NetAction Notes

Published by NetAction Issue No. 17 April 15, 1997
Repost where appropriate. See copyright information at end of message.


Close Encounters in Cyberspace
Fly the Secure Skies of Big Brother (Urgent!)
Robert Jacobson Joins NetAction Advisory Board
How to Help NetAction

Close Encounters in Cyberspace

According to recent news reports, H&R Block is planning to sell Compuserve, and America Online may be the buyer. If it happens, it would merge the two largest providers of Internet services. The media speculation about AOL and Compuserve has prompted Ralph Nader's Consumer Project on Technology (CPT) to ask the Federal Trade Commission and the U.S. Department of Justice to solicit comments by E-mail if, in fact, the two ISPs seek to merge. CPT,, has played a leading role in efforts to get the federal government to use the Internet to expand citizen participation in government policy making.

Last month, CPT Director James Love urged the FTC to accept E-mail comments in the proposed merger of two chains of office supply super-stores, and when the FTC complied, some 2,000 citizens communicated their concerns about the merger through cyberspace. Since literally all of their customers are online, the potential merger of two large ISPs could potentially generate a huge amount of public participation if the agencies agree to accept comments by E-mail.

Along with many other cyberspace activists, I see this is a good thing. By making it easier for citizens to communicate their concerns to policy makers, we make it easier for our policy makers to listen to the citizens who elected them instead of to the lobbyists paid by special interests. For public interest activists, this is a no-brainer.

But not so for syndicated columnist Cokie Roberts. When Love told Roberts in a recent interview that the Internet effectively created an electronic town meeting, Roberts and her husband, Steven, wrote a column complaining that the analogy made their "blood run cold." They even quoted James Madison's assertion, from The Federalist, that "the public voice pronounced by the representatives of the people will be more consonant to the public good than if announced by the people themselves convened for that purpose."

According to Roberts and her husband, technology that enhances citizen participation in government is a bad thing because it moves us away from the representative democracy that the Founding Fathers were in favor of. Those are the same Founding Fathers, by the way, who declared that only white male property owners could vote.

Well, we've come a long way, Cokie. And with the democratizing potential of cyberspace, more citizens can speak for themselves.

If you prefer to speak for yourself, letters in support of CPT's request that the FTC and DOJ accept electronic comments in the event AOL and Compuserve decide to merge can be sent to:

Robert Pitofsky
Federal Trade Commission
6th Street and Pennsylvania Avenue, N.W
Washington, D.C. 20580

Joel I. Klein
Assistant Attorney General
U.S. Department of Justice
Antitrust Division
1401 H. Street, Suite 4000, N.W.
Washington, D.C. 20530

Or, send an E-mail message to and .

Fly the Secure Skies of Big Brother

A lobbyist for the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) reports that the Transportation Subcommittee of the Senate Appropriates Committee will be conducting a hearing April 16 on aviation safety and security measures, looking specifically at what it will cost taxpayers to ensure security in our skies.

The hearing provides an opportunity for activists concerned about the impact that proposed new aviation security measures will have on the constitutional rights of airline passengers to raise those concerns with their representatives. The ACLU is urging interested activists to contact the Senators who serve on the committee and ask them to pose questions to the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) witness that reflect those concerns. (See the list of committee members below.)

In February, NetAction was one of 17 organizations that wrote to Vice President Al Gore to express concern about the serious civil liberties issues raised by government proposals intended to beef up airport security. The letter is on NetAction's Web site, at, and detailed information about the privacy implications of proposed airport security measures is on the Electronic Privacy Information Center Web site, at

The proposals include setting up a computer database and profiling airline passengers, targeting passengers who fit a specific "profile" for greater scrutiny, and installing new X-ray cameras that would enable security guards to see highly detailed images of passengers' bodies under their clothes. Privacy advocates also expressed concern about a secret FAA order -- already in effect -- that purportedly requires the airlines to demand that passengers provide a government-issued photo identification in order to board their flight.

While we all want air travel to be safe, we should not be expected to sacrifice our basic civil liberties for security measures that are of questionable value in terms of the added security they would provide.

Senators to contact are:

Shelby (R-AL) Chair 202-224-7821
Specter (R-PA) 202-224-4254
Domenici (R-NM) 202-224-6621
Faircloth (R-NC) 202-224-3154
Bond (R-MO) 202-224-5721
Gorton (R-WA) 202-224-3441
Bennett (R-UT) 202-224-5444
Lautenberg (D-NJ) 202-224-7245
Byrd (D-W.VA) 202-224-7245
Mikulski (D-MD) 202-224-4654
Reid (D-NV) 202-224-3452
Kohl (D-WI) 202-224-5653
Muray (D-WA) 202-224-2621

Robert Jacobson Joins NetAction Advisory Board

NetAction is pleased to announce that Dr. Robert Jacobson has joined the Advisory Board. Bob is a senior consultant with SRI Consulting in Menlo Park, Calif., and is the founder, President and CEO of Worldesign, Inc. He is also co-founder and former Associate Director of the Human Interface Technology Laboratory at the Washington Technology Center in Seattle, and the former Principal Consultant and Staff Director for the Utilities and Commerce Committee of the California State Assembly. Prior to that, he served as a Senior Consultant with the Assembly Office of Research.

An expert in virtual reality, Bob has researched and published numerous articles and books, and has done extensive public speaking and lecturing on the subject. He also served as Q&A columnist for VR World.

Bob earned his Ph.D. in planning from the University of California at Los Angeles and was a Fulbright Research Scholar in Media Studies at Roskilde Universitetscenter in Denmark. He earned dual Master's degrees from the Annenberg School of Communications at the University of Southern California, and the Department of Motion Pictures/Television at UCLA, where he also completed his undergraduate studies.

How to Help NetAction

Membership in NetAction supports continued publication of NetAction Notes, as well as a wide range of organizing and training activities. NetAction projects include helping grassroots organizations harness the power of the Internet as a tool for outreach and advocacy; helping activists who are already using the Internet do a more effective job of building a base of grassroots support for technology-based social and political issues; and promoting more widespread access to information technology by organizing hands-on demonstrations of the Internet.

Please join NetAction today by sending a check payable to NetAction/Tides Center to: NetAction, 601 Van Ness Ave. #631, San Francisco, CA 94102.

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Copyright 1997 by The Tides Center/NetAction. All rights reserved. Material may be reposted or reproduced for non-commercial use provided NetAction is cited as the source.

NetAction is a project of The Tides Center, a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization. NetAction is dedicated to promoting effective grassroots citizen action campaigns by creating coalitions that link online activists with grassroots organizations, providing training to online activists in effective organizing strategies, and educating the public, policymakers and the media about technology-based social and political issues.

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