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Declaration of Howard Rheingold

            Plaintiffs,                  )
                  v.                     )   Civ. No. 96-963  
JANET RENO, in her official capacity as  )
             Defendant.                  )


Howard Rheingold, declares that:

1. I am a parent of an eleven year-old daughter, Mamie. My wife,
Judy, and I recently celebrated our 28th anniversary. I'm an
active PTA member, a small business owner, and a voter. My wife
and I believe strongly that parents have an obligation to teach
our children values, to give them the opportunity to make their
own moral choices. We also believe that open communication among
citizens, free from fear of government control, is what holds
democracies together.

2. I've written books about technology and its effects on people
and institutions for the past ten years ("Tools for Thought,"
1985, "Virtual Reality," 1991, "The Virtual Community," 1993). I
write "Tomorrow," a column about the Internet and its effects,
syndicated by King Features. I spend hours a day online, and have
done so for ten years. I have a real life with real people around
me as much as anyone else, but much of my business and social
communication takes place online. For me, it's a real place,
inhabited by real people who can forge deep bonds.

3. I know from long personal experience that people can build
communities from the relationships they grow online with other
people who share their interests and concerns. The new medium that
connects computers and communications networks transforms every
desktop into a printing press and place of assembly, a component
of community-building in technological society. An important part
of civic life takes place there. In my view, communication among
people, and the friendships and communities that form when people
communicate with each other, represent one of if not the most
important aspect of cyberspace.

4. Among the many things left out of the distorted popular image
of the Internet are people for whom the Net is a lifeline; the
cancer support groups, the disabled people who find a new freedom
in this medium, the artists and educators and small businesses who
use the Internet as a way for citizens to publish and communicate
to other citizens. Experience has taught me that many-to-many
communication, used wisely, can magnify the power of individuals
to discuss and make possible collaborative thinking among people
all over the world.

5. In my life, the virtual community became my real community. The
people I first got to know in open, group conversation online have
become my friends in the real world where real things happen to
people. I sat with two people when they were dying, spoke at two
funerals, danced at two weddings, passed the hat quietly among
other virtual community members to help out a member in dire
circumstance. The community I know takes place among people who
matter to me, and online communication is what that enables
thousands of geographically dispersed interest groups to build
communities. For people who live in remote areas, who share
certain special interests, from mathematics to politics to
problems of being an Alzheimer's caregiver to the civic affairs of
a small town or large city, to being a gay teenager in a rural
area, virtual communities enable people to form associations that
can enrich their lives and often carry over into face to face
society. In modern society, it is often difficult to find people
who share interests and values; the virtual community enables
people to find and get to know one another and to establish
relationships they might otherwise never have formed,
relationships that often carry over into face to face friendships.
Indeed, I know of many examples of people who met a spouse online.
In other cases, online friendships, become intense and meaningful
whether or not the people ultimately meet in real life.

6. I grew so fascinated with the nature of online communities that
I travelled the world, visiting virtual communities in Japan and
Europe, as well as America. I interviewed the people who built the
ARPAnet and grew it into the Internet. I interviewed the people
who built the Minitel system in France. In both instances, these
media for social communication were never intended for people to
communicate in new ways. The ARPAnet was a defense-funded
experiment in remote computing over telecommunication wires
because it was necessary for the scattered ARPA computer
researchers to run their data on each other's computers. The
programmers who built the first network started using it for
social communication. The early ARPA directors were wise enough to
see that a new medium for group communication had emerged,
unexpectedly. Minitel was designed as a distributed database, an
electronic yellow pages, but people insisted on using it to chat.

7. The emergency of "social computing" via the Internet is an
example of people using a new tool as a means of human to human
communication,and the medium of many to many communication is
still in its infancy. People are not only building communities,
but businesses, and political information and communication
association. We have only begun to see the social and civic uses
people will make of the emerging medium. As these examples show,
the real virtue of cyberspace is its ability to permit and even
encourage innovation. If strict standards had been set at the
beginning, or if planners had insisted on one structure, and by
either means prohibited the ARPA or Minitel from carrying email
and other messages, one of the most vibrant and important parts of
cyberspace would never have developed.

8. The topics that people discuss online constitute an enormous
variety. Every scientific specialty you could think of has its
electronic mailing list, text archive, web site. Support groups
for scores of diseases are especially important online. The online
breast cancer or AIDS patients in a small town who don't have any
other support group, the Alzheimer's caregivers and others who
cannot leave the house or hospital, the disabled who find a
liberating barrier-free space online, derive vital knowledge,
comfort, and human connection for people in need. The nonprofit
organizations that set up shelters for battered children and
abused spouses can share their views and problems. The
international networks of medical researchers who collaborate or
cure disease can share information and frustrations. So many
people will suffer tremendously if laws shut down Internet
providers and unmoderated forums where nobody can guarantee that
nobody will say a taboo word at some time. Some of these topics of
necessity will involve speech that discusses "sexual or excretory
activities or organs." In some cases, the people speaking or the
people listening will be minors for who the information is
important and useful. It would be a tragedy if fear of prosecution
for failing to police the utterances of every member of a virtual
community would lead to the closing of communities that alleviate
suffering and help people cope with some of the difficulties of
modern life such as life-threatening diseases or domestic

9. Several months ago, a very bright and articulate young man by
the name of Blaine Deatherage sent me an e-mail questionnaire as
part of a school project. I started an electronic correspondence.
I learned, after I got to know him, that he was born with spina
bifida and hydrocephalus, is confined to a wheel chair in
near-total paralysis, and has trouble communicating vocally. I
didn't know that. All I knew was that he had a lively mind and a
way with words. Blaine and millions of others like him have no
other place to go. He's only sixteen. To deprive him of adult
conversation in the chess groups he participates in online would
be a tragedy. If words such as "7 dirty words" are considered
"indecent" or "patently offensive," the groups to which minors
such as Blaine belong, even those where the subject has nothing to
do with sex, such as the chess discussions, are likely to choose
to exclude all minors rather than risk the consequences should an
adult member of the community use a taboo word.

