November 20, 2006

COPA - Closing Argument - ACLU: Censorware Works, Govt: Censorware Doesn't Work

In the closing arguments of the "Child Online Protection Act" (COPA) Internet Censorship trial, the censorware "talk-up" vs. "talk-down" divide was prominent.

ACLU press release, censorware "talk-up":

... But as the ACLU showed during the trial, Internet filters would be far more effective at blocking sexually explicit Web sites.

... "It is also clear that other alternatives, including education and filtering, are far more effective for those parents who want to limit access by their children to certain websites using their own values."

[later] ... In addition, according to the government's own expert, America Online's filter blocks more than 98 percent of all sexually explicit sites.

Now let's compare the government statements (AP article), the censorware "talk-down"

PHILADELPHIA - Justice Department attorneys, defending a law aimed at keeping online pornography from minors, argued that software filters often block valid sites -- on gay rights or sexual health, for example -- that teens might seek out.

"Filters are hindering minors from learning about the world around them. That's a huge problem," government lawyer Joel McElvain said Monday. "There may be reasons the teenagers have problems speaking to their parents about these (issues)."

Here's where the side-switching happens, that people sometimes mistakenly refer to as a "contradiction". It's formally consistent for the ACLU to argue that parents can use censorware on minors, and the government shouldn't apply censorware to adults in public libraries. But the issue tends to drift from those bare control-rights based statements. Here, the ACLU is "talking-up" censorware in their own press release ("more than 98 percent"!). While the government is "talking-down" censorware in their public comments ("hindering minors"). These are not legal statements, but short bits for popular consumption. Both would agree that censorware catches some porn sites and makes mistakes. But the switch comes that here the ACLU is emphasizing the accurate part and the government is emphasizing the inaccurate part, while in a library censorware case, the emphasis would be reversed. And more deeply, that the accurate aspect is claimed to be what matters, while the inaccurate aspect is dismissed as an acceptable cost (and elsewhere, vice-versa)

On a personal note, I'm hoping this all helps me get across to people what I went through in trying to get support in opposing censorware. And why those issues are still a factor. But I'm probably being over-optimistic. [sad face image]

By Seth Finkelstein | posted in censorware , copa | on November 20, 2006 11:59 PM (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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Doesn't the struggle for censorware demonstrate an unsatisfied demand for an online creche?

Couldn't one create a certification system on a new protocol, say httpc, that guaranteed content suitable for minors?

The necessary digital certificates could be obtained by anyone given either reputation, liquidity or money, and there would be penalties for violating decency/safety standards.

Then, if the censors were right, nearly everyone and their dog would publish content on their httpc servers to address the burgeoning youth/purity market.

Moreover, one would also require httpc browsers to require the use of a registered IP address (even if dynamically allocated from such an ISP's pool). And this would require the registrant to voluntarily submit to penalties if they violated the standards by submitting obnoxious content (even if by a visitor who snuck into to the playroom to upload a photo of their ankle instead of a teddy bear).

This way minors would only be permitted supervised httpc access in public libraries. And adults would only be permitted free http access (httpc content would simply be mirrored on http servers with read-only behaviour). Adults could of course provide identity credentials in order to accompany their children in the httpc creche - and demonstrate liability should they misbehave.

This way adults are free to submit themselves to the corruption and depravity inherent in uncensored intercourse, while kids remain 'protected'. Moreover, 'responsible' parents can deny them access to anything except httpc.

Posted by: Crosbie Fitch at November 21, 2006 07:13 AM