Teenager Arrested for Spreading Blaster Variant; Controversy Over Online Education; Bush Launches New Environmental Initiatives
Aired August 30, 2003 - 15:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
FREDRICKA WHITFIELD, CNN ANCHOR: Today on NEXT@CNN, a Minnesota teenager is in custody charged with creating one version of the Blaster computer worm that infected computers recently. We'll have the latest on that case.
Also, a controversy in online education. Is it legitimate to give people degrees based on life experience, even if they haven't taken any classes?
And President Bush has launched some new environmental initiatives lately. Is he getting greener? We'll hear a debate on that.
Over the past few weeks, a lot of computer users have been tempted to heave their machines out the windows. A whole slew of worms and viruses have slowed down, shut down and even clogged networks that rely on Windows software, but now the feds have charged a teenager with creating one particularly malicious version of the worm known as Blaster. Technology correspondent Daniel Sieberg joins us now with the latest on the arrest and the summer of these worms and viruses -- Dan.
DANIEL SIEBERG, CNN TECHNOLOGY CORRESPONDENT: Fred, that's right. He's known as T-kid on the Internet, but there's nothing kid- like about the charges against 18-year-old high school senior Jeffrey Lee Parson. Parson was arrested in a Minneapolis suburb Friday accused of creating a variant of the Blaster computer worm that infected tens of thousands of home and office computers. Now, if he's convicted, he could be sentenced to a maximum of 10 years in federal prison and fined up to a quarter of a million dollars. Parson is under house arrest. All his computers have been seized, and he's banned from using the Internet.
Feds say they want to send a strong message to hackers or cyber attackers that they will be tracked down and prosecuted.
And joining us now from Washington to talk about this case is Mark Rasch, an attorney and former head of the Justice Department's Computer Crime Unit. He's now with the compute security company Solutionary. Mark, thanks for being with us.
MARK RASCH, COMPUTER CRIME EXPERT: Thank you, Dan.
SIEBERG: First of all, tracking down Parson seemed to be a combination of a little bit of high tech sleuthing and some old fashioned detective work. Did the federal authorities get lucky in this case? Did he leave a digital breadcrumb for them to follow?
RASCH: He left a lot more than a digital breadcrumb. He left neon signs basically saying, this is me. He named the file that he inserted in the worm, his version of the Blaster worm, after himself, after his hacker handle. When you loaded this program, it pointed back to his computer. So, it was practically a neon sign saying, arrest me.
SIEBERG: So in this case, if he sort of tipped off the authorities on where to find him and how to go about finding him, what do the authorities need to do to track down more of the worm and virus writers that are out there that they can't find right now?
RASCH: Well, one of the things you want to do, especially for a worm or virus that spreads across the Internet, is you want to go back and try to find the first person to get infected. Sort of what the Centers for Disease Control does with diseases. You go back and find patient zero. Then from there, you have to go back and try to figure out what was the root of infection. How did the people get in? And then, from that, try to trace the tracks back. A good hacker, though, will be able to hide their tracks pretty well.
SIEBERG: Certainly, they do go to great lengths to try and cover up evidence or erase their tracks, as you say. Now, the maximum penalty in this case is 10 years in prison and $250,000 fine. I don't, to my recollection, know of any computer hacker that has served that type of sentence. Do you think that he will get that maximum sentence?
RASCH: What sentence he's going to get in terms of jail time will probably be dictated by the amount of losses or damage that can be tied to his version of the worm. Remember, he didn't write this worm. He improved on it and re-released it. So you have to go back and show the damages or the losses that resulted from the version that he re-released. And that will dictate how much of a sentence he'll get, and that could be anywhere probably around two years, if he's convicted.
SIEBERG: Right. Now, he wrote this variant. He's a 18-year- old. We don't know a whole lot about him other than that. Apparently from stories, he doesn't have a whole lot of money. So they can't go after him for that, but doesn't he fit the profile of a typical cyber attacker online?
RASCH: He fits the profile of a typical cyber attacker who gets caught. Typically, the types of people who get arrested are young males, about anywhere from 13 to 21 years old. They typically write these things in their spare time. They write them because it's fun or amusing to them to do it.