10. Some people form MUD's or MUSE's, which are fantasy
communities established an developed by the participants. These
are the source of enormous creativity and are of particular
interest to young people. I have been told of at least one such
space, as a result of the Act, has set up methods to ban minors,
including minors who participated in the development and creation
of the space. Minors are being banned even when the discussions
are not adult in nature because of an excess of caution on the
part of adults in the space.

11. The examples of community I've mentioned ar real people to me.
When my long online friend and sometime online verbal opponent Tom
Mandel grew fatally ill, he said goodbye online. The poignance of
that experience, and the looks on the faces of Tom's online
friends when I stood up for him at his funeral and gave a eulogy,
are definitely real to me. When my online friend Casey needed an
operation, enough of her online conversational partners bought
posters from her to finance the medical procedure. When Kathleen
Johnson announced that she was dying, dozens of us, including
myself, took turns sitting with someone we had only known from the
words we had read on a computer screen. When Isaac, a bright 15
year old member of the WELL community wanted to attend an
excellent private school his parents couldn't afford, members of
the WELL community raised enough money to pay his tuition.

12. My daughter has used e-mail and the Internet for social
communication and for researching her homework since she was eight
years old. I told her that she needs to use common sense and be
alert when dealing with adult strangers. If someone she doesn't
know calls on the telephone, she knows not to answer personal
questions. I told her that some people aren't who they pretend to
be in real life and in cyberspace, and just because someone sends
her e-mail, it doesn't mean that person is a friend. She knows the
importance of nutritious food for her body, so I told her that she
has to be careful to put nutritious knowledge into her mind,
because the Internet consists of all kinds of mind-food, some of
it not very nutritious. I told her that if anyone said anything to
her or sent anything to her that made her feel bad or suspicious,
that it was okay and a good idea to show it to mommy or daddy.

13. When I wired up her fifth-grade class to the Internet, on a
line donated by a local small Internet service provider, I told
her class that they were pioneers. Although this was an affluent
community, few of the fifth graders in the class had any real
experience online. I told them there were wonderful ways to learn
and communicate with interesting people on the Internet, and they
were going to show the rest of the people in the school, the
school district, the county, how you could help us use the
Internet as a fun way to learn. I told them that if they were
caught doing anything they wouldn't be proud to do in front of
their parents, then the experiment would fail, and the other
classes and schools would probably think Internet for fifth
graders is a bad idea. But I also told them that I was showing
them how to do this because I knew I could count on them to make
the right decisions. They didn't fail me.

14. Many people think cyberspace is just the World Wide Web and
solely involves information retrieval. That is incorrect. As the
ARPA and Minitel example illustrate, many if not most people who
use cyberspace find the most important and most used parts to be
those that facilitate many to many communication. Thus, I believe
the most important parts are newsgroups, chatrooms, mail
exploders, and the life. There are many different ways people
around the world can use the network to communicate with each
other. Many scholarly and scientific groups use an automated
service that sends e-mail to everyone in the group of subscribers,
who can automatically send their responses to everyone in the
group. There is no human moderator who decides which e-mail to
send to the group. People who participate in such groups generally
regulate their behavior voluntarily. Bulletin board systems and
conferences and newsgroups are different ways of organizing public
group conversations where nobody is the moderator or editor.

15. There are moderated groups where an expert in the field acts
as editor, deciding which of the submissions are published.
Moderators generally do not screen the membership; they only
decide what is published.

16. If the Communications Decency Act is enforced, all unmoderated
sites will either have to go out of business or set up
pre-screening to make sure only adults get access. Most
unmoderated sites are non-profit. They have a volume of both
participants and of messages that is too large and too widespread
to permit prescreening. In addition, many unmoderated sites have
been set up long ago and the person who set them up is no longer
involved. Thus, there is no one around to do the screening. For
these reasons, many of the sites would have to be totally
eliminated. I fear that moderated groups won't fare much better.
They also have so much volume that no moderator can screen each
message and prescreen each subscriber.

17. Even if a moderator could screen each message, I'm afraid that
the standards of the Act are so vague that they won't know what to

18. I'm concerned about the difficulty of defining a "community
standard" for a worldwide network. The way the Internet works, if
a geographic standard is applied to everyone in US jurisdiction,
it would have to be that of the most conservative place in the
country. That would stifle the net, not only domestically, but

19. I am convinced that screening of sexual and other
objectionable material can be accomplished with the kinds of
software filtering that all major online services and several
commercial companies have offered. I believe the power to
determine what goes on or off the prohibited list of knowledge in
my household should stay in the household.

20. Probably the most important potential of the Internet is in
community-building. People who are able to make contact with
others who share interests, to continue conversations with people
in other locations, of other ages, races, beliefs, and political
persuasions, to get together with fellow citizens locally and
nationally, are engaged in activities that are vital to the health
of civic life and democracy. The richest communities that are
formed are those that are the most diverse in these ways. I fear
that a chilling effect on the use of online forums could damage
these important activities.

I declare under penalty of perjury that the foregoing is true and

Executed on March 26, 1996

Howard Rheingold

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