Sometimes bipartisanship leads to bigger problems, and the Senate Commerce Committee apparently intends to prove it. Chair Daniel Inouye (D-HI) and ranking member Ted Stevens (R-AK) issued a demand for government “filtering” of the Internet — and they want it for the children, of course (via Instapundit):
US senators today made a bipartisan call for the universal implementation of filtering and monitoring technologies on the Internet in order to protect children at the end of a Senate hearing for which civil liberties groups were not invited.
Commerce Committee Chairman Daniel K. Inouye (D-Hawaii) and Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee Vice Chairman Ted Stevens (R-Alaska) both argued that Internet was a dangerous place where parents alone will not be able to protect their children.
“While filtering and monitoring technologies help parents to screen out offensive content and to monitor their child’s online activities, the use of these technologies is far from universal and may not be fool-proof in keeping kids away from adult material,” Sen. Inouye said. “In that context, we must evaluate our current efforts to combat child pornography and consider what further measures may be needed to stop the spread of such illegal material over high-speed broadband connections.”
Before we get into free-speech issues, let’s deconstruct Inouye’s statement for a moment. Keeping kids away from adult material morphs very quickly into combating child pornography, but they aren’t at all connected. Kids don’t get victimized by child pornographers by surfing the web, but by being exploited in person by child pornographers. The distribution of child pornography occurs on the Internet — but that’s already illegal, and law enforcement resources have already been committed to fighting it.
If Inouye wants to strengthen the penalties and commit more resources to prosecute child porn and its distribution, that sounds good to me. It doesn’t require government “filtering” to do either.
What did Ted Stevens have to say about the subject? Nothing terribly coherent:
“Given the increasingly important role of the Internet in education and commerce, it differs from other media like TV and cable because parents cannot prevent their children from using the Internet altogether,” Sen. Stevens said. “The headlines continue to tell us of children who are victimized online. While the issues are difficult, I believe Congress has an important role to play to ensure that the protections available in other parts of our society find their way to the Internet.”
To quote the great philosopher of our time — the Geico Caveman — er, what? “The protections available in other parts of our society”? Would Stevens like to explain exactly what those protections are? I’m not aware of any government filtering programs on media, except to make child porn illegal. The government does not pre-inspect Hustler, for instance, to ensure that the models are all 18 and over; they just require publishers to keep records to substantiate it on request. They do the same thing with Internet porn sites, at least those who operate within the US. Every legitimate restriction on the distribution of information and images that exists in the brick-and-mortar world already applies to the Internet.
How does the Internet differ from TV and cable in that parents can’t prevent their children from using it? Parents who want to cut off Internet access at their house will find it rather easy to do. True, their children can access Internet elsewhere, but they can access television elsewhere, too, even at school.
The committee wants the FCC and the FTC to start working on methods of identifying and blocking certain methods of transmission to keep child pornography from getting distributed. Not only does that sound like a dangerous expansion of their specific missions, it sounds absurd from a technological point of view. The decentralized nature of the Internet makes this suggestion a never-ending game of “duck-duck-goose”, as transmissions will adapt to government interference — as proven in China, Iran, and a host of other dictatorships.
We don’t need a nanny state deciding what to block for our own good. Track child porn and prosecute everyone involved, but don’t use that as an excuse to start filtering access to the Internet.