Those are the kinds of people that we catch. The kinds of people we don't catch are the people who do it for a profession, the people who do it for money and the people who are really serious about it.
SIEBERG: And why don't we catch those people? Is it the laws that are not up to speeds, have not come up to where the Internet is at or where technology is at, or is it training perhaps for legal authorities to go after these hackers or cyber attackers?
RASCH: The first reason is just the technology. It's very, very difficult to trace people back. If I am going to break in, I'm going to break in through five or six or 10 or 20 different places. And you have to go back and subpoena each individual place, and say, tell me what the records are.
The laws of discovery are different, because I can bounce through 20 different countries and then you have to get cooperation from every single country before you can get the records that will show that I did it.
SIEBERG: Now, Mark, this particular worm and a number of others are aimed at Microsoft, vulnerabilities in their software. Should Microsoft be held responsible for any type of worm or virus in this case?
RASCH: Well, just to give Microsoft some credit, I mean, they put out a release and they put out a patch for this particular vulnerability a good month before anybody exploited it. And had you fixed the vulnerability, then you would have been immune from this type of attack.
On the other hand, we have this constant type of release, patch, release, patch and blaming the victims and saying, hey, you should have patched it. It's like buying a car and saying, well, every month you are going to have to fix something on the car, and if you don't do it, you're liable. I would like to see a system where people who make software, develop software and put it out for people to buy have some liability to ensure that that software is reasonably safe, reasonably secure and works the way it is advertised.
SIEBERG: Well, we can all hope for that day to come someday soon in the future. Thanks for joining us, Mark Rasch, he's a former head of the Justice Department's Computer Crime Unit and now with Solutionary. Mark, thanks for being with us.
RASCH: Thank you, Dan.
SIEBERG: So, Fredricka, it may be this one-upping, back-and- forth battle for a while, but again, the best advice to anyone, patch your system and update your firewall and anti-virus software.
WHITFIELD: All right. Good advice for now. Thanks very much, Dan.
When we come back, we'll look at online universities that give degrees for life experience rather than course work. Is it a new approach to education? Or are these just diploma mills, as some call it?
And later in the show, technology makes it easier to play tennis. We'll tell that to some people who think it's a bad thing.
(COMMERCIAL BREAK) WHITFIELD: The Internet has sparked a boom in universities offering online degrees for life experience. Some are legitimate, many are not. Here to talk about the difference are George Gollin, a physics professor at the University of Illinois. And on the telephone is Dennis Chandler, student adviser and head of the music department at Saint Regis, an online university offering life experience degrees. Some have called it a diploma mill. And he'll be telling us why he thinks that's not the case.
Professor Gollin, let's start with you, thanks to both of you for joining us. You have made a hobby of looking for phony degree operations online, and you've sent us some pictures from a PowerPoint presentation of what you've found.
GEORGE GOLLIN, UNIVERSITY OF ILLINOIS: OK. Let's see. I started getting a lot of spam in the early fall, and after a few month of this, got annoyed enough and so I called the number on the ad to try to yell at someone. But what happened was I got an answering machine. Salesman called me back and it started to get more interesting after that.
I found that I could by paying some number of thousands of dollars, get a degree in a field of my choice, Ph.D in something I knew nothing about. So I started to look into it more and more, and I began to find that it was a rather alarming thing. There were people without real credentials who were in clinical positions, and it was something that I thought I needed to learn more about and begin to ...
WHITFIELD: So what concerns you in particular is that there are some legitimate universities out there and programs that you can get your education online. Unfortunately, there are also maybe just as many that are not legitimate. And you're concerned that some people are being taken for a ride, if you will. They're getting degrees, they're being told they're earning degrees that really just should not be honored in some places. So how do you go about finding the legitimate online services versus the illegitimate ones?
GOLLIN: Well, places that have an American base, what you can do is look in something called the Council of Higher Education Accreditation. It's a bit arcane, but you can find good information through stuff that's certified by the U.S. government. There are good schools, and there are also places that are not really providing education.
