INDICATE LATE NIGHT MODEM-PLAY)
*OTHER POTENTIAL DANGER SIGNS*
COMPUTER AND MODEM RUNNING LATE AT NIGHT (EVEN WHILE UNATTENDED)
STORING OF COMPUTER FILES ENDING IN: PCX, GIF, TIF, DL, GL (THESE ARE VIDEO OR GRAPHIC IMAGE FILES AND PARENTS SHOULD KNOW WHAT THEY ILLUSTRATE)
NAMES ON COMMUNICATIONS PROGRAMS WHICH SEEM SATANIC OR PORNOGRAPHIC
OBSESSION WITH FANTASY ADVENTURE GAMES (DUNGEONS AND DRAGONS, TRADE WARS, SEXCAPADE, ETC).
USE OF COMPUTER TO SCAN OR RUN TELEPHONE NUMBERS (e.g. Demon Dialer) OR CREDIT CARD NUMBERS (LOOK FOR "SEQUENTIAL DIALING PROGRAMS)
1) As a parent, you should become knowledgeable in the software used by the child, to facilitate the modem. My child uses Telemate, of which I am thoroughly aware.
2) Monitor the modem program to ensure that the numbers listed are in the local exchange, so you won't encounter large phone bills.
3) Insist that the child has the password recorded (Telemate has that function installed). Simply use the left arrow key, at the dialing menu, until the password becomes visible.
4) If you become suspicious that your child is contacting dangerous BBS you can further control the child's activities. You can insist that they engage the "log session" capability of the program, so that you can review their activities. You can also contact the BBS yourself, using your child's passowrd, to scan the contents of the suspicious BBS. The danger here is that you can discourage the child and alienate him/her. However, if you decide to employ these tactics, you likely feel desparate and desparate measures are warranted.
5) In the options pull-down menu area, you can check the download path and review the programs and text files downloaded, by your child. Look for files on floppies also.
I am sure that there are other things, which may be considered, in becoming aware of your child's activities. I would be interested in hearing about your thoughts and experiences.
I would like to further emphasize that you use tact, in dealing with your child regarding BBS activities. I showed my daughter a letter written by the parent of a child, who became a victim of sexual abuse, because of his activities on the bulletin boards. My daughter was somewhat indignant, saying she was too smart to let this happen to her. However, my daughter, being interested in Tarot Card reading, actually attended a social gathering of a local White Witchcraft BBS group. We allowed her to attend, based on the advice of a local policeman, who is an expert in witchcraft, and the meeting was in a local public place. We stipulated that an adult cousin was to chaperone. Unbeknownst to me, the cousin did not attend and my daughter went alone, with a teenage friend. As it turned out this VERY SMART TEENAGER, returned to the Adult Sysop's house, to view their computer equipment. Fortunately for my daughter, nothing happened.
However, this incident demonstrates that even with all of the precautions taken, children are at risk, because they are for the most part, very naive and trusting.
In the same way that we teach small children never to talk to strangers, we have to teach our computer literate children that the people they are talking to on the computer are also strangers - and they should take the same precautions.
The following are further suggestions offered by the Warwick County Police:
WHAT YOU CAN DO TO PROTECT YOUR CHILDREN
TALK TO YOUR KIDS ABOUT THEIR USE OF THE COMPUTER
KNOW WHAT THEY ARE DOING
IF POSSIBLE, KEEP THE COMPUTER IN A "COMMON" AREA OF YOUR HOME, SUCH AS A FAMILY ROOM OR DEN.
YOU DECIDE IF YOUR CHILD HAS A LEGITIMATE NEED FOR A MODEM
IF A MODEM IS BEING USED, CONTROL THE ACTIVITY MONITOR TIMES AND NUMBERS DIALED.
CLOSELY MONITOR YOUR LONG DISTANCE TELEPHONE BILL.
IF THE COMPUTER IS LEFT RUNNING UNATTENDED CHECK THE SCREEN.
IF IT IS SHOWING A SERIES OF SIXTEEN-DIGIT NUMBERS THE COMPUTER IS TRYING TO VALIDATE CREDIT CARD NUMBERS.
IF YOU ARE NOT COMPUTER LITERATE LEARN ABOUT COMPUTERS TAKE A COURSE OR HAVE YOUR CHILD TEACH YOU.
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