A couple years ago a former high U.S. govenrment official — one whose job required meeting with nearly every member of Congress — made the best argument I have yet heard against any regulation of the Net. Or of anything technical. Though not veratim, this is essentially what he said: I can tell you that there are two things nearly every congressperson does not understand. One is economics. The other is technology. Now proceed.
That line comes to mind when I read House vote on illegal images sweeps in Wi-Fi, Web sites, by Declan McCullagh in CNet. It begins,
The U.S. House of Representatives on Wednesday overwhelmingly approved a bill saying that anyone offering an open Wi-Fi connection to the public must report illegal images including “obscene” cartoons and drawings–or face fines of up to $300,000.
That broad definition would cover individuals, coffee shops, libraries, hotels, and even some government agencies that provide Wi-Fi. It also sweeps in social-networking sites, domain name registrars, Internet service providers, and e-mail service providers such as Hotmail and Gmail, and it may require that the complete contents of the user’s account be retained for subsequent police inspection.
In a follow-up post which includes an email dialog between Declan and one of the bill’s defenders, Declan added,
So what exactly does the SAFE Act do? It doesn’t mandate ongoing network surveillance. What it does require is that anyone providing Internet access who learns about the transmission or storage of information about illegal image must (a) register their name, mailing address, phone number, and fax number with the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children’s “CyberTipline” and (b) “make a report” to the CyberTipline that (c) must include any information about the person or Internet address behind the suspect activity and (d) the illegal images themselves. (Note that some reporting requirements already apply to Internet access providers under current law.)
The definition of which images qualify as illegal is expansive. It includes obvious child pornography, meaning photographs and videos of children being molested. It also includes photographs of fully clothed minors in unlawfully “lascivious” poses, and certain obscene visual depictions including a “drawing, cartoon, sculpture, or painting.”
So, would this be obscene to a Phillies fan? How about a Mets fan? Can we even tell if the subject is a minor? It’s not like you can count the rings.
By the way, I’m looking for hard data on how much Net traffic, including search requests, is for junk, porn or both. I’ve heard many different numbers, including some that say the percentage of porn search requests alone is north of 70%. But I dunno.
For a sample, however, watch the scroll at weblogs.com. Then imagine how much filtering you have to do if you’re Technorati or Google Blogsearch.