WHITFIELD: OK. And let me bring in Dr. Chandler. He's joining us on the telephone. And I understand, Dr. Chandler, were unable to join us in front of a studio camera because of an engagement that you're on your way to, but you say that you've received your Ph.D. degree from an online institution that's not accredited in the U.S. However, you feel perfectly fine that the piece of paper that you got is legit and that it does indeed mean that you have earned a Ph.D., and this is mostly on your lifetime experience. Explain your case.
DENNIS CHANDLER, PH.D.: That's a valid point. And I agree with Dr. Gollin 100 percent as far as the quality of education that's online. There are some legitimate places and there are some that you need to stay away from. It's like in any other product, buyer beware.
In my particular case, I have been doing what I do professionally for 40 years. I had the academic training in the classroom, but I took it one step further because I also believe that the classroom is not the only place to learn.
I have been on stage. I have written plays. I have written original material. I have written commercials. I have studied this music for 40 years of my life.
WHITFIELD: So then why, Dr. Chandler, was it important to you to have a Ph.D., to have this degrees that says that your life experience weighs just as much as anybody's classroom experience if they were to attend a college campus?
CHANDLER: Because it was important to me as an individual to cash in, if you will, all of my experience and knowledge about my particular area of specialty, which is basically the first decade of rock' n' roll. I looked all over the place to try to find schools that even considered 20th century American music as legitimate music, and there just aren't any places to do that.
So what I did is I took all of my experience, I did the online searches Dr. Gollin suggests, and I believe 100 percent in that. And I found a legitimate university that put me through the ringer, if you will. I am wondering if it would have been just as easy to go and take the classes, as opposed to what I had to do.
But the other side of that coin is why should I sit and write papers about something that I could be teaching the professors about?
WHITFIELD: All right. And in fact, Dr. Chandler, you mentioned that you do believe that your degree is legitimate, as is the institution in which you got it, which was Saint Regis, even though they're not accredited in the U.S.
In fact, we have a statement from there, which says: "Anyone who is attending to lump Saint Regis in the so-called diploma mills category is either misinformed or has a hidden agenda. Online degree programs are relatively new and the new programs are always looked upon as controversial by traditionalists.
There are many so-called diploma mills on the Internet, but those are actually businesses that have no educational credentials or accreditation. This certainly is not the case with Saint Regis University, a fact that is extremely easy to verify."
However, Dr. Gollin, is it really that easy to verify? Can an awful lot of people kind of be duped because something -- a Web site looks legitimate but turns out it's not?
GOLLIN: OK. About the question of verifying that a place is real. The state of Oregon has an office that's responsible for seeing if accreditation in other countries and also in the U.S. is legitimate. Their conclusion is that places that have the accreditation that Saint Regis does are not well, are not legitimate and that, in fact, they are not providing education on a par with the normal accredited university in the U.S. They specifically mentioned Saint Regis.
Now, I'd like to address a good point that Dr. Chandler made, which is that having an education, having the knowledge base is something that is actually different from whether it's been blessed by some sort of diploma or degree. The important thing if someone is going to get a degree for life experience, is that they be evaluated very, very thoroughly to see that what they have is comparable to someone from a conventional university.
WHITFIELD: All right, Dr. Chandler, clearly you say that this degree has really changed your life. So perhaps you have some advice to people who are intrigued by this topic, as to how they can find a legitimate university or online program in which to get a degree?
CHANDLER: It is the same thing is if you shop for a car. There's a lot of opportunities out there. There's a lot of different vehicles to get to the same place. So, depending on your area of expertise -- and I agree, again, we have more similarities than we have differences here as far as Dr. Gollin and my opinions on this. As far as the formal education, formal education never stops from the day you leave school until they start digging the hole to put you in.
WHITFIELD: All right.
CHANDLER: A person can have 20 years of experience and have one year's of experience 20 times as opposed to having 20 legitimate years. To try to equate that into a degree curriculum, that's the job. Saint Regis University and others like it, who are legitimate in this field, aren't in the business of education as much as they are in the business of evaluating the education that the students or the applicants present to them.
CHANDLER: And I agree that the thoroughness of that is so vital and important, and also believe that it's a matter of the person more so than the paper.
WHITFIELD: All right, Dr. Dennis Chandler, you've got the last word on this topic. Thanks very much for joining us on the telephone, as well as Dr. George Gollin. Good to see both of you.
