The Year in Cyberspace

JAN. 20 The county introduces its revamped El Toro International Airport site, created as a response to the perceived threat posed by the anti-airport El Toro Airport Info Site, which has been telling people things the county doesn't want them to know-like just how stupid the proposed airport is. JAN. 26 The retrial of former UC Irvine student Richard Machado begins. Machado was accused of federal civil-rights violations for sending an e-mail message to Asian students at UCI threatening to "hunt down and kill" them. It is the first federal prosecution of a hate crime online. In Machado's first trial, the jury deadlocked in favor of acquittal. JAN. 28 Boutique software retailer Egghead Computer closes all its stores, including its Irvine location, and announces it is going entirely into Internet sales, becoming the first real-world retailer to throw its hat exclusively into the online ring. FEB. 10 Arizona Senator John McCain, in daring support of an unpopular cause, holds hearings on the problem of Internet smut. His star witness: Huntington Beach police detective Daryk Rowland, who paints a picture of the Internet as a molesters' playground, with shadowy, trenchcoated figures lurking in every chat room. In other news: Richard Machado is convicted of a hate crime for sending threatening e-mail messages to Asian students at UC Irvine. He is later fined and placed on probation. MARCH 11 Online magazine Gamepower starts an online poll after several retailers, including Costco, refuse to carry Irvine-based Interplay's game Of Light and Darkness: The Prophecy. The retailers apparently were offended by the painting of a seminude angel on the box cover. The majority of gamers polled agree that the whole fuss is pretty stupid. MARCH 13 At L. Ron Hubbard's birthday bash in LA, Scientologists allegedly announce a plan to silence their critics online: start up so many pro-Scientology Web sites that they drown the search engines, thus making it impossible for people to stumble across sites critical of the church. Free-speech advocates find this plan kinda funny. MARCH 24 The Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) suspends trading of Shopping.com stock, a Corona del Mar-based online retailer. It begins an investigation of whether the company's market maker, Irvine's Waldron & Co., may have manipulated the market by propping up Shopping.com's stock prices. Waldron denies any wrongdoing. APRIL 17 In a record-breaking year for Internet stocks, Irvine-based Broadcom Inc.'s shares triple on its first day of trading. The company manufactures chips that speed up Internet transmissions over phone and television lines, thus making Internet television a possibility. MAY 3 Software behemoth Microsoft Corp. drops out of a proposed deal to provide technology infrastructure for the California State University system. The deal had come under fire from activists concerned about the effect of increased corporate involvement on the university. But Microsoft claims its decision to back out was based on profit considerations rather than political pressure. MAY 29 OC Judge Caryl Anne Lee comes up with a novel way to reach potential voters: she spams them. Sixty-eight thousand recipients wake up to e-mail messages in their mailboxes urging them to vote for Lee. A political consultant tells The Orange County Register that if Lee wins, there will be a lot more political spam. Fortunately, she loses. JUNE 23 OC Congressman Christopher Cox's Internet Tax Freedom Act passes the House by a nearly unanimous voice vote. The congressman, who never met a tax break he didn't like, is pushing for a tax moratorium on online commerce for three years, citing the enormous number of overlapping tax districts angling for a bite of online sales. JULY 1 The OC public-library system adopts its new Internet-access policy, requiring children to get signed permission from their parents before accessing the unfiltered Internet. The policy is approved despite the initial objections of Supervisor Todd Spitzer, who had issued a press release calling for the installation of blocking software. This would have gotten the library sued. Bad plan. JULY 2 The Register files a trademark-infringement suit against a Web site called the Orange County UnREGISTERed Press. The site, run by an anonymous Webmaster calling himself Slave4OCR, was highly critical of the Register's management. The suit creates a bit of a media uproar, as many see it (rightly) as an attempt by a newspaper that enjoys the full protection of the First Amendment to stifle critical speech. JULY 31 The first debate between gubernatorial clones Dan Lungren and Gray Davis is held. Minor-party candidates are, as usual, shut out of the televised proceedings, but the Democracy Net Web site holds a virtual debate on the same day, allowing minor candidates to respond to the debate questions. AUG. 24 Governor Pete Wilson signs into law the California Internet Tax Freedom Act, which imposes a three-year moratorium on the state taxing Internet-related businesses. Silicon Valley responds by jumping up and down and clapping its tiny hands in glee. SEPT. 11 Congress releases the Starr Report on the Internet in what many see as a transparent attempt to embarrass President Bill Clinton with its juicy sexual details. Many of the conservative sites posting the report are the same folks who keep fulminating about the availability of pornography online. For some reason, they do not find this hypocritical. SEPT. 24 The SEC files suit against Waldron & Co., alleging that the Irvine brokerage illegally boosted Shopping.com's share price, realizing more than $4 million from its shenanigans. Waldron denies any wrongdoing. Shopping.com's stock closes at $1, down from its high of more than $32 per share. SEPT. 27 Wilson signs two anti-spam measures into law. The first allows ISPs to sue spammers for clogging up their equipment; the second requires spam to be labeled as advertising, to make it easier for annoyed recipients to filter it out. Both are hailed by anti-spam activists, but the spamming continues. SEPT. 30 Machado is sentenced to four months in a halfway house after he is arrested for violating the terms of his probation. "What we have here . . . is a defendant who just doesn't get it," assistant U.S. attorney Michael J. Gennaco, who prosecuted the case, told the judge. OCT. 22 An anonymous bigot sends about 400 people at Irvine Valley College an anti-Semitic e-mail. The message includes anti-Jewish quotations attributed to such historical figures as George Washington and Benjamin Franklin (thus proving people could act like jerks back then, too) and lists about 60 government officials it claims are Jewish. Many believe the e-mail is related to the high-profile fight over South Orange County Community College District trustee Steven J. Frogue, who has been targeted for recall over charges he is anti-Semitic. NOV. 19 A federal judge issues a temporary restraining order forbidding the government from enforcing the Child Online Protection Act, dubbed the "Son of CDA." The law, sneaked through on the coattails of Congress' massive spending bill, would require all commercial sites providing material deemed "harmful to minors" to institute age-verification systems. This could conceivably include media sites that posted the Republican-released Starr Report. NOV. 23 In yet another victory for free speech online, a federal judge in Virginia rules that the Loudoun County public-library system violated the First Amendment by installing X-Stop filtering software on all its public terminals. She orders the library to remove the software, manufactured by Anaheim-based Log-On Data Corp., forthwith. Filtering software has come under attack by free-speech advocates because of its tendency to block harmless, constitutionally protected speech, such as the AIDS Quilt site and the Quakers homepage (both erroneously blocked by X-Stop). DEC. 14 A California electronic-commerce committee recommends a permanent moratorium on Internet taxes and urges tax cuts on certain goods, such as software, that can be purchased and delivered electronically. These selfless recommendations are made by, among other members, executives of Excite Inc., Netscape Communications and Yahoo! Inc.

 
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