Sex-net student is gaoled

February 24, 1995

Anyone tempted to pour out their sexual fantasies into the Internet global computer network should beware. They may find themselves investigated, arrested and charged by the FBI.

That is what happened to Abraham Jacob Alkhabaz, who goes by the name of Jake Baker, and was until recently a student at the University of Michigan. Now, he languishes in prison, accused of the federal crime of transporting threatening material across state lines.

If convicted, he faces up to five years in jail.

His case is one of a growing number involving computer networks in which United States law enforcement authorities have tried to apply existing laws to the new and uncharted realm of cyberspace. But they do not always succeed, as a student from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology found when a judge threw out charges against him. He had been accused of setting up a bulletin board that was used by others to pirate more than $1 million of commercial software.

The judge said he could not be prosecuted for infringement of copyright because he had not profited personally.

In the latest case, Mr Baker, aged 20, used a computer at the University of Michigan to write a fictional story, Pamela's Ordeal, which involved torturing a woman with a hot curling iron, and mutilating and sodomising her while she was gagged and tied to a chair.

The object of his violent sexual fantasies, Pamela, was named after a female student who had been in his class last term. When Mr Baker posted the story on "alt.sex-.stories", one of the most popular forums that make up Usenet, he appended a note to say the story was "sick stuff" and that he had never spoken to the real Pamela.

A beady-eyed University of Michigan alumnus in Moscow happened to be browsing through this particular Usenet forum, spied the story and alerted his alma mater. The FBI moved in.

They found that Mr Baker had done more than write Pamela's Ordeal. He had communicated with other browsers of alt.sex-.stories, and in so doing had described his "desire to commit acts of abduction, bondage, torture, mutilation, sodomy, rape and murder of young women".

The University of Michigan suspended Mr Baker on February 1. But his arrest and jailing has been criticised by civil liberties groups who say it is not a crime to post sexually violent fiction on the Internet.

They argue that the Internet does not have state lines, let alone national boundaries.

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