When we come back, the EPA has eased some clean air regulations for industrial plants. Will the changes help or hurt the environment?
WHITFIELD: From Russia today, news of another disaster involving a nuclear submarine. Ten Russian sailors are feared dead after a decommissioned attack submarine known as K-159 sank in stormy weather in the Russian Arctic. The vessel had been out of service since the late '80s, but when it went down, K-159 was being towed to a disposal yard. But its two reactors and nuclear fuel were still on board. Joining us on the telephone from Oslo, Norway, is Frederic Hauge from the Bellona Foundation, an environmental group that's chronicled a series of accidents with Russia's nuclear navy.
Well, there's obviously a tragedy with the loss of life here, but are the longer term risks from having fuel, nuclear reactors sitting on the ocean floor far outweighing any other possibilities?
FREDERIC HAUGE, BELLONA FOUNDATION: This is, of course, not a perfect situation. And our opinion is that these reactors have to be removed. There is seawater coming into them, and this possibility on corrosion process. But there's no acute danger. We have already together with the fishermen in that area put up assistance, so every day we take measurements, and the measurements will be finished before any fish goes on the market for the next couple of weeks, just to be sure that we don't have any wrong situation here.
WHITFIELD: Well, clearly, this is a colossal undertaking. Russia already strapped with tremendous financial problems, and now, having to worry about cleaning up or potentially averting any real nuclear disaster. How are they going to be able to do that?
HAUGE: The aspect and the situation of this problem is very, very huge. It's a lot of nuclear submarines, storage facilities in a very bad condition. The K-159 we inspected one month ago, and it's completely rusty. It was tugged through the storm. That was predicted. And it had to be kept up with pylons that fell off, and it just went down.
Today, we have learned that they now will raise charges in this case and for us, that's a big (UNINTELLIGIBLE). After a year's work with the legal team in Russia to get people that do these criminal things prosecuted.
WHITFIELD: There's been some reassurances made that the nuclear reactors were shut down, but now there's still some worldwide concern that perhaps this nuclear material might find its way in the hands of the wrong people. How does anyone go about trying to enforce this potential problem?
HAUGE: First of all, I would like to remark that our nuclear scientists in Russia, Alexandr Nikitin and his team, now is doing risk assessment of the reactor, and we need a couple of days.
When it comes to the accessibility to all the nuclear items, we have been working together with the Russian government. There has been improvements, but of course, it's a very clear picture. When you have hundreds of submarines' reactor tanks floating in the water, nuclear powered lighthouses and dump sites that has some amount of radioactivity that it would take explode 500 nuclear bombs to get the same amount of waste, this is a huge challenge to protect and stop the wrong people to get hold of it.
And one of the biggest problems is just the transportation, because that is one of the very risky operations and they just now transport a lot of waste around. WHITFIELD: Frederic Hauge of the Bellona Foundation, thanks for joining us on the telephone from Oslo.
The Bush administration is easing up on a key air pollution rule. Industry says it's about time. Environmentalists say it's a terrible move. Kathleen Koch has the story now.
KATHLEEN KOCH, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): The new EPA rule removes requirements that power plants, refineries, and other factories install more pollution controls when they make upgrades that could pollute the air. Now, those changes can go ahead without any measures to cut emissions.
The Environmental Protection Agency insists U.S. air quality overall will continue to improve, though it admits that under the new rule, power plants could emit more of certain pollutants.
JEFF HOLMSTEAD, ENVIRONMENTAL PROTECTION AGENCY: It will either have a very minor decrease or a very minor increase. That's if you ignore all the other programs. But if you look at the other programs, the emissions will continue to come down over time.
KOCH: Clean air advocates say that's not the case.
FRANK O'DONNELL, CLEAN AIR TRUST: It would enable big smokestack industries, like refineries, like coal-fired power plants, to emit more pollution. That's going to mean more public health damage, more breathing problems for people, more people dying prematurely. It's a tremendous setback for clean air.
KOCH: But power industry groups say upgrades will make plants 2 to 3 percent more efficient, helping prevent a repeat of the mid- August blackout.
