Usenet, which predates the World Wide Web, is a collection of e-mail messages on various subjects that are posted to servers on a worldwide network. Each subject collection of posted notes is known as a "newsgroup." There are thousands of newsgroups.
One court has described "usenet" as:
|“||a worldwide community of electronic BBSs that is closely associated with the Internet and with the Internet community. The messages in Usenet are organized into thousands of topical groups, or “Newsgroups”. . . . As a Usenet user, you read and contribute (“post”) to your local Usenet site. Each Usenet site distributes its users’ postings to other Usenet sites based on various implicit and explicit configuration settings, and in turn receives postings from other sites. . . . Usenet is read and contributed to on a daily basis by a total population of millions of people. . . . There is no specific network that is the Usenet. Usenet traffic flows over a wide range of networks, including the Internet and dial-up phone links.||”|
Usenet newsgroups consist of discussions on any conceivable topic. For example, a new scuba diver, looking for other divers with whom to share an experience, subscribes to a newsgroup entitled “rec.scuba.” Law enforcement can use newsgroups to locate victims, develop leads, exchange information, and proactively investigate a wide range of potential criminal activities and trends.
Usenet was originally created to distribute text content only. Over time, programs were developed that provided a means of distributing binary files as content as well. When a subscriber finds a file it wishes to download from the Usenet, it downloads the file from the Usenet computer servers to his personal computer. Subscribers also can upload copies of digital files to the Internet and can then be shared with other Usenet subscribers.
Newsgroups also can serve as a communications medium to facilitate a wide range of criminal activities, including —
- Disseminating child pornography.
- Distributing pirated software, movies, and music.
- Obtaining plans for destructive devices.
- Sharing hate-motivated writings.
- Organizing gang activities.
- Distributing information regarding insider stock trading (or posting false information to further stock trading fraud schemes).
- ↑ Religious Technology Ctr. v. Netcom On-Line Comm. Servs., Inc., 907 F. Supp. 1361, 1365 (N.D. Cal. 1995).
- Chip Salzenberg, "What Is Usenet?"