TRANSCRIPT: PHIL DONAHUE SHOW Aired March 15, 1985
EDITOR'S NOTES: This is an annotated transcript of the highlights of "The Phil Donahue Show," which dealt with computer communications and its ramifications. The New York-based syndicated television show aired this morning in many parts of the country.
Donahue's guests for the discussion were Richard Louv, author of a book called "America II: The Book that Captures Americans in the Act of Creating the Future" and Newsweek journalist Richard Sandza, who has reported on the exploits of computer "crackers."
Also on the show were demonstrations of the CompuServe and Source networks and regulars of the networking community, including Chris and Pam Dunn of the CB forum and subscriber Bill Steinberg.
Now, the show begins. The transcript...
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PHIL DONAHUE (to the audience): Do you know who can access a computer to find out how much is in your checking account? How many times you've been divorced? Whether or not you watch dirty movies? I'm telling you.
UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN IN THE AUDIENCE: Not true. Not true.
DONAHUE: Whether you're bankrupt?
THE WOMAN: Yes...
DONAHUE: Who you owe money to. You know what else they can do? They can get your credit card.
THE WOMAN: Yes, but not if you're careful.
DONAHUE: I don't know if it matters about being careful...
(turns to the stage to introduce guests)
DONAHUE: This is Richard Louv. He's written a book entitled "America II" ... This whole Orewellean thing is not funny. You know that people are falling in love with computers. I mean, with each other. There's X-rated computers. (Laughter) I'm telling you and you're laughing.
LOUV: (When) I got interested in this whole thing, I (visited some bulletin boards and)...it's a good thing my computer has a fan on it. I was up late one night and all this X-rated stuff started coming up on my screen, I mean really hardcore.
DONAHUE: You're talking about dirty language. Not pictures?
LOUV: No, but it's a form of mating. (Laughter) There's a lot of computer sex out there.
DONAHUE (to the audience): You know what they do? They have hot tub parties...Everybody's got a nickname and then if you connect with somebody during this party, you and that other person can go off by yourself onto this private channel, have a little more X-rated conversation, and then if you want, go back to the hot tub party. (Laughter) I'm telling you.
LOUV: And there are hundreds of these computer bulletin boards that are sexually oriented...
DONAHUE: The problem is: 14-year-olds are doing it....
DONAHUE: (introducing second guest) Let me tell you what happened to a Newsweek reporter. This is a real live computer victim here. Richard Sandza was doing a piece for the magazine...
SANDZA: Yes, I did a piece talking about these bulletin boards ... (to say) "Here's what's going on. There are these bulletin boards and kids are using them to exchange illegal information (such as) how to get your credit card." ...And they came after me because they felt I had broken some sort of pledge and told too much about their underground.
DONAHUE: And you had a 'teletrial,' didn't you?
SANDZA: I was put on teletrial, which is somewhat like the hot tub parties, only I think I was going to be boiled in oil in this one.
DONAHUE: A jury and testimony and everything?
SANDZA: Yes, they set up a bulletin board and people would call in and place charges against me and say why I should be punished. I was allowed to defend myself.
DONAHUE: You were also getting hostile phone calls at home? They got your phone number?
SANDZA: They got my telephone number and began calling me at home at all hours of the day and night. The worst thing they did was they dialed into (a credit card company) and got the whole list of my credit card accounts. They passed the credit card numbers around the country and then they started using the credit cards.
DONAHUE: Your wife... you both must have been very, very frightened by all of this.
SANDZA: Well, this started on the day my wife went into labor with our first child and I called the phone company from the maturity ward to make sure my telephone wouldn't be disconnected, as they had been threatened. They threatened to blow up my house. I didn't know whether to take this seriously, but I had seen messages (on bulletin boards) on how to make letter bombs, nitroglycerin, pick locks, all these other things, all the things necessary to blow up my house in San Francisco.
DONAHUE: Neo-Nazis have computers.
SANDZA: They keep track of their hit lists and pass around information so they can keep track of their enemies.
LOUV: Yes, that's a national network. Any one of you can call into the Neo-Nazi's bulletin board, if you have a computer.
SANDZA: Yes, if you want some hate mail, just dial in.
