October 26, 2006

Department of Justice Says Censorware Doesn't Work

[For "amusement", I present here an excerpt of the "Child Online Protection Act" (COPA) Internet Censorship trial (10/23), where in an opening statement, as part of their strategy, government lawyer Eric Beane argues vigorously that censorware does not work. My snark in brackets]

The evidence will show that a shocking amount of pornography slips through these filters and into the hands of children. The evidence will show that the patchwork of status quo solutions is not working well enough.

[Shocking. Censorware doesn't work. Later he really gets into this:]

We provided pictures to you that got through filters tested by plaintiffs' own expert. Each of those pages had gotten through a filter. And you are also going to hear testimony from our experts, Paul Mewett and Philip Stark, describing their comprehensive study of the effectiveness of the filters.

[They can prove it. It's science.]

The results of the study confirm what the public already knows. Filters don't solve the problems.

One filter failed to block over 60 percent of the sexually explicit web pages it was tested against, over 60 percent. We refer to this problem as underblocking.

Many other filters missed more than 25 percent of those sexually explicit websites.

Even the filter that underblocked the least sexually explicit pages still allowed 8.6 percent of the sexually explicit pages through. Don't let a small percentage fool you. This percentage translates to hundreds of millions of sexually explicit pages.

[Porn pornn pornnn, it's everywhere ...]

If a water source was mixed with a sewer system, and you had a filter that screened out but 6.6 percent of it, would that be a solution to the problem? Would that cure the problem of the drinking water? I think that analogy works here with kids. It's the fact that there are still all of these images there, there were speeches that can be done directed at the source that can address that problem where filters will never be able to.

[Trying to bail the ocean with a spoon doesn't work. But, I must say, neither does commanding the waves.]

A low underblocking rate also comes at a cost. The filters that are most successful at blocking out sexually explicit pages also block out many other pages that contain no sexual content at all. 23.6 percent of the pages that were blocked had no sexual explicit content.

[You heard him! Censorware doesn't work!]

For example, one filter even blocked a website promoting a marathon to raise funds for breast cancer research. Part of the CIA's World fact Book was blocked. And a page with an ACLU calendar. In fact each of the plaintiffs websites in this case was blocked by at least one filter, and the united states has consistently taken the position that none of the plaintiffs' websites are covered by COPA.

[The "breast" issue isn't obsolete, it's still a problem!]

So in the absence of the solution offered by COPA, parents are left with a very difficult choice of allowing their children to be exposed to sexually explicit material or of cutting off their children's access to a significant portion of other materials on the worldwide web, materials that in many cases are necessary for a child to complete his homework.

[Wow - Censorware interferes with children's ability to do homework. The government wouldn't say it if it weren't true, right?]

As you might imagine the task of keeping an up-to-date black list is mammoth. It is simply impossible to catalog the entire worldwide web. So the overall effectiveness of a filter will always depend on the performance of automated classification software or dynamic filtering.

On this point you will hear from Dr. Stephen Neale who is a nationally renowned expert in linguistics. He will explain that image filtering does not work and that robot filters that operate by sorting language and text will never be able to stop pornographic images from reaching children.

[It's an impossible task - you have word of the US Department Of Justice on it]
[Of course this is posturing - but the quotes might be useful for anyone dealing with a censorware-maker]

By Seth Finkelstein | posted in censorware , copa | on October 26, 2006 09:21 AM (Infothought permalink)
Seth Finkelstein's Infothought blog (Wikipedia, Google, censorware, and an inside view of net-politics) - Syndicate site (subscribe, RSS)

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For a given definition of "work", that is...

Pretty good at stopping the casual user from accessing his myspace page, but completely inneffective against anybody who knows anything about proxies, or is committed to getting some porn.

I used this line of argument in an exchange with Bennett Haselton of Peacefire. He made a convincing point to me that I can't use the futility of trying to censor the entire web as a mitigating point when considering its acceptibility.

Should it cut both ways, though? Since you note it doesn't work anyway, why bother fighting it?

Posted by: Travis Finucane at October 26, 2006 02:09 PM

Seth wrote:"[Of course this is posturing - but the quotes might be useful for anyone dealing with a censorware-maker] "

Thanks for the "talking points" Seth...

I hope I don't get a call from Annn Coulter...likely she is busy trying to crucify democrats....won't have time for an anti censoreware contract.

research slips "one more notch"...

talking points from a "researcher"....?

What ever happened to science ? Has it been replaced by this intelligent design.

Posted by: Bob Turner at October 26, 2006 03:46 PM

Travis: Good point, and my answer is that while I doubt it's possible to eliminate bona-fide pornography to the extent they'd need to do so, it's a lot more doable to marginalize political minorities. It's not about porn, really, that'll do fine, that's about as universal a constant in human society as possible. The overall issue is controlling the flow of information.

Bob: Ah, but it helps to understand the rhetorical tropes of the debate. It's not only a research issue, but a "hearts and minds" issue. Won't somebody think of the children? (who can't do their homework because of censorware. ...)

Posted by: Seth Finkelstein at October 26, 2006 06:29 PM

Ahhh “hearts and minds”...yes , I forgot for a moment...I'm now transported back to 1998....thanks for pointing that out to me....I'll wait for a call from Anne and Rush...
I'll save my reply s to that crap for them....

However in a similar spirit I'll address one other point...

Your article states

“[It's an impossible task - you have word of the US Department Of Justice on it]”

Idea for an IQ test question...

The worst Internet filter in 1998 is to “effective internet filtering” as __________ is to the current Department of Justice.

a. Justice
b. Bananas
c.Hot co-eds
d.Very large cucumbers

(Uh ...pick one only)

It's just an idea...I'm not married to it...I'll ask Anne when she calls and get back to you .

Posted by: Bob Turner at October 26, 2006 09:35 PM