USENET posts that haunt you forever

Barbara Ruth Campbell (campbell@I-2000.COM)
Wed, 6 Mar 1996 11:44:20 EST

Dear Vociferous Collegues,

The "Star Ledger" on Monday??? ran an article that might keep us all
awake tonight. ["The Star Ledger" is a regional paper here in NJ]

"Someone's Peeking at You While You Type in Secret" by Elizath Weise
of the Associated Press

San Francisco: John Kaufman, a San Francisco-based freelance writer, was
stalked more or less by a woman admirer (he's openly gay and doesn't from
his picture look at all like Jodie Foster) who had accessed, archived,
downloaded and MEMORIZED every word the poor bugger had keyed into
USENET bulletin boards.

Using some sort (they didn't say) of indexing program she had managed to
find everything he had written and had pieced together all the tidbits of
his life - everything from details about his mother's life to details
of his sexual fantasies.

The article then goes on to say that Digital Equipment Corporation's
Alta Vista search program is designed to index all of 15,000 plus
USENET bulletin boards. Since May 1995, Deja News, located in Austin, Texas
has been offering full-text index of USENET so that, and here I quote:

"If you said something about iguanas in 1986 in the rec.pets newsgroup,
Deja-News wants to be able to find it. They plan to have a complete index
going back to 1979 by the end of this year."

Weise then states that most of us think that no systems administrator in
his/her right mind would have kept back up tapes of all the garbage that
was never meant to be cherished like the word of God is stored someplace.
Who has the space right? W R O N G. Apparently, there are tapes scattered
world-wide and EVERYTHING we write could come back to haunt us.

Doesn't that make your bowels tremble? As Kaufman is quoted as saying,
basically he doesn't care so much that the whole world knows his mother
was a concert pianist because he feels his life is an open book anyway,
but it's the horror of finding out that someone could become obsessed with
you and piece it all together that makes his flesh crawl.

It would definitely freak me out.

Can you imagine someone having the time and mental derangement to index
Anthro-L in order to do a background search on one of us who might be
applying for a teaching position? The article says that is what rights
groups like the Electronic Frontier Foundation must consider. Weise
says that you might post a poorly worded typo ladden post requesting
info for a term paper and have the damn thing thrown in your face during
a job interview!

Yikes! And here I've been typing without using a spell checker!