DONAHUE: The KKK is talking to each other on bulletin boards. A 14-year-old ... was apparently able to transmit how to make nitroglycerin.
UNIDENTIFIED SPECTATOR: How do you protect yourself from this.
SANDZA: I'm not sure you can protect yourself from this. Credit bureau computers are kept so all of us can have credit cards and they have information on just about...every adult in the United States. The security's not (even) good enough to keep these kids out.
LOUV: I talked to one guy who gets into these (systems) and he says that the TRW computer system is incredibly user friendly.... I asked TRW about this, "How do you get these numbers?" TRW has 30,000 customers -- banks, savings and loans -- who call in every day to ask for a credit... They print these numbers out. That's 30,000 leak points for your number.
SANDZA: The kid who got my number, they found ... the password and the number (in a) garbage can behind a bank in Massachusetts.
UNIDENTIFIED SPECTATOR: I think what you have to consider is, we're blaming the computer in this. It's not the computer. It's the people using it. (Applause.)
SANDZA: You're absolutely right.
(Donahue introduces Bill Steinberg at a computer terminal. There's a demonstration of The Source's electronic conferencing system, PARTICIPATION. The messages shown on the screen from an online conferences about "sexual gadgets" and devices.)
DONAHUE (to the audience): ... While we're watching this, let's consider some of the legal questions. Can I insult your mother on this thing? And if I do, can you sue me? How do you find me? And who's responsible for that libel? Is it the computer agency? The bulletin board itself? And who's responsible... does the law oblige the person running the bulletin board to be responsible? ... You cannot send Neo-Nazi mail, hate mail, to Canada, for instance. It's illegal...but you can transmit...
SANDZA: Well, that's why they set up the bulletin board. One of them is in northern Idaho... so that their followers in Canada could dial in and get this information. It's very effective, as I understand.
DONAHUE: (Looking back at the computer screen. To Steinberg:) What have you got there. Oh, it's another sex thing. We'd better get off this thing...
LOUV: This may be the only safe form of sex left. (Laughter)
(Steinberg then logs on to CompuServe Service's CB)
DONAHUE: You know what would be fun? Let's get the checking account of somebody in the audience... I bet you we could.
UNIDENTIFIED SPECTATOR: Use yours...
(Donahue looks at the computer screen again, and notes that one of the CB'ers said he was logged on from Montreal)
DONAHUE: So we have an international communications. Now, one of the things that obviously should concern us is that this appears to get around laws that government international (communications.) That could include information that might hurt somebody. Racist information that might place somebody at risk. Remember the CB craze. Wherever there are people communicating, there is going to be conflict. It's another flag.
LOUV: But it's also another opportunity for social activism. Greenpeace now has its own computer bulletin board network. So does the anti-nuclear movement and I think we're entering a period ... of strange forms of social activism, and this is going to be one of those forms.
SANDZA: It replaces the telephone in a lot of cases...The difference here is that you're completely anonymous and you don't need somebody's telephone number... Maybe there shouldn't be any laws that govern what you say back and forth. There certainly aren't on the telephone. The difference here is that you could keep an actual record (of what was said) on paper and then you could rebroadcast that somewhere else.
LOUV: In a sense, this is a return to Tom Paine who printed off cheap pamphlets and handed them out in Boston. These political groups have instant access to information. For instance, how to set up a protest against (a nuclear plant). They can find out in San Francisco immediately how it was done on the East Coast...That has enormous power for the future and I'm not sure many of us have fully realized that.
(Donahue introduces Chris and Pamela Dunn in the audience)
DONAHUE: They look happy, don't they? Well, they are. Very happy. (To the Dunns) You're married, aren't you? They met via computer terminals. How did this happen, and were you alone, or at work, or...?
PAM DUNN: I was alone at home and I was using a terminal to access CompuServe, utilizing the CB network. That was a few years ago now, when it was young and there weren't that many at first, I didn't even know he was male, because we were both using handles to have that anonymity.
DONAHUE: What were your handles?
PAM DUNN: Zerbra3
CHRIS DUNN: ChrisDos, which is a computer term.
