In further fallout from the Columbine High School rampage that left 14 students and a teacher dead in Littleton, Colo., victims of various high-profile bombings joined a public safety advocacy group last week in calling on the nation’s leading internet companies to keep bomb-making sites off the web.
“No one has a constitutional right to use an internet company’s property to facilitate murder,” said Dennis Saffran, executive director of the Center for the Community Interest (CCI). “Rather, the companies have the constitutional right–and the moral obligation–to stop this use of their property.”
Joined by a survivor of a Unabomber mail bombing, the Unabomber’s brother, and the mother of a woman killed in the Oklahoma City bombing, the group mailed letters May 19 to America Online, Microsoft, Yahoo Inc!, and Walt Disney Co., asking for them to take action.
The companies should identify and shut down access to bomb-making sites, routinely scan their sites for bomb-making information, and remove sites that specifically threaten or encourage physical violence against named private individuals, the letters said.
Saffran said if the companies refused to act voluntarily, his organization would ask crime victims to press for limited government intervention.
Officials with AOL, Yahoo Inc!, and Go.com, a joint venture between Infoseek Corp. and Disney, said they already prohibit such information. Officials with Microsoft could not immediately be reached for comment.
The companies also do not control all the material on the internet, so virtually anyone with a computer and a modem could create a web site of their own with whatever information they desired.
Srinija Srinivasan, editor-in-chief of Yahoo Inc!, said she was unaware of any bomb-making sites on the company’s directory, but if someone tried, the company would not allow it.
Go.com is very aggressive in watching out for such sites, said Infoseek spokeswoman Amanda Higgins. Go.com prohibits hate or violent language, she added.
“Any such materials we find are removed,” said AOL spokesman Andrew Weinstein, who noted that posting bomb-making material on AOL is a violation of the company’s terms.
Still, Eric Harris, one of the two youths who killed 12 students and a teacher and then themselves in Colorado last month, had a web site on AOL filled with bomb diagrams.
David Kaczynski, the brother of convicted “Unabomber” Theodore Kaczynski, said easy access to bomb-making sites can turn good kids bad.
“We’re allowing every Eric Harris, every troubled kid out there, to become the next Tim McVeigh,” Kaczynski said.
Gary Wright, who still finds shards of shrapnel in his skin from a Kaczynski bomb, said that in a span of 15 minutes, he was able to find 10 sites telling him how to make pipe and rocket bombs, bombs disguised as tennis balls, and homemade napalm.
“A child running in the park is going to have no hesitation in picking up something that is made to look like it can give him pleasure, like a tennis ball,” Wright said through a video hookup from Salt Lake City.
CCI supplies a form on its site for reporting bomb-making and other dangerous web sites.
Center for the Community Interest