AEGIS Affidavit in ACLU, et al v. Reno

February 25, 1996

Affidavit in ACLU, et al v. Reno

I, Sister Mary Elizabeth, of San Juan Capistrano, California, do hereby depose and swear: 

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1. Since its inception in 1990, I have been the Systems Operator ("sysop") for the AIDS Education Global Information System ("AEGIS"), a Bulletin Board System ("BBS") that contains one of the most comprehensive databases on HIV and AIDS in the world. The hardware for AEGIS is located at my home in San Juan Capistrano, California. AEGIS is incorporated as a nonprofit 501(c)(3) educational corporation in California. Prior to the incorporation of AEGIS, AEGIS functioned as an AIDS outreach ministry of the Sisters of St. Elizabeth of Hungary, also incorporated in the state of California. 

2. AEGIS is currently available to all users by dialing (714) 248-2836. We allow all users free access for up to 20 minutes per day. Users must register by providing a first and last name, address and phone number. There is no verification procedure for registration. Registered users may access all AEGIS conferences and databases for up to 20 minutes per day and may download up to 1 MB of information per session. Registered subscribers ($36/year individuals, $60/year organizations) receive unlimited use of AEGIS, participation in conferences, unlimited downloading, the ability to send and receive e-mail, use of an offline text reader and are able to uplink to additional resources. 

3. Although we currently have no direct link to the Internet, other than e-mail and a UUCP newsfeed, we are working to establish a Web site during the first or second quarter of 1996. The National Library of Medicine, a branch of the Federal Government, has given AEGIS a grant that will cover part of the cost of establishing this Internet site. Because of the Federal budget deadlock, funding for our Internet site has been delayed by several months. AEGIS has not yet decided on whether to cooperate with voluntary Internet blocking services like Surfwatch once we establish our Internet site, nor have we decided on what changes to make, if any, to AEGIS in order to protect ourselves from possible criminal prosecution or sanctions if any information on AEGIS is considered "patently offensive" or "indecent." 

4. As sysop, I am responsible for the daily maintenance of AEGIS, which includes locating information on the Internet from government and non-government organizations from around the world. I import this material into the AEGIS database, and export it daily via a file transfer system known as FIDONET into affiliate computers in 40 countries. In cooperation with our European counterpart, HIVNET, whose home page is located on the Internet at http://www.hivnet.org, AEGIS offers AIDS information in English, as well as French, Dutch, German and Spanish. 

5. As of January 19, 1996 AEGIS has 1265 registered members and receives approximately 25-75 visits a day. Because AEGIS is a BBS, the number of visits we receive is limited by the number of modems connected to the BBS hardware. Currently, AEGIS allows up to five users simultaneous access. As the sysop, I can access AEGIS at any time, regardless of the number of users currently on-line, by using the actual BBS hardware located in my home. If I am away from my home, I must dial the AEGIS BBS like any other user. Therefore, I have constant access to AEGIS only while I am at home. The sophistication of the AEGIS hardware does not necessitate that I or an AEGIS volunteer constantly monitor the actions of users on-line. To keep users current on HIV and AIDS information, I spend much of my time maintaining and updating the vast information on our system. Currently AEGIS contains 2 gigabytes of information, which includes over 104,000 files from the National Library of Medicine's AIDSLINE database. 

6. AEGIS users have access to a wide variety of information, such as technical medical reports, legal information, various discussion groups and personal testimonies of people living with AIDS. Periodical documents available on-line include, but are not limited to, The Center for Disease Control AIDS Daily Summary, AIDS Treatment News, Gay Men's Health Crisis Treatment Issues, Health Information Community Newsletter and Body Positive Online Magazine, as well as the texts of AIDS reports and studies. AEGIS members may join mailing lists for discussion groups and newsgroups that discuss AIDS-related issues, including AIDS drugs, spirituality, and women's issues. Much of this information is available in English as well as Dutch, French, German and Spanish. 

