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August 18, 1996

Bomb and teens
interact on the Web

By Timothy C. Barmann

He says he's an honor student in high school. He likes mountain biking, car racing and computers.

He is also the publisher of the "Destruction & Terrorization Page" on the World Wide Web, which, among others things, purports to give directions for making dynamite, a "Drano bomb" and even an atomic bomb.

I found the site while researching an incident involving two Lincoln boys, ages 12 and 15, who police say made a Drano bomb with instructions downloaded from the Internet.

Police say the boys put the bomb, made with common household chemicals, in the gas filler pipe of a Pawtucket man's car in April. The state fire marshal removed the device without incident. The two youths have been charged with fourth-degree arson.

Bomb-making instructions can be found on the Internet from a variety of sources, but I wondered who might be behind the Drano bomb recipe and what he might think about the Lincoln incident.

To my surprise, the author, who calls himself "Kidd Wikkid," responded to my e-mail.

"Anyone who is stupid enough to try one of those things should be put in jail," he wrote. "I'm only 16 myself, and anyone with half a brain would know that that is moronic."

He said he didn't write any of the directions (he probably got them from a bulletin board or elsewhere on the Internet, he said) and wouldn't try them himself - "Sorry, I don't want a small bomb blowing up in my hand."

We exchanged several messages by e-mail - he didn't want to speak by phone - and I asked him what his point is in publishing his terror and destruction page.

"No point really, it was not really something I thought would be taken seriously, and well, there is no law against distributing information."

It isn't illegal to distribute such information in the United States, though there have been attempts to make it so.

Debates about the legality of publishing bomb-making information go back at least as far as 1979, when The Progressive, a small magazine based in Madison, Wis., published "The H-bomb secret, How we got it -- why we're telling it."

More recently, Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., introduced a measure that would have made it illegal to distribute bomb-making information by anyone who intends or knows it will be used to commit a crime. That amendment passed in the Senate, but died in the House. A spokeswoman says that Feinstein will push for the amendment again.

But Kidd Wikkid wasn't right about his bomb instructions not being taken seriously, at least by the boys involved in the Lincoln incident.

To that, he says, he bears no responsibility.

"One way or another, they probably would have done something, whether it be try and make a carbomb or a pipebomb or whatever, my page didn't make the decision for them. If you were handed a knife, would that mean you should stab someone?"

The destruction page is one illustration of the unique character of the Internet, which provides virtually anyone with a printing press and a potential audience of millions. It gives voice to people who would otherwise never be heard from.

The cacophony of words and ideas can be deafening. It can also be frightening, especially when those ideas are about terror and destruction and come from an unlikely source, such as a 16-year-old high school student.

Still, we should resist the urge to ban some of the ideas found on the Internet, say civil liberties advocates.

Mike Godwin, staff attorney for the Electronic Freedom Foundation, put it this way in a recent interview:

"People sometimes think very reflexively: `Well we should have a law . . . .' It's because we are in this weird, transitional generation between people who never had this technology and people who will have grown up with it. Those of us who in this transition are trying to adapt, but change is scary."

Regardless of where you stand on bomb-making legislation, one point seems indisputable: Any such attempt will be futile because the Internet's tentacles reach throughout the world.

Web pages stored anywhere on the Internet can be accessed in the United States. In fact, the Destruction & Terrorization Page with the Drano bomb recipe sits on a computer in Aldergrove, British Columbia, Canada. That's only three miles from the U.S. border, but well beyond the reach of U.S. laws.

Computer calendar

Saturday -- InteleCom Data Systems, a local Internet service provider, is hosting a free "Internet cookout" at Goddard Park in Warwick, beginning at 11 a.m. "We will have food, music, volleyball and whatever else happens to be required, but we will be leaving the computers home for the day," says the public invitation. Mike Hall of IDS asks that you sign up if you plan to attend. He can be reached at 885-4243, by e-mail at mikehl@ids.net or you can sign up via the Web at http://indy.ids.net/new/news/stories/207104533.html

Timothy C. Barmann is a Journal-Bulletin staff writer. His column runs every other Sunday on the On Line page. Send him comments via e-mail at tim@cybertalk.com or U.S. mail, c/o the Journal-Bulletin, 75 Fountain St., Providence, R.I. 02902.