It’s For The Children!

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.

17 thoughts on “It’s For The Children!”

  1. Every legitimate restriction on the distribution of information and images that exists in the brick-and-mortar world already applies to the Internet.
    Which is exactly the point. There are countries in the world where age of consent is less than 18, and where pornography involving, for example 17 year olds, is perfectly legal within the boundaries of that country. So a porn site located in that country featuring 17 year olds would be breaking no local laws, and would have no US nexus for US prosecution

  2. Children aren’t at risk of being exposed to child pornography on the intertubes. They are at risk of being exposed to any kind of pornography or of being talked into something by a child molester on IM.
    There are plenty of technological solutions to parental control issues on the internet. No, they aren’t foolproof, but then neither is congress.

  3. Simