By Timothy J. Gibbons
Published by Daytona Beach News-Journal on May 2, 1999.

DELTONA -- "Pipe bombs are some of the easiest and deadliest ways to kill a group of people or destroy a few things. First off, we will talk about the pipes. Second will be the explosives and last will be the shrapnel."

Only 23 seconds after connecting to the Internet, these cyber-instructions burst onto the screen.

A point-by-point description of the proper way to construct a bomb followed the Web page's opening paragraph, detailing where to get gunpowder and how to buy pipes without arousing suspicion.

"Shrapnel is very important if you want to kill and injure a lot of people," the site advised. And, when explaining the proper way to remove gunpowder from fireworks: "Be sure you have plenty of newspapers down because accidents do happen and if you have a big black stain on yer carpet, mom and dad might ask some questions."

The easy availability of such information, especially via the Internet, is garnering attention and blame in the aftermath of the killings at Columbine High School in Littleton, Colo.

"There's too much information getting out," said Lt. Joseph McDonald, commander of the Volusia County Sheriff's Office Division of Special Services, which includes the county's bomb squad. "I think it's something this country needs to start worrying about."

After the Littleton shootings, experts speculated that kids could get bomb-making information on the Internet in an "hour or two."

That would be generous.

A casual search of the Web on Friday turned up general information on pipe bombs in less than 30 seconds. Detailed instructions several versions of the infamous "Anarchist Cookbook," for example were procured in about 70 seconds. Within seven minutes, a reporter tracked down precise instructions on the construction of bomb detonators and portions of the U.S. Army field manual on explosives and demolitions.

The availability of such information opens the door for more deadly violence, experts fear.

"I think we're going to see more and more of this type of tragedy as information is made available," said David Burt, president of Filtering Facts, an Oregon-based nonprofit organization that promotes the use of filtering software to limit access to certain sites, especially on library computers.Filters are programs that do not allow Web surfers access to certain sites based on content.

But the information is already available, say free speech advocates, who believe people like Burt are proposing censorship.

"People think there's some great evil out there," said Shari Steele, an attorney with the Electronic Frontier Foundation, a San Francisco-based Internet civil liberties group. "(The Internet is) just a new communication tool."

Indeed, much of the information available on the Web came from books, and many sites include bibliographies, providing a guide to more in-depth and perhaps more accurate information.

Such books are easy to obtain. A search at the online bookstore turned up more than 20 books on bomb making, including an $11 guide to making C-4 explosives that visitors to the site wrote they wanted banned.

"It's because of books like this that kids are able to learn how to make bombs,'' one visitor wrote, "and go on murder sprees like the one that occurred in Littleton, Co. This book should be restricted to adults only.''

You don't even need an Internet connection to obtain the books: Local book shops can have them in hand in a week.

Although the Volusia County library system doesn't stock such books, the Denver public library, near Littleton, carries "The Poor Man's James Bond" and the "Anarchist Cookbook," Burt said, tomes that include, among other information, bomb-making recipes.

The presence of such books leads free-speech advocates to resist the singling out of the Internet.

"The knee-jerk reaction of condemning such material on the Internet is really scary," Steele said. "The Internet shouldn't be treated differently than any other media. We don't limit our speech to only that that sane, capable, responsible people can hear. It's sad that people are so willing to immediately give up their liberties."

Burt, however, argues that shielding children isn't censorship, but recognition of differing maturity levels.

Both the Littleton and Denver public libraries offer unshielded Internet access, he said., which allows children too much access for their age.

"They think that minors have the same rights adults do," Burt said about libraries with unshielded computers. "They say there should be no discrimination based on age. That's just ridiculous. Children are not adults."

But filters aren't the way to make sure children are raised properly, civil libertarians say good parenting is. The presence of bomb threats on the personal Web page of one of the Colorado shooters, for example, should have been a warning flag for his parents, Steele said.

"There is information out there that children shouldn't have," she said. "But rather than filters, I'd prefer there to be rules. As a parent, I would hope you would be teaching your children in such a way you can trust them."

Trusting or not, filter proponents say, children just shouldn't have easy access to some information. "I can't think of a valid reason why children should have access to info about pipe bombs," Burt said. "I don't see any valid arguments."

Nevertheless, Steele said prohibiting the flow of information isn't the answer. ``The only time it gets to be a problem is when people explode bombs in school,'' she said. ``It's not a speech issue, it's a parenting issue.''

The participation of parents is something that experts on all sides agree on.

"Parents should be paying closer attention to what their kids are doing. Parents need to be a little more observant, a little more inquisitive," said McDonald, the local bomb squad leader.``We have to have time for the kids.''

Webmasters who provide bomb- making information are not unaware of their readers, but see their sites as more informative than destructive.

"For all I know, my site could have helped them hurt innocent people," one page read, referring to the Littleton killers. "By entering this site, you are promising me you will never hurt anyone with this information. I made this so people can learn and create, not destroy."

Another site railed against those who blame ``the Evil Internet which fosters these ideas.''

"If information (or lack thereof) on building bombs is the only thing keeping kids from killing each another, than the shooting is only a prelude of what is to come,'' the webmaster wrote. ``I assure you that (throwing) away our First Amendment rights is not the solution to our problems.''

Another site asked surfers to ``be responsible'' with the information provided.

"I want you to remember the sadness felt by millions," another webmaster wrote, "and promise yourself never to involve yourself in hurting other people. Be responsible and stay cool."

But experts don't see such pleas as effective. "They don't do anything," McDonald said. "I don't think anybody even reads disclaimers."


This is a showcase of the work done by Timothy J. Gibbons during a journalism career now stretching back more than a decade.

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