PAM DUNN: We got to talk to each other quite frequently and we started having parties. That was the thing to do in CB was to have actual parties so people could meet each other. And I came from Chicago to New York and met and (laughs) made history.
CHRIS DUNN: (The parties became national parties eventually). I flew to San Francisco to meet some people, just to have a nice time. They didn't have anything to do with sex or any of this other stuff. We were just enjoying each other's company and talking to each other. The thing about computers is, they're just a tool. People are doing the same thing with them that they've done for ages...It's not the computer; it's the people running them.
DONAHUE: Pamela, you're a shy person. You're not the kind to be found in a singles bar.
PAM DUNN: Absolutely not, and I've found this is an incredible way to meet, not just a potential spouse, but friends, people you have things in common with, people that you don't have things in common with but ways to broaden your horizons by encountering them.
CHRIS DUNN: And you don't have to be a technie type. She's a zookeeper...
DONAHUE: And I assume you can tell a jerk on the screen maybe even easier than you can ...
PAM DUNN: It takes practice. You get suckered in a few times...(Laughter)
DONAHUE: Well, there's no guarantees when you meet them (away from the computer systems.)...
DONAHUE: (Addressing a portion of the audience) Now am I to understand that all you people refer to yourselves as 'users'? You know, 'user' has become a bad word in our culture, but we won't (laughs) suggest that you're doing anything wrong...
(While walking through the audience, Donahue talks with a woman who says she used to call a number of bulletin boards, but after receiving big phone bills, restricted her BBS-hopping to local New York boards.)
DONAHUE: But there are people who can use this equipment without paying the phone company?
SANDZA: Sure. That's one of the things they exchange on these illegal bulletin boards. Most of these people (in the audience) probably haven't been on illegal bulletin boards and aren't interested in being on them. But (the bulletin board will) spread information on ... how to beat the phone company... so you don't have to worry about those big phone bills...
(Donahue returns the the CompuServe CB demonstration. He notes that many users of CB and other "real-time" conferences send messages such as "<waving>" and "<hugs!>," noting this is "really a warm medium.")
LOUV: You know what? One thing they've found about this, though, is that you'd think that you'd be kind of cold and technical using this, with the language? The opposite is true. There's a term, "flaming" (for) when people use electronic mail (and) exaggerate everything. You see exclamation points across the screens. Everything's exaggerated. People lose their tempers. Executives will swear on these things, when you'd never see them swear in the board room... So everything is hot on this medium. It's not a cold medium.
DONAHUE: (looking at the CB demonstration.) Can you see this? We've already got a wise guy. "Hi Phil. I always liked Marlo Thomas better." (from a CB'er with the handle of "MOM")
(Laughter and applause)...
LOUV: You need to put this into the context, or culture we're in. I've described it as "America II." It's a culture in which many of us are drawn into condos with high-security systems. More and more things are done in the home. We're more and more isolated. But just when you think that (we've) created an America II where everybody stays inside and (doesn't) touch or anything, this kind of communications comes along. That hot medium that I find very fascinating. We're finding new ways to communicate...
SANDZA: The flipside of this is the misuse of these bulletin boards that pass out information about how to break the law, how to invade your privacy, how to make bombs...These boards are completely anonymous. I can say anything I want about you. You can say anything you want about me. This information moves around at the speed of light and if you wanted to spread my credit card around the country, you could do it in a flash...
LOUV: This lady back here who said it's not the computer, it's how we use it is exactly right. It's part of the new American culture and we can't get around it...
(A woman in the audience comments to Donahue that the computer's seem like "adult toys" to her).
LOUV: Phil, there's something very ominous that doesn't really have to do with the privacy issue and that's the split between America I and America II. The America of poor blacks and chicanos and people who have no access to this stuff. This stuff is rich kids' toys for the most part....
(Another woman says her child saved up to buy his own computer.)
LOUV: Increasingly, it's available to those people...but even when it's available, studies have shown, often times they haven't been prepared by their education to use it...They use it by rote memory. They don't use it in the intutive kinds of ways that middle class are using them.
DONAHUE: It's another vehicle to widen what we have already been told by a national commision is a gap between the two Americas.