SCOTT SEGAL, ELECTRIC RELIABILITY COORDINATING COUNCIL: If you allow maintenance projects to proceed at these facilities, it is a way to help them prevent pollution, and to become more reliable players in the electric grid. That's extremely important.
KOCH: Coal-fired power plants, the most potentially polluting facilities impacted by the new rule, are located predominantly in the South and Midwest. But any particulates or acid rain they produce generally end up downwind, in states largely in the Northeast. Most of those states get very little of their energy from coal, and plan to fight the new EPA rule in court.
PETER LEHNER, NEW YORK ATTORNEY GENERAL'S OFFICE: This rule is not doing what the states wants. This administration claims to care about states' rights. But with this rule, they are ignoring the states, and doing what the states have desperately begged them not to do.
KOCH (on camera): So environmental groups and many states see the new rule as an assault on environmental protections. But the Bush administration and the industries affected see it as a smart move to increase efficiency and reduce bureaucracy.
Kathleen Koch, CNN, Washington.
WHITFIELD: Well, coming up in our next half hour, more on the controversy over environmental policy. We'll hear some conflicting opinions on the Bush administration's new move.
And what happens when you set free 10,000 minks? We'll have the update on the damage the wandering critters are doing. Those stories and a lot more are coming up right after a break.
What happens when you have 3, 000 mink? we'll find out what they're doing. Those stories and more after a break.
WHITFIELD: On a recent trip out West, President Bush talked about trees, fish, energy and the Earth, highlighting his administration's environmental policies. His supporters praise him for bringing balance to these issues. Opponents say he's caving in to corporations and special interest.
Here to help flesh out the debate for us today, Russ Brooks of the Pacific Legal Foundation and Adam Werbach of the Common Assets Defense Fund. Well, good to see both of you.
RUSS BROOKS, PACIFIC LEGAL FOUNDATION: Thank you. It's good to be here.
WHITFIELD: All right. Russ, let me begin with you. The president on his trip out West, particularly in Washington State, said he was quite impressed with the way the salmon have been able to make a comeback, so to speak. And he says this way his polices are embracing both the fish industries as well as for people. Do you agree with that?
BROOKS: Well, I certainly do agree with it. I think the president is simply realizing that we have plenty of salmon. And we've had record returns of salmon for the last few years. I think he's recognizing the fact that we don't have endangered salmon. We have endangered common sense. And he's trying to restore common sense to environmental policy.
WHITFIELD: Adam, you agree with that? The president said it's win-win policy.
ADAM WERBACH, COMMON ASSETS DEFENSE FUND: Well, it's astounding that the president would try to take credit for salmon recovery right now when his own policies have led to the largest fish kill, the largest salmon kill in U.S. history. Just two years ago, the president diverted war from the Klamath River to send it to his friends in the agriculture business. And in response, the salmon had enormous die-off; over 35,000 fish died.
So, in fact, the people who care the most about salmon, people like commercial fishermen, who you would think would be praising the president if he were doing a good job, are the people who are decrying him the most right now.
WHITFIELD: So Adam, you're seeing this as a policy of deception?
WERBACH: Well, that's the president's policy right now. Say one thing, do another. If you want to raise the amount of mercury in the air, call it the clear skies initiative. If you want to give trees to the forest industry, call it the healthy forest initiative. Say one thing, do another.
WHITFIELD: In fact, that's exactly what he's calling it, the healthy forest initiative, that being one of them on his proposal, saying that in order to help avoid yet another summer of wild fires, perhaps the best thing to do is to knock down a few trees so as to avert yet another big problem. Russ, do you see that as embracing the forest and being an environmentalist, or do you see that indeed he is causing a bigger problem?
BROOKS: Well, the president's healthy forest initiative simply returns common sense back to managing our national forests, which are national treasures. Now these forests have been overgrown with tremendous amounts of underbrush for decades now. And this's the result of environmental extremists who have this kind of "let it burn" attitude. And it's about time that we allow the president and Congress, frankly, to pass this initiative and restore common sense back to the management of our national forests.
WHITFIELD: Well, hasn't that been the -- you're shaking your head. Hasn't that been the psychology for a long time, that you have to thin the forest manage in order to manage or avert any wildfires? I mean, why is this policy any different than what we've seen firefighters across the country exercise?