7. We provide information available on AEGIS to anyone who accesses the BBS. We require neither a minimum age nor payment because we believe that all people regardless of age or income should be educated on issues of AIDS. Although it is impossible to determine exactly, a number of our registered users have identified themselves as minors. I believe that AEGIS is not only a valuable resource for all users, but it is especially useful for teenagers who will become or have become sexually active and desire a relatively anonymous forum for discussing safer sex. For minors who may not feel comfortable or safe discussing sex with their family or friends or who live in areas where they may not feel safe discussing sex with anyone, learning computer communications like AEGIS or the Internet provide an important venue to openly and honestly discuss issues of safer sex, HIV and AIDS. 

8. According to the Centers for Disease Control, teenagers are one of the fastest growing demographic groups contracting HIV, the virus that causes AIDS. In that light AEGIS believes that providing teenagers with as much AIDS education as possible literally saves lives. Preventing teenagers who are sexually active or are planning on being sexually active from gaining access to the potentially life-saving information AEGIS provides could cost lives. In order to reach the widest audience possible, our safer sex forum provides information on how to practice safer sex in necessarily explicit terms. It is important that teenagers receive information that they can both understand and apply to their lives. Information provided in a highly technical and clinical manner may not be understood and teenagers may be discouraged from seeking information on safer sex and AIDS from AEGIS if they feel the information is too abstract. While abstinence is the best way to prevent the sexual transmission of AIDS, it is best to be realistic. If teenagers are having sex or planning on having sex, they should be provided with the most accurate information on safer sex in a language they can understand. Denying safer sex information to minors will most likely not dissuade them from having sex, but only increase the chances they will engage in high risk sexual activity. 

9. As I understand the law, AEGIS has three possible courses of action to minimize the risk of criminal prosecution or other sanctions. The first option would be to screen all users and prevent minors from gaining access to AEGIS. One method of attempting to prevent minors from gaining access would be to require all users to pay a fee via credit card or check. However, many people with AIDS lose their credit and savings because of the enormous toll fighting AIDS exacts on their finances. If we require payment as a way to screen out minors, many adults with AIDS would lose access to AEGIS. Likewise, there are teenagers with HIV or AIDS. For them to gain access to AEGIS would not be damaging, but would provide them with a supportive community in a most difficult time. 

10. The second option to minimize the risk of criminal prosecution or other sanctions would be to screen all information on AEGIS for material that could be considered "patently offensive" or "indecent." With submissions from over 40 countries, and with the number of visitors to AEGIS growing as soon as we establish our Internet site, it would be technically and economically infeasible to screen for possibly "indecent" or "patently offensive" materials. 

11. The third option AEGIS has to minimize the risk of criminal prosecution or other sanctions would be to prohibit minors from accessing certain materials on AEGIS. This option is economically infeasible because it would require myself or an AEGIS volunteer to screen every document in the AEGIS system for materials that might be considered "patently offensive" or "indecent." Such a procedure would necessitate reading through literally hundreds of thousands of files. This option would take far more financial and human resources than a small non-profit like AEGIS can afford. 

12. I do not know what "patently offensive" or "indecent" means under this statute because the terms could have varying interpretations depending on the individual defining the terms. In order to avoid the risk of criminal prosecution or sanctions, I am afraid that AEGIS will have to eliminate all references to sex and sexuality from our BBS, severely compromising our goal in educating people on how to prevent the sexual transmission of AIDS. I am afraid that our safer sex forum, which is highly educational, would be considered unlawful based on its necessarily explicit content. I am also afraid that discussion groups will become bland as users become cautious about contributing any material that might be considered indecent or patently offensive, thus decreasing the quality of information available on AEGIS. 

13. In addition to AEGIS, I serve as the volunteer sysop for the U.S. Public Health Service BBS located in Washington, D.C. In my work as sysop for AEGIS, the U.S. Public Health Service, and as a private user, I often use computer communications like AEGIS, FIDONET, and the Internet to exchange vital information on HIV and AIDS. I would very much like to continue using these computer communications. 

14. I understand I may be subject to criminal prosecution or sanctions if any of my on-line communications regarding HIV/AIDS, such as discussions on safer sex, are considered "patently offensive" or "indecent" and I knowingly transmit them to anyone under age 18. I do not want to have to censor my own submissions to various on-line forums in order to avoid criminal prosecution or other sanctions. 

I swear that the foregoing statements are true to the best of my knowledge and belief. 

Sister Mary Elizabeth 

Subscribed and sworn before me on this ___ Day of February, 1996. 

Notary Public 

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