LOUV: There's a study in Silicon Valley ... of kid who uses computers.The kids of the engineers and computer designers....40 percent of (them) had computers. Ten miles away, the kids of the parents who... put those computers together, 1 percent of those kids have computers...
(A woman comments she feels "shut out" by not knowing about computers.)
LOUV: These are the people of America I -- not shut out of the world so much as left before... The people of America II are going to be talking internationally... There's a computer bulletin board in Japan (with which) you can make a local call and talk to anyone in the world. What about the people of America I who are being left behind?
(A woman spectator asks: are these people spending too much time with computers?)
DONAHUE: Good question.
SANDZA: Perhaps they are. But we ask ourselves what's going to happen in the '80s, as we move from an industrial society to a service society when computers will do the high tech jobs of the future. These kids...are the ones who are going to be ready for those jobs.
(Donahue talks with a man in the audience who says he operates a local computer bulletin board and is proud of the fact that its a "clear board." The man notes that his board deals primarily with sharing computer information.)
DONAHUE (to the audience): You know you can get electronic grafitti. It's another opportunity to display your idiocy, so how are you going to police that? Who's going to take it off? And if somebody's libeled...
(Woman asks if it should be illegal to have x-rated bulletin boards.)
SANDZA: How are you going to enforce that law? The only way you can enforce that law is to have the people who are the guardians of these young people...(interrupted)
(Woman says there's room for both America I and America II, that she hopes some people are still "writing poetry and kids going out sailing.")
LOUV: One of the things I discuss in the book is that....America II doesn't have to end up where it looks like it's heading. Look -- how many of your communities have spent money on parks lately?...This (computing) is the new recreation, the new outdoors and we've got to start looking at these things if...we really want to balance society...
UNIDENTIFIED SPECTATOR: Are we saying that even though there are a lot of people doing things that are illegal, there's no way to police it so it's all right?
SANDZA: It's virtually impossible to police it...the law's beginning to emerge. The federal goverment passed a law last year making it illegal to trespass in a computer, but it applies only to government computers. The section (dealing with) private computers was deleted as it went through Congress.
DONAHUE: It's a nightmare when you think about it. Can they access an (aviation computer)? Can they send your plane to the wrong city? Can they send your plane to the wrong runway?
(Sandza notes that crackers were "into the computer" that kept time on the Olympic races.)
(Donahue looks at the computer screen again. It's now displaying The Source's PARTICIPATE this time with an electronic conference on "Single Parenting.")
LOUV: The point isn't the law...the law has to be changed, obviously. But that isn't the point. The point is what kind of alternatives do we provide for kids? This is not a negative technology. It's neutral. Kids have to have an alternative. We have to start looking at our cities and countryside and our small towns and figure out how to make them more humane for children.
(Man in the audience said he'd like to hear more about Chris and Pam Dunn.)
DONAHUE: I would too... And they're still married even though the show's almost over. (Laughter) How long did you use communication through the computers before you actually met?
PAM DUNN: About six months before we actually met.
CHRIS DUNN: We got together a few times back and forth. She was throwing a party and I went to it. The rest was just plain old love. It happened that way.
DONAHUE: Where was the first time you met?
PAM DUNN: Chicago.
DONAHUE: He came to see you.
PAM DUNN Yes, still old-fashioned...
DONAHUE: Did you take him to see the Cubs or the Sox?
PAM DUNN: I took him to see the zoo. (Applause and laughter.)
(Woman says she wants to have nothing to do with computers asks if she'll have no choice in 20 years.)
SANDZA: The technology is heading toward making it much easier for people who know nothing about computers to use them.
(Woman asks Sandza what about what the punishment was in his "teletrial" -- "did they flip the switch or what?")
SANDZA: No. I made a deal with a friend who's a hacker who crashed the system... he essentially blew up the courthouse. (Laughter.)
(Man in the audience says that something to consider is that "if information is currency, then who's minding the bank.")
DONAHUE: And what are the censorship rules? Who decides?
(Following the usual format for the Donahue show, the camera fades out with people in the audience still asking questions. As the show ends, one man is asking if the computer crackers ever break into computers in the Soviet Union. No answer is record.)
-End of transcript.-