BROOKS: Well, unfortunately, we have had radical environmentalists who have filed lawsuit after lawsuit to stop the proper management of our national forests, including the thinning of the forests. And as a result of those lawsuits, which have clogged the forests and clogged the court systems, nothing good has gotten done.
WHITFIELD: Well, Adam?
WERBACH: Well, Russ, you know that's not true. And, in fact, only one percent of plans to thin forests have actually even been challenged by environmentalists, and none of those are actually going into the courts. So what you're saying is patently wrong.
(CROSSTALK) BROOKS: That's not true. Your study was rebuked.
WERBACH: He would support -- one second, Russ. He would support thinning trees around those communities and guarantee that he wouldn't go into wilderness areas and cut the oldest, most fire-resistant trees. Instead, what he's suggesting is that we're going to go in and give the timber industry our oldest trees to cut, the ones that are most fire resistant, instead of funding adequately the thinning of trees near communities, where it's really needed.
So after the healthy forest initiative is finished, what's going to happen is our forests are going to be cut and the communities won't be one iota safer.
WHITFIELD: So Adam, the president wants to be known as an environmentally friendly president. Do you think he's making the grade? It sounds like, based on at least these two initiatives, you disagree with that.
WERBACH: Well, the president's pollster, Frank Luntz, did some polling that showed that the president was vulnerable on the environment. So he's been working to polish up his image. But unfortunately, again, he says one thing, he does another.
But this president has worked to weaken the Endangered Species Act. He's worked to weaken the Clean Water Act. He's worked to open up the Rocky Mountain West to (UNINTELLIGIBLE) methane development. And his administration has failed with the very industry people that they're supposed to regulate.
For example, J. Steven Griles is the Deputy Secretary of the Interior. He's supposed to manage our national parks. But unfortunately, he was formerly a paid lobbyist by the oil and gas industry, and he's still receiving $284,000 a year by the very industry that he's supposed to be regulating.
WHITFIELD: Well, Russ, it doesn't sound like anybody is going to be happy with any policy that the president proposes, because thus far he's only gotten a lot of grief. So how do you make everyone happy here?
BROOKS: Well, I think the key is, is simply the fact that these raging forest fires do not have a political agenda. Therefore, those of us who are out to protect our forests also should not politicize this issue. We need cooperation, not confrontation, so that we have natural beauty and not natural disasters.
And the fact of the matter is, through extreme environmentalist policies, we've had natural disasters for the last two or three years. And we hear that on the news every summer. It's time to introduce common sense back into forest management.
WHITFIELD: All right. Russ Brooks and Adam Werbach, we're out of time. I'm going to have to let that be the last word, and we'll have to continue this debate at another time. Thank you, gentlemen.
BROOKS: Thank you.
WERBACH: Thank you.
WHITFIELD: Well, when we come right back, it's back to school time, and millions of kids are getting computer savvy. There are some children being left behind. We'll get an update on the digital divide.
WHITFIELD: Checking some of the stories making news on our beat this week. The Army will do its first bulk burn of chemical weapons at the Anniston Army Depot tomorrow. About 800 gallons of the nerve agent sarin will be destroyed. The incinerator started operating almost a month ago, and has been burning the rockets that contain the sarin. This will be the first time a large quantity of nerve agent has been burned near such a populated area.
Ten thousand mink were set free from a fur farm just north of Seattle on Monday, and an international animal rights group has claimed responsibility. Fencing was removed and nearly all the cage doors were open at the farm in the wee hours Monday morning. About 9,000 mink have been recovered by the end of the day, according to local police, but the 1,000 or so still out there are killing chickens, dogs and cats in the community, apparently, doing whatever they can to survive. Some have even starved to death, however.
Australia is serious about protecting its endangered species of Patagonian toothfish. We call it Chilean seabass here in the United States. A dramatic, 20-day chase across more than 6,000 nautical miles of rough Antarctic waters ended this week. Australian officials arrested alleged smugglers who they believe are carrying more than $1 million worth of toothfish poached from Australian waters. It's the longest high seas chase in Australian history.
