Msg #8885 on 10/12/84 @02:17 (132) Subj: New MogUr twist, To: All From: Matt Yuen, Los Angeles, CA →FWD
The following is a transcript of John Dvorak's column in the
Sunday October 7 issue of the San Francisco Examiner-Chronicle.
John Dvorak Periscope
KEYSTONE KOPS CAPER IN COMPUTER COMMUNITY
It was supposed to be the computer "crime" of the year. It will
turn into an embarrassment for everyone.
It started with a May 16 Los Angeles Police Department raid of an
innocuous computerized community bulletin board in Grenada (sic) Hills. The cops were prompted by Pacific Bell to bust a guy named Tom Tcimpidis (pronounced Sim-pedis). Somehow, somebody posted a telephone calling card number on his system.
Basically, anyone hooked into a computerized community bulletin
board can post messages that can be read by others on the system. All it takes is a home computer coupled to a modem, which links the computer to the telephone line, and the password. State law prohibits board users from posting telephone credit card numbers and calling card numbers. (That's what the telephone company gives you to charge calls nowadays.)
In fact, it's a felony if someone posts a number on your bulletin
board because it's considered a conspiracy. If you're the operator of the board and you post the number yourself, it's only a misdemeanor. You don't even have to know who posted the number to be charged with a felony. That's what happened to Tcimpidis, or so it seemed.
This case has become *the* cause celebre of the microcomputer
community. The L.A. Times, L.A. Herald-Examiner, InfoWorld, the Associated Press have written stories. And like falling dominoes, users and operators of the thousands of bulletin boards around have found out about the shutdown, and everybody is mad as hell at the phone company.
A lawyer's special interest group involved in computers is
preoccupied with the case. Lawyers are volunteering their time to defend Tcimpidis. Among other things, they say there's a freedom of speech issue. If you run an open community bulletin board, are you as the owner responsible for all its contents? The whole Pac Bell approach seemed like much ado about nothing. Hey, there was only one card number posted, and Tcimpidis says he didn't even see it.
OK, so it's a big deal. But everyone, and I mean everyone, has
screwed up like nothing I've ever seen. Sure, the applicable law is a disaster. But is this the case to rally around? Let's start out with the fact that the owner of the number posted on the bulletin board knew Tcimpidis and Tcimpidis knew him. This is a critical fact that has been overlooked by the police, the media, the angry computerniks, the attorneys, the district attorney, everyone. Why? Because nobody bothered to call the number that was posted and see who the heck this guy was!
So I did.
I did it because I checked the bulletin board and it looked
pretty harmless. (There are "phone phreak" boards that do carry a lot of questionably legal information.) So I called the number and got hold of a fellow named Murray Krow of Murray Krow Productions, a video production company in Los Angeles. Hey, what do you know–Tcimpidis works in video, too!
It turns out that Tcimpidis worked for Krow back in March--just
before the number was posted on Tcimpidis's board. According to Krow, Tcimpidis was hired as a video engineer by a subcontractor named Terry Donahue to work on a production for IBM, some industrial training tape. Krow claims, he "had trouble with Tcimpidis." There were "technical errors" that luckily turned out not to be a problem. Krow indicated that he wasn't satisfied with Tcimpidis, and Tcimpidis hasn't worked for Krow since.
Krow told me that he never lost his calling card or had it
stolen. During a shoot, though, the card number got used by all the staffers and maybe 100 or so calls were made on it. According to Krow, it is possible that anyone could have used the card.
Soon after the number was posted on the bulletin board, Krow got
a phone bill with a couple of weird calls to Australia and Israel and a lot of short, unexplainable five-minute calls. "It was less than $100 worth of phony calls," Krow told me. Krow didn't remember when the bum calls took place. Pac Bell can figure it out.
Krow was flabbergasted that his number appeared on Tcimpidis's
bulletin board. (Actually, Pac Bell did call him, but Krow at that time said he didn't recognize Tcimpidis's name.)
When I confronted Tcimpidis with this unusual coincidence, at
first he didn't remember working for Krow. "Doesn't ring a bell," he said. He did remember working for Donahue on the IBM job, though. When I got more specific, then he remembered Krow. He recalled the shoot at some boring management-oriented video. He said he doesn't know anything about any "technical errors" and has worked for Donahue since then.
Tcimpidis goes on to say that he, too, is shocked by the
coincidence, claiming that he didn't know the number belongs to Krow until I told him.
Tcimpidis also claims that soon after he was shut down he checked
a bunch of other bulletin boards and found the same number posted on one of them. The date of the posting, according to Tcimpidis, was 45 days earlier than the posting on his board. (Tcimpidis was raided after his message was on his board for 70 days.) Tcimpidis surmised that since Krow was passing the card around and making hundreds of calls, anyone could have noted the number. After all, the video technician community is loaded with computer-types, right?
Why didn't Tcimpidis see the message on his board? "It got by
me," he said.
But who cares, anyway? The cops sure don't. They resent doing Pac
Bell's dirty work and certainly haven't been very diligent in gathering material on which to build a case. When they raided Tcimpidis's house, they left evidence behind and took the wrong diskettes. The district attorney's office can't make up its mind what to do. And all along, the media meekly parrot Chuck Lindner's (Tcimpidis's attorney) complaints about the phone company. (One L.A. Times reporter called Tcimpidis to find out why Tcimpidis was busted for running a prostitution line from his bulletin board. Great reporting.)
What it comes down to, and this is pathetic, is that this is a
high-profile case that could turn out to be a big zero because of trumped-up felony charges, Keystone Kop antics, buck passing, and dubious coincidences. This isn't the case for thousands of users and hords of gung-ho lawyers to get behind. It's been too poorly handled by everyone to be a good test case for anything.
More importantly, it's liable to cause a legislative ruckus.
Well-meaning zealots, who lack a basic understanding of simple microcomputer technology, are going to try (to) pass laws that are far worse than the current statute (Cal PC502.7.). Stir into this witch's brew a naive and technophobic public with the dull-witted, antsy and technologically naive politician, and you've got trouble in River City.
The answer is, of course, a sincere effort at self-policing these
boards by the people who run them. Unfortunately, there has been no real movement in that direction.
And here is the response from Tom Tcimpidis's attorney, Chuck Lindner:
From Chuck Lindner:
Everyone….This is important!!! Please give this message maximum distribution on all bbs systems. There is an article by john dvorak in the sunday san francisco "chronicle" & "examiner" that tom tcimpidis apparently worked as a television engineer for a producer named murray krow. It appears that it was krow's number that was the att credit card number used….Tom denies knowing it was krow's number….I have interviewed tom and am satisfied that he is telling the truth….Now, for the hard part….Because of mr. Dvorak's revelation (which we did not know), I am compelled to disclose defense evidence…..We have absolute and utterly concrete evidence that mr. Krow's credit card was in circulation on the los angeles bbs network, on numerous boards, more than a month before it found its way to mog-ur, and well prior to tom's working with or meeting mr. Krow….Mr. Dvorak regrettably thought he was solving a mystery. Unfortunately, as a defense attorney, I could not tell him all of our evidence before trial…But since he has chosen to create innuendoes ..I thought it necessary to clear tom's name…The defense of tcimpidis and mog-ur will proceed as before. I would appreciate it if this message could find its way to mr. Dvorak.
CHUCK LINDNER (213)-680-4435 ATTORNEY FOR TOM TCIMPIDIS