California Also Comes Out Against Child Porn

Recently, after New York Attorney General Cuomo browbeat 3 major ISPs into dropping large chunks of Usenet in the name of reducing access to child porn, I predicted that other states would rapidly hop on the bandwagon. California – always envious of New York’s position as a trendsetter – has jumped on. Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger and Attorney General Jerry Brown have sent a letter to the California ISP Association asking them to take down child porn and block its distribution. The ISPs have proposed going further than just dumping Usenet, and have offered to compile a blacklist of child porn sites that they’d block. This goes beyond the New York proposal and moves ISPs into filtering the ‘Net, which is the obvious next step.

The Governator is drawing a hard line, according to a spokeswoman: “anything that falls short of guaranteeing the protection of innocent children from exploitation will be unacceptable.” Hmm. Well, child porn existed before the Internet did, so I’m not precisely sure what ISP proposal would be acceptable. But, opposing child porn is a pretty controversial stand for a politician to take in an election year, and it’s always nice to see bipartisanship in action (AG Brown is a Democrat).

I’m deliberately being snarky, but the underlying point is real: it’s much easier to bash ISPs than to tackle the problem of child exploitation in a meaningful way. (Cuomo stated that going after end user violators would be too difficult.) And there are two other problems: overkill and underkill. Overkill means pushing ISPs to drop Usenet (including thousands of newsgroups with legit content) to squash the 88 groups Cuomo’s investigation found to contain child porn. Underkill means celebrating a faux victory over child pornography rather than doing the hard investigative work needed to reduce the problem. Both worry me.

Most of society’s ills show up on the Net. That doesn’t mean they are Internet problems, and it doesn’t mean that ISPs are the right regulatory targets to deal with them.

With that said, we’ve only heard from two attorneys general so far. Are the other 48 pro-child-porn? Come on, this is an election year! Mike Cox, Mark Shurtleff, Greg Abbott, Martha Coakley, I’m looking at you!

2 Responses to “California Also Comes Out Against Child Porn”

  1. Why is this still open for debate? I know there is a fine line between upholding the law and the right of free speech and expression. There needs to be a federal guideline that states when any child under the age of the highest age of consent in the U.S. at the time of the writing, appears in any form of lewd or pornographic (as defined by federal law) exhibition the perpetrators of such exhibition shall be prosecuted to fullest extent of the law including all distributors of said material! Is this plain and simple enough? The children today are forced into adult roles too quickly and need to be allowed to be children longer.

  2. Hi Dave – I actually think that federal law on this is pretty clear, and is exactly what you’re describing. My memory on criminal statutes is not perfect, but I think 18 USC 2252 is it – have a look:

    http://www4.law.cornell.edu/uscode/18/2252.html

    As you note, though, the question is enforcement effort. That’s why filtering is so popular: it outsources enforcement to private parties. My worry is that filtering doesn’t do anything about the *production* of child porn in the first place – and, in a world where child abuse is the main reason we worry (it is for me, but not for everybody), filtering is therefore not a particularly effective answer.

    Thanks for reading!