This summer's trial of Robert and Carleen Thomas was more than a routine bust of a dirtybooks distributor.

The Thomases, both 38, of Milpitas, California, were convicted on July 28 of transmitting obscenity through interstate phone lines via their computer bulletin board system on the Internet. The case, which is being appealed, served to open the eyes of both the computer network industry and Christians to the growing availability and acceptance of sexually explicit images over the emerging information superhighway and the eroding control of parents over the information their children take in.

"Now, with the advance of technology, [porn] can come right into the privacy of your own home," says Donna Rice Hughes, spokesperson for the Fairfax, Virginia-based Enough Is Enough, an antipornography women's organization. "A lot of parents are still trying to figure out how to set the clock on their VCR while their kids are in their bedrooms accessing cyberporn," says Hughes.

There may be other milestone convictions in the near future, as the ever-resourceful pornography industry exploits computer and communications technology. In recent months, other instances have surfaced:

* Officials at the Lawrence Livermore nuclear weapons laboratory near San Francisco announced in July that the lab's advanced computers were being used by computer hackers to store and distribute more than 1,000 hard-core pornographic images.

* Pedophiles have used computer bulletin boards to contact children, learn their names and addresses, and set up meetings with them. "We've already had rapes of children occur through that type of setup," says antipornography activist Len Munsil.

* Phone-sex operators, stymied by legal and business barriers from drawing consumers ...

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