Secret Agent Man 

An incident over incidentals

An incident over incidentals

The Internet’s often puzzling array of information ranges from professional conversation to amateurish babble. It extends around the globe, crossing borders and providing, for once, the first truly unified medium for expression. Although you might think that the babble and conversation are likely to be the cause of trouble on the ’net, that’s hardly the case: It’s the borders that can pose the biggest problems.

Imagine, for instance, that you’re a well traveled student at a large college somewhere up north. Seeking a little excitement above and beyond the average trip abroad, you ask for—and get—a visa to Communist North Korea. You visit the country, stay in the tourist hotel, pocket a few “informational brochures,” and then go home.

Back home, you decide to create a small memorial to your trip in the form of a Web page. You scan a picture of the North Korean flag, add a couple of photos, and then, without thinking twice about the risks, post the entire text of those “informational brochures.” Without knowing it, you will have been thrown into the center of an international incident.

This is exactly what happened to Canadian student David Burgess. In 1995, Burgess completed just such a travel and then memorialized his trip on the World Wide Web utilizing the text of several pamphlets he found on North Korea’s national airline. Some time after, one of South Korea’s newspapers published a story that identified several Web pages highlighting North Korean news and information; the article suggested that some of the pages may be underwritten by the North Korean government. Burgess’ page, it turns out, was one of those listed in the story.

The South Korean government has issued stern warnings to the public to avoid accessing North Korean Web pages or contacting North Korea via the Internet in any way. Various media sources have quoted state prosecutors as saying that anyone who did so would risk severe penalties. Any such access would be prosecuted under a South Korean provision called the National Security Law, which bars all contact with the North. North and South Korea have been in a technical state of war since their initial conflict ended with a 1953 truce.

Just how South Korea intends to bar all access to one specific country—and, indeed, to certain pages on the World Wide Web—remains to be seen. It has proven difficult, if not impossible, for other countries to restrict access in such a way.

Meanwhile, since posting his information about North Korea, David Burgess says he has been bombarded with e-mail asking him if he is a North Korean agent. He does, however, intend to leave his page online—regardless of any international incidents.


♦ Viacom, Nashville’s cable television overlord, is entering the Internet business. Following a model set forth by trials in other cities, the company plans to offer access to Internet services utilizing two channels in its 60-odd channel lineup: one for send and the other designated as receive. Connecting your cable to your computer requires a special high-speed “cable modem,” a technology developed last summer by Motorola and a consortium of cable companies.

Viacom says its access will initially be offered in “nodes”—or points—throughout the city. Each node will consist of about 500 households. The transmission speed for this connection is said to be around 10 megabits per second, which makes it a connection on the level of a T1 line; in other words, it’s very fast.

The technology does have its limits, however. If all the households in one node connect to the service at the same time, they are sharing the same line, or bandwidth, together. This greatly lowers the speed of the connection.

To my knowledge, no dates have been set for test-runs of this service in Nashville.

♦ Rarely does one find a Web page that presents a remarkably clear view of the world in a very touching manner. That’s why one page, by an openly gay couple in Madison, is such a refreshing change from the usual inanity of the ’net. Tom and Chip ( ) have been keeping a diary of events in their lives from month to month, along with special sections devoted to helping people cope with HIV/AIDS. Both Tom and Chip are living with the virus themselves.

Pages like this are important, because they help us remember that people are still people, no matter what illness they have or what their sexual orientation may be. This page is worth more than just a visit—it should be a place where all of us stop to think for a little while.

Joel Moses can be reached via e-mail at


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