The Big Pornography BBS Raids & Byron Sonne

Image of the Open Telegard logon screen courtesty of Chris Tusa
Image of the Open Telegard logon screen courtesty of Chris Tusa

On Identi.ca this morning we’ve been discussing the criminal charges against Byron Sonne, and the other people who were charged in the G8/G20 witch hunt. And of course someone reposted the link to the Gawker interview with one of the people that the FBI raided for being a member of Anonymous.

All of which reminded me of another witch hunt…

I used to run a BBS called ‘Through the Looking Glass.’ Hey, I’m a creature of habit 🙂

It was a private board. You got invited to join if you were interesting. You had to be able to communicate. There was a posting requirement – you have to keep your ratio of posts above a certain level, or I’d kick you out.

Quite frankly it was a lot of fun. We had a great bunch of people, and held brisk discussions about a wide range of topics. There were only 30 members, so everyone knew everyone quite well. It was a private club style setup, you didn’t even get considered for an invite unless someone who was already a member recommended you – and they were careful about who they recommended because we were all having so much fun.

And then a MORAL PANIC hit southern Ontario. Some brainless cretin realized that Electronic Bulletin Board Systems could be used to distribute child pornography.

The problem is that anything can be used to distribute child pornography. The logic that was being used in newspaper articles attacking BBS systems like mine could have been used to attack the use of transport trucks in intercity commerce! But since this was a moral panic, the lack of logic didn’t matter.

I don’t know all of the details of what our local police force was doing. I do know what I saw, which was criminally stupid to say the least.

First, police officers tried to get memberships on every BBS in existence. Since a lot, like my own, didn’t advertise, a sudden flood of new users was odd to say the least. Even odder was the insistence that they wanted instant access to my porn section, which they claimed they knew I had.

Remember, none of them knew who I was. I could have been a fourteen year old. And a lot of fourteen year olds ran BBS systems. So you’ve got some cop asking a fourteen year old for pictures of ‘cunts and dicks.’ Right, good move guys.

I originally decided to ignore them. The first couple of requests I just deleted. When they kept coming, and I’d checked with the members, and no one had given out the phone number, I decided to be nasty.

Part of the signon process for new users asked for a phone number. Needless to say, no police officer was going to leave the phone number for the local cop shop. They used their home phone numbers. And most of them pretended to be in their late teens.

Me being the right evil bastard that I am, I started calling those phone numbers, and asking for their mothers. I ended up speaking to quite a few women who were shocked to hear that their son (or husband) was looking for pornography…

When I originally started making the calls, I had no idea that I was talking to the wives and mothers of police officers. What gave it away was the response of one woman who answered the phone. I asked for the mother of the name which had been left. She seemed confused. I explained that I was calling to tell her that her son was looking for pornography. The anger in her voice was unmistakable. The person who’d signed on had claimed to be 17. The male voice in the back ground that was getting yelled at wasn’t 17. More like 37…

Then all of a sudden the logons dried up. At least on my board. I heard from other sysops that they were still having problems. I’m guessing that the word went out at the Peel Regional Police that I wasn’t a nice guy to deal with. I still got the odd attempt though.

One night we were having a party. Ten of the BBS users were over at our house, chatting, and having fun, when someone logged onto the BBS. Since Mike was standing near the computer, he dropped into the chair to see who it was. Hey, we all knew each other, right?

It was a newbie, trying to get access. Mike dropped into chat with him, and the usual plea for access to the porn section came. Mike told me, and I told him to bullshit the caller for a minute, ran into the kitchen, and came back with a piece of paper off the fridge with a phone number. I gave it to Mike, and he told the newbie that he had to be validated, and to call that number.

The newbie logged off, and we waited. About five minutes later the newbie tried to log back in, and I dropped to chat. The newbie was furious. Why had I told him to call the police? The room behind me erupted into laughter. Everyone had been wondering why our phone hadn’t rung… I told the newbie (who I was pretty sure was a cop) that the cops had far more pornography than I had, and that if he wanted some, he should ask them for it, and then cut the connection.

And Mike, the guy who was chatting with the cop, and got asked for access to the tits? Mike was sixteen. My oldest, who sometimes logged onto the BBS was about six at the time.

I strongly suspect that Byron Sonne’s arrest was the result of a similar panic, and that he will eventually be freed. But how will society compensate him for the time he’s lost?

Regards

Wayne Borean

Friday February 25, 2011

Note: For some background on what happened to other BBS operators read this.

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