Well, check this out, an albino black vulture. She was apparently kicked out of the nest because her parents didn't like her unique appearance. Isn't she beautiful, though? Residents of Atlanta, Texas saved the bird's life and she's since been named for the town. The only other albino black vulture known to exist is in a bird sanctuary in St. Louis.
Well, you may have heard of Generation N or Generation Next. Well, young people who are as comfortable with a keyboard or a GameBoy as they are breathing. But as another school year begins, there are just some big differences in the technology kids can access.
Our own technology guru, Daniel Sieberg, is back now with more on that -- Dan.
SIEBERG: Hi, Fredricka. Yes, the term "digital divide" was coined early in the personal computer revolution because there were big gaps in the technology that individuals in school districts could afford. Nowadays, though, with the proliferation of PCs, PDAs, cell phones and other gadgets, have things changed at all? Well, joining me now from Miami is Omar Wasow of Community Connect. His organization runs some of the most popular Web sites for African-Americans, Latinos and Asian-Americans. And he's deeply involved in educational issues for the digital age.
Omar, thanks for being with us. First of all, with this influx of gadgets and even a drop in price for a lot of computers, has that narrowed the digital divide over time?
OMAR WASOW, COMMUNITY CONNECT: Absolutely. When people first were talking about the digital divide, they didn't really take into account the fact that getting online wasn't just going to be sitting at a desk in front of a screen and a keyboard. It would also include things like two-way pagers and cell phones. And also, that PCs would come down in price.
We have to remember that, once upon a time, refrigerators were something that only an elite group had, or televisions. So the fact that they've proliferated the number of devices and they've come down in price has made it accessible to a far greater number of people.
SIEBERG: So it sounds like there's been some improvements over the last few years. What are some of the challenges and hurdles, though, that are still faced by various school districts across the country?
WASOW: Well, what you've seen in a lot of cases is we've wired up schools, we've got computers in classrooms, but we haven't done a great job of educating teachers about how to actually use computers in the classroom. We also haven't done a very good job of developing curricula that incorporate computers well into a standard kind of program. It's almost as if you have a room at the end of the hall that was the pencil room and you would go and you would learn how to use pencils. What we really need is computers to be integrated throughout a curriculum.
SIEBERG: And how does it break down in terms of whether it's a racial divide or a geographic divide or economic divide? What is the most important factor in narrowing the digital divide for students?
WASOW: Well, it depends a little bit on who you talk to. Certainly race and income are very important factors. But one other analyst talked about technology optimism. And what's interesting is that you've got a divider on age, where older people are online at a much lower rate than young people, who, in many cases, have access at a rate of about 90 percent and are very comfortable with the technology.
So in some cases, the real issue, I think, is thinking about what you might call a digital disposition. Are people enthusiastic about learning? Do they want to go on and explore and read and write and think critically?
SIEBERG: Yes, let's talk a little bit about age, because a recent Pew Research Study had some numbers that were interesting to us. And they talked about how, at a certain age, if you're not online you're really going to be left behind. And, in fact, they said that 82 percent of college graduates -- or here we're seeing the 80 million adults, 42 percent of the population do not use the Internet.
And beyond that, there are high school dropouts, only 23 percent of those were connected. And college graduates, 82 percent were connected. So it seems that you really need to be online if you want to be successful. Is that true?
WASOW: Yes, that's true. And we can also look at causality the other way, that it might be more of a literacy divide, where people who are interested in learning are embracing the Internet, and people who maybe are high school dropouts or who are much older and just aren't really opened to new ideas aren't embracing this technology.
And the Pew study referred to the digital invaders, people who are taking pride in not going online. So in some cases it's really not about access but about your attitude.
SIEBERG: All right. Well let's talk about a hypothetical here. As kids go back to school, let's say you're a 16 or 17-year-old kid and you don't have a cell phone, believe it or not, or you don't know what a PDA is, or you don't have the latest computer, are you going to be OK when you graduate high school? How important is that to your future education or job prospects?
WASOW: I'm a big believer in the power of technology to transform people's lives. But I think it's much more important for somebody in high school to be great at writing beautiful sentences than it is for them to be really competent at using a word processor. Or they'll be much more successful if they know Algebra than if they know Excel.
And if we've kind of got the cart ahead of the horse in a lot of cases, when we put too much emphasis on digital literacy and not enough on the fundamentals. Anybody who's got basic reading, writing and math, critical thinking skills down, is going to be able to pick up a computer later in life.
SIEBERG: Omar, we've only got about 15 to 20 seconds. What is your outlook or the prospects for the future? Are you optimistic about where this digital divide is going?
WASOW: I'm very optimistic. We see the divide shrinking. And as long as we focus on delivering quality education, it will disappear.
SIEBERG: All right. Well, Omar Wasow, from Community Connect, thank you so much for joining us today to talk about the digital divide.
WASOW: Thank you.
SIEBERG: All right, Fredricka, that's going to do it for me. I guess kids going back to school, they're just going to have to be working hard on everything and staying connected as best as they can, and hoping that schools will allow them to have that opportunity. WHITFIELD: Let's hope so. All right. Thanks a lot, Dan.
Well, when we come back, how technology has changed the game of tennis, and why some people don't seem to like it.
WHITFIELD: In Flushing Meadows the U.S. Open tennis tournament is in full swing this weekend in New York. And who will have the advantage? And will that winner possibly be using the high-tech, high-performance tennis racket that have come to dominate the sport for the last 25 years? Well apparently it is causing quite the stir.
Josie Burke has more.
JOSIE BURKE, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): When Pete Sampras retired Monday, the tennis world lost its grandest champion. But it may have lost even more than that.
PETE SAMPRAS, 14-TIME GRAND SLAM CHAMP: The serve and volley game is pretty much gone today, and I do worry about it.
BURKE: Sampras is not alone in his concern. In July, tennis greats John McEnroe, Boris Becker and Martina Navratilova sent a letter to the president of the International Tennis Federation claiming larger yet lighter rackets are turning most matches into one- dimensional battles consisting of baseline missiles.
BUD COLLINS, "BOSTON GLOBE" CORRESPONDENT: Well, they allow the application of too much top spin. And as a result, you just see players standing back at the baseline and hitting it as hard as they can. And with all that top spin, they know it's going to go into the court, and it becomes rather monotonous.
So what people would like to do is have a racket limited, no longer than 27 inches, no wider than nine inches. That's the size of the standard wooden racket before wood was left.
JENNIFER ALBERT, PENN RACKET SPORTS: These rackets definitely generate more power than a wood racket or an aluminum one in the past. It's just kind of the way that the game has evolved.
BRIAN DILLMAN, WILSON SPORTING GOODS: Venus and Serena Williams both play with oversized rackets and 110 square inches. And you see a lot of women on the tour going to that. As a matter of fact, Venus Williams told us one time, she said, "I never played with a racket too powerful."
BURKE: While the old guard complains that the new weapons are ruining the game's finesse, the players wielding those powerful rackets counter that improvements in the athletes themselves are what is really changing the sport.
MARK PHILIPPOUSSIS, WIMBLEDON RUNNER-UP: Guys are going to the gym now. They're getting stronger. I don't think they were doing that in the past. No matter what racket you're going to give them, guys can hit the ball hard.
JIM COURIER, FOUR-TIME GRAND SLAM CHAMPION: The kids watching television these days see the way the Williams sisters hit the ball. They see the way Roddick serves the ball. That's what they're trying to do from the age of 10 on.
They wouldn't go back to a game of slicing and chipping the ball. The player's mentality has changed. It's just evolved.
ANDRE AGASSI, EIGHT-TIME GRAND SLAM CHAMPION: If you put a wood racket in my hand, I don't think I'm going to be coming to the net. Unless I'm shaking hands or something.
BURKE: Ultimately, players may be left shaking their heads if rackets continue to grow. Especially if the only way to counter them is making the balls larger as well.
Josie Burke, CNN.
WHITFIELD: Well, that's all we have time for today. But NEXT will be back tomorrow at 5:00 Eastern time. Among the stories we'll be covering, a unique deal to protect this unique place, how the industry and its environmentalists are planning to preserve the Okapanookee (ph) swamp. That story and more coming up tomorrow. Hope you'll be watching. And thanks for joining us today.
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Controversy Over Online Education; Bush Launches New Environmental Initiatives>