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“There is no 'Bill-602P'; no 'Berger, Stepp and Gorman' attorneys in Vienna, Va; and no congressman Tony Schnell in the House or Senate.”

     Debunking false VNN story

VNN story of curtailment of free speech false
By Devarsi Muni dasa

CHAKRA (Crescent City, CA USA) - August 18, 1999: 

Dear VNN,

Please accept my humble obeisances. All Glories to Srila Prabhupada!

Your story on email taxes ("Curtailment of Free Speech" USA, June 13 (VNN)) is a complete hoax. Please read the following article, which appeared in the 4/21/99 London Free Press. The details of the scam exactly mirror the details you listed, with American political and legal titles replacing the European.

To emphasize my warning, there IS NO "Bill-602P"(602P is not even a valid bill number); no "Berger, Stepp and Gorman " attorneys listed in Vienna, VA; and no congressman Tony Schnell, Republican OR Democrat, House OR Senate, anywhere in the United States. You should really be more careful when posting a story. It took me less than 20 minutes to verify that this was a hoax. I must say that this does not engender my trust in the credibility of other news stories which appear on your web site. I hope that in the future you will try to check your facts before you go to print. I also hope that you pull the story ASAP, and ask your readers to NOT email their congressional representatives about this hoax.

PS: I am forwarding a copy of this letter to CHAKRA and am giving them my permission to print my views if they desire. I do not do this out of any desire to commit a disservice to your organization, but only in an attempt to help check the flow of this hoax.

Your servant,

Devarsi Muni dasa

Copyright on the following article is held by the London Free Press

April 21, 1999

E-mail isn't a vacation for skepticism

 By HELEN CONNELL London Free Press

This is not the column I planned to write. But nothing kills a good idea for a rant faster than checking the facts.

I planned to use my soapbox this week to deride both Canada Post and the federal Liberals over a plan to charge Internet users a five-cent surcharge every time they send e-mail.

That's an outrageous suggestion. It's another blatant example of government bureaucracy and Canada Post's inability to cope with the competition from Internet e-mail.

It would have made a good column had any of it been true. But it's not, although it apparently fooled a lot of people.

It started with an e-mail, containing a dire warning, that popped up on my screen. It was signed: Kate Turner, assistant to Richard Stepp QC, Berger, Stepp and Gorman, barristers at law, 216 Bay St.

The e-mail claimed Canada Post wanted the money to offset the $23 million a year it is supposedly losing because of e-mail competition.

To stop that bleeding, Turner writes that one backbencher, New Brunswick Liberal Tony Schnell, even suggested an e-mail surcharge of $20 to $40 a month. Turner warned that even at five cents an e-mail, the surcharge would destroy the concept of "free" e-mail.

"Note that this would be money paid directly to Canada Post for a service they do not even provide," wrote an indignant Turner. "If the Canadian government is permitted to tamper with our liberties by adding a charge to e-mail, who knows where it will end."

Where indeed!

Turner said her tireless boss, Richard Stepp, Q.C., was donating his time to fight against Bill 602P. But, she said, he needs help. "Don't sit and watch your freedoms erode away! Send this e-mail to all Canadians on your list and tell your friends and relatives to write to their MP and say No to Bill 602P."

Sounded good, but after phone calls and the assistance of one of our Free Press librarians, my column idea was in tatters.

For starters, there is no listing for a lawyer named Richard Stepp in Toronto or the Bay Street firm of Berger, Stepp and Gorman. There is no MP or MPP named Tony Schnell from New Brunswick.

Government bills are all numbered and there are only 493 bills so far, not 602. The "P" at the end of Bill 602 was also a bit of a giveaway since government bills start with the letter "C" meaning it was originated in the House of Commons or an "S" for the Senate.

The hoax was good enough, however, that Canada Post spokesperson Ida Irwin said her office received calls from some MPs wanting more information.

Irwin has no idea where the message originated but it was popping up on e-mails in Ontario, Alberta and Arkansas. Canada Post was not amused. On a personal level, Irwin said the hoax was "quite cute." But corporations, even Crown corporations, aren't known for their sense of humor, especially about something that attacks their ability to compete.

Fifteen minutes after Irwin contacted the Internet server with her complaint, the message was off the system and a full-page apology was issued by the Internet provider.

While Canada Post is feeling the sting of Internet competition, as seen by their new ad campaign designed to make us want to write more letters and lick more stamps, the corporation plans to move more aggressively into the e-mail business.

Canada Post and the Bank of Montreal will be introducing a new e-mail system designed to give users greater security and privacy. It's aimed at larger companies and customers of Sears will be among the first to test it.

Perhaps the e-mail from "Kate Turner" was an April Fool's joke still echoing in cyberspace. These things, however, take on a life of their own, quickly becoming technological urban myths.

Canada Post's sensitivity to this hoax aside, these abuses didn't start with e-mail.

People have been sending anonymous letters and pranks for as long as Canada Post has been delivering the mail. Remember those old chain mail letters that frequently warned if you should fail to send a copy of this letter to 10 people bad luck or worse would befall you.

The only difference is e-mail is so much easier and faster. There's no need to invest in paper, stamps or envelopes. No need to go outside to find a mailbox. Just write and click. Most times, the culprits vanish into cyberspace without anyone tracking down what country they're in, let alone their identities.

Yet while it may feel like technology has changed work, it also proves the wisdom in this sage advice: If you want to protect yourself from getting sucked in by these pranks, don't believe everything you read.

© CHAKRA 18-Aug-99

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