Opening door to Internet censorship under guise of Saving the Children

Good or bad, the Internet has always been about the free flow of information; regardless of its format. If you are caught with something that is considered to be illegal on your own machine that you downloaded via the Internet then you pay the consequences.

Up to this point your service provider for that connection to the web has generally restricted themselves to only managing the pipe in the way that will make them the most profits. The majority of the time; unless it was in their best interests, the ISPs have stayed away from policing the data that goes through their pipes.

That could change in the very near future if Andrew Cuomo; New York’s Attorney General, has his way and if either; or both, of the bills before Congress are passed.

In the first instance with Andrew Cuomo it looks like he has made it his life’s mission apparently to force Internet Service Providers to block child porn. On the face of it this is a noble idea but knowing that it would be next to impossible to legislate them into doing this Cuomo has taken to publicly shaming – or at least threatening to – ISPs that don’t check all the data going through their pipes for child porn and then reporting the offenders. To a point his plan has been successful in that the majority of ISPs have been blocking all USENET access but that in itself is a joke considering that 99% of all USENET is actually legitimate content.

However not satisfied with that, it appears the Cuomo got a hold of some promotional literature from an Australian company called Brilliant Digital. It seems that the company is promising that is able to inspect every single image, every single movie, every document whether it is attached to an email or found in a search as it moves through any Internet Service Provider’s network. This information was then passed on to the companies that Cuomo is trying to pressure into policing their networks to the Attorney General’s satisfaction.

Then today Doc Searls had a post where he pointed to two pieces of legislation that would make this enforced policing easier to thrust upon ISPs. The first one S.173B; which Doc describes as nothing more than a great big expensive kludge that would create more problems that it would solve, reads in part

A bill to require the Department of Justice to develop and implement a National Strategy Child Exploitation Prevention and Interdiction, to improve the Internet Crimes Against Children Task Force, to increase resources for regional computer forensic labs, and to make other improvements to increase the ability of law enforcement agencies to investigate and prosecute child predators.

The second piece of legislation; S.519, is in doc’s opinion nothing more than legalized wiretapping of the Internet and it reads in part

A bill to modernize and expand the reporting requirements relating to child pornography, to expand cooperation in combating child pornography, and for other purposes,

As Doc says in his post regarding the last one

The other is a wiretapping bill for the Internet. I get that from Section 103, which says one Task Force purpose is “increasing the investigative capabilities of state and local law enforcement officers in the detection and investigation of child exploitation crimes facilitated by the Internet and the apprehension of offenders”. Hence the move by Andrew Cuomo in New York.

Like I said in the beginning the idea of fighting child pornography is a good and righteous fight but when do we cross the line between the good fight and overt surveillance of all your online activity regardless of what you are doing. Given how bad even the current so-called sophisticated nanny software is when mothers can be blocked from site talking about breast feeding, or some young person trying to understand themselves by searching for gay pride information.

While Doc Searls frames his post by tying this nettapping to the idea that these types of policing ideas happen because we are still trying to frame the web as just another arm of the telcom business I think this paragraph of his says it better

This is one more slippery slope at the bottom of which the Internet is just another breed of telecom service, subject to ever-expanding telecom regulation, all for Good Cause.

To me moves like this smack more of the ever encroaching nanny state where everything we do, say or think is being governed by goodie two shoes who think they know what is best for us. How much longer will it or how much more will we take before we stand up and tell them all to piss off.