Offworld BBS Busted St. Louis Post-Dispatch Tuesday, January 19, 1993 Pages 1A, 10A
COMPUTER OPERATOR DENIES PORN MENU By Christine Bertelson Of the Post-Dispatch Staff
The owner of a St. Louis computer bulletin board that was shut down by the FBI last week denied Monday that he is responsible for the pornographic images seen by some users.
On Friday night, the FBI confiscated more than $40,000 worth of computer equipment at Offworld, a computer company owned and operated by Joey Jay. Jay, 28, ran the business from his residence in the basement of his father's house on Tecumseh Drive in Chesterfield.
Jay was not arrested, and no charges have been filed against him. Jay said his father threw him out of the house after the raid.
"Everyone assumes we are some kiddie porn ring," Jay said. "We are not. We are a nonprofit community service."
A spokesman for the FBI said that someone had reported that Offworld had images available showing bestiality, as well as child pornography. It is a federal offense to have child pornography, and any property used to promote it is subject to being seized and forfeited to law enforcement authorities, an FBI spokesman said.
"We get all kinds of files across the system, and one or two at most showed up in terms of a private conversation," Jay said. "When I found them, I deleted them immediately."
Offworld began operating in St. Louis last June, and is free to its 4,300 users. Jay said it cost him $1,800 a month to operate the system, using money from family inheritance.
About 100 people showed up Monday morning in Chesterfield at a rally in support of Offworld, Jay said. He said he was soliciting contributions of computer hardware, or cash, to get his system up and running again.
Computer bulletin board systems, or BBSs, as they are known, allow users to chat electronically, and share information on a variety of subjects. Offworld has bulletin boards that feature job listings, book and movie reviews, restaurants and clubs, and discussion groups for people with "diverse lifestyles."
Jay said that any time illegal material appears on a bulletin board –whether it is child pornography, offers of sex for sale, or drugs –it is purged and the people who posted such messages are kicked off the system.
"Unfortunately, that doesn't prevent them from coming back and using another fictitious name," Jay said.
FBI seizures of electronic bulletin board systems are "quite common," said Mike Godwin, a lawyer at the Electronic Frontier Foundation. The foundation is a civil liberties group based in Washington for those in computer communications.
Godwin said that pornography is widely available on the thousands of electronic bulletin boards in use across the country. New computer users often use their scanners to recreate sexy pictures, much the same as children who delight in using a newly acquired dirty word.
"Usually the novelty wears off," Godwin said.
Child pornography is relatively rare, Godwin said. When it shows up, the operator of the system is faced with a choice: delete it immediately, or keep it on the system and report it to the police.
The FBI finds raids effective because they are punitive in and of themselves, whether or not a computer systems operator is ever charged with a crime.
But even the most conscientious systems operator cannot keep all pornography off a bulletin board, Godwin agreed.
Jay had previous conversations with the St. Louis County Police about his system, he said.
"I told them I would simply try to use responsibility and common sense and … keep the system legal," Jay said. "I extend the First Amendment right to all aspects of the system, unless it violates the law."
Jay said he was seeking legal advice to help him get his computer equipment back.
St. Louis Post-Dispatch Tuesday, January 19, 1993 Page 10A
GIF GETS BULLETIN BOARD IN A JIFF 'We Celebrate Human As Art Forum,' One Manager Says of Nude Issue By Daniel R. Browning (Of the Post-Dispatch Staff)
Dirty pictures transmitted over the telephone to your home computer? It had to happen.
Computer bulletin board systems, called BBSs, proliferate not only locally, but nationally and internationally. The biggest ones call themselves "information services," and the granddaddy is CompuServe. It has nearly 1.2 million members from China to Chile.
St. Louis Computing, a free monthly computing newspaper, publishes a list of local bulletin boards and their phone numbers.
Within these bulletin boards people interested in particular topics go to chat, share information, and yes, show their favorite slides. The pictures are transmitted in a special computer code called GIF (pronounced jif), which is short for Graphics Interchange Format. To see them, you need the special "viewers" included in some communications software.
To capture an image, you have your computer's modem dial the bulletin board, then search for whatever you find interesting.
In the giant databases, that means logging on to a special-interest section within the information service or bulletin board. CompuServe calls these "forums."
A forum exists for just about any professional interest or hobby. Journalists, lawyers, doctors, aerospace workers, artists, photographers, beer and wine enthusiasts, automobile buffs – you'll find them all in the forums.
Within these, you can find thousands of pictures ranging from NASA space shots, to great works of art, to travel photos, to The Girl (or Boy) Next Door in a birthday suit.
A wary technician overseeing the forum warns members that they had to be older than 18 to get nude images.
But practically speaking, there's no way to prevent a minor from capturing a nude photo on CompuServe, said Dave Kishler, a company spokesman. The Federal Communications Commission does not regulate BBSs, he said. So the BBSs have worked up their own sets of rules and regulations.
Dave Shaver, operations manager of CompuServe's Fine Arts Forum, said all the images are screened for content before they are made available to the members. That's why you'll find hundreds of nudes under a category called "Plain Brown Wrapper," but no XXX-rated pictures, he said. "We celebrate the human as an art form."
Some bulletin boards are free. The big ones charge a flat monthly fee of $5 to $8. Certain activities within the databases may also include hourly surcharges, which vary in price to about $15 an hour. Joining a special interest forum and capturing pictures would fit in that category on most information services.
That cost – and the requirement that members have a credit card or a checking account – helps limit memberships to adults, Shaver said.