Dispatches > In Brief

In Brief

"In Brief" Continued...

Issue: "Dick Armey's parting words," Dec. 14, 2002

Spokane attorney Darrell Scott, who works for the Lukins & Annis law firm, filed suit against advertiser Bonzi Software late last month, seeking $500 for every American who encountered the controversial ad. Since those ads are so common, vast numbers of people might be eligible to collect damages.

The plaintiffs call the ads FUI, for Fake User Interfaces. The acronym sounds like "phooey" for a reason: The ads resemble legitimate warnings. The suit claims that millions of people were distracted from their work so their computers could be "hijacked to [the] defendants' commercial website."

The law firm's website points out specific ads. One says, "Your current connection may be capable of faster speeds." Another says, "Your computer is currently broadcasting an Internet IP address. With this address someone can immediately begin attacking your computer."

Mr. Scott claims these ads violate the users' privacy and property. The ads appear as imitations of Windows dialog boxes, including the fake "OK" button. By mimicking real system messages, the ads eventually push users to start ignoring warnings that pop up on their computers. He claims these devices made Bonzi the third-most-visited website in the world. | Chris Stamper

Is it worth the risk?

The smallpox vaccine will exit the history books soon. White House officials say that the government will direct 500,000 emergency workers and 500,000 military personnel to receive inoculations. Eventually, the government will offer inoculations to all Americans but won't encourage average citizens to have them.

Routine vaccinations against smallpox ended in the United States in 1972. About half of the population may already have some protection from the decades-old injections.

The government faces some serious issues concerning smallpox. For example, the FDA wants to test a children's vaccine dose on a trial group of a few dozen toddlers and preschoolers. But the experiment has raised safety and ethics questions: Why risk side effects if the vaccine would only help children in the unlikely event of a bioterrorist using smallpox as a weapon?

Another problem involves legal liability: What happens if people are injured or killed by the vaccine? One idea is to build a compensation fund for any victims. Another is to protect those who administer the inoculations from lawsuits. Experts estimate that 15 people will face life-threatening injuries for every million vaccinated--and one or two of those will likely die. | Chris Stamper

'Conflicting statutes'

Corinne Wilcott faces charges of fetal homicide for allegedly kicking a pregnant woman. Her lawyer claims Pennsylvania's Crimes Against the Unborn Child Act is unconstitutional.

Erie Police say the two were attending a graduation party when a fight broke out. Prosecutors contend that Ms. Wilcott attacked Sheena Carson and threatened her fetus because Ms. Wilcott's husband was the father. Ms. Carson testified that Ms. Wilcott kicked her at least twice in the stomach.

The Wilcott case could pose a challenge to fetal homicide laws, which 27 states have passed. Tim Lucas, Ms. Wilcott's attorney, claims that the fetal homicide law and legal abortion do not mesh. "There are conflicting statutes about what constitutes a human person," he said.

The state Supreme Court ruled last year that the state could use the law to prosecute cases of murder, voluntary manslaughter, and aggravated assault. Prosecutors say the law is valid and that they plan to press for the charge.

Douglas Johnson, legislative director for the National Right to Life Committee, said this was an ordinary case. "Criminal defense lawyers are using Roe vs. Wade to say their state laws are inconsistent with federal law and not that Roe should be overturned but that state laws should be overturned," he said. | Chris Stamper

Pro-life technology

Will virtual babies help save the lives of real babies? A new invention is going beyond ultrasound to take the next step in prenatal experience: a virtual fetus that mom can touch and feel.

This ultrasound system known as e-Touch Sono uses a special force-feedback mouse to mimic the texture of the baby's face and skin. Mom experiences the sensations by wiggling the handle of a device attached to a computer. The system also produces 3-D pictures that can be copied onto a CD-ROM.

Backers are billing the $250 procedure as a way to help mothers bond with their babies. Mothers don't actually interact with the fetus, but the simulation is supposed to be a heartwarming experience. The developers also plan to start making 3-D sculptures of unborn children for parents to have before delivery.

Conceivably, pro-life advocates could use this technology to convince expectant mothers that their fetus is human life. By feeling the baby's virtual skin, mothers considering an abortion could realize that the child is more than a blob of tissue.

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