Nettapping for everyone

ISPs are pressed to become child porn cops is a new MSNBC piece by Bill Dedman and Bob Sullivan. It begins,

New technologies and changes in U.S. law are adding to pressures to turn Internet service providers into cops examining all Internet traffic for child pornography.

One new tool, being marketed in the U.S. by an Australian company, offers to check every file passing through an Internet provider’s network — every image, every movie, every document attached to an e-mail or found in a Web search — to see if it matches a list of illegal images.

The company caught the attention of New York’s attorney general*, who has been pressing Internet companies to block child porn. He forwarded the proposal to one of those companies, AOL, for discussion by an industry task force that is looking for ways to fight child porn. A copy of the company’s proposal was also obtained by…

But such monitoring just became easier with a law approved unanimously by the Congress and signed on Monday by President Bush. A section of that law written by Republican presidential candidate Sen. John McCain gives Internet service providers access to lists of child porn files, which previously had been closely held by law enforcement agencies and the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children. Although the law says it doesn’t require any monitoring, it doesn’t forbid it either. And the law ratchets up the pressure, making it a felony for ISPs to fail to report any “actual knowledge” of child pornography.

*That would be Andrew Cuomo.

(An appeal to journalists everywhere: When you refer to a piece legislation, whether proposed or passed, please link to the @#$% thing.)

So I looked around, and believe that the legislation in question is S.1738, described by Thomas as 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.

It was sponsored by Sen. Joe Biden and co-sponsored by 60 others, not including John McCain. But Thomas says S.519, A bill to modernize and expand the reporting requirements relating to child pornography, to expand cooperation in combating child pornography, and for other purposes, is a related bill (there are two others), and was sponsored by McCain. About that bill it says, Latest Major Action: 2/7/2007 Referred to Senate committee. Status: Read twice and referred to the Committee on the Judiciary. Note: For further action, see S.1738, which became Public Law 110-401 on 10/13/2008.

So I’ve read the text, and I see two things there. One is this Task Force business (which to me says “gather the wrong people for a noble purpose, and task them with creating a technical mandate that may not get funded, and if it does will be a huge kluge that does far less than it’s supposed to do while complicating everything it touches”). 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.

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.

And we’ll see more of this, as long as we continue framing the Net as just another breed of telecom.

The Net is too new, too protean, too essential and too economically vital for it to be lashed — even by legislation that attempts to protect its virtues — to telecom law that was born in 1934 and comprises a conceptual box from which there is no escape.

Hat tips to Alex Goldman and Karl Bode.

Bonus wisdom from Richard Bennett: “The Internet is indeed the most light-regulated network going, and it’s the only one in a constant state of improvement. Inappropriate regulation – treating the Internet like a telecom network – is the only way to put an end to that cycle.”

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7 Responses to Nettapping for everyone

  1. Insert cure face of child victim and you can get even the most draconian legislation passed.

  2. Kind of amazing to think that a law would force ISPs to not only become policemen, but policemen who are NEVER allowed to make a mistake.

    FWIW – if the law is written in such a way that actually makes “it a felony for ISPs to fail to report any “actual knowledge” of child pornography.” ISPs have only 2 choices to safely run their business.

    1) report EVERY file transfer that they see to the feds, so that they aren’t liable for anything that is missed
    2) don’t monitor ANYTHING, so that there is no chance of ever having “actual knowledge”

    I’d do the one that has zero cost, myself.

    The post 9/11 bank “secrecy” laws are similar – in that case banks HAVE to monitor transactions as part of their business, so they report just about everything and swamp investigating agencies.

    It doesn’t WORK worth a damn, but it IS way cheaper than actually funding police agencies well enough to do the jobs themselves and congress can claim to be “doing something about the problem”.

  3. Doc Searls says:

    It bothers me that Biden’s, McCain’s and Obama’s names are all on Net-related legislation.

    I have more hope for Obama than McCain in respect to the Net, but Biden concerns me. On this stuff I just hope Barack keeps Joe in the room with the magazines and out of policy making.

  4. Ehud says:

    IS the idea to distribute a list of file names? the files themselves? Digital fingerprints?

  5. Barr. He’s the only choice if you value freedom.

  6. Pingback: Opening door to Internet censorship under guise of Saving the Children

  7. Dave Taht says:


    Nice to see you going deep, rather than wide. The blogging world could use a few more people actually willing to read and digest the hard stuff, before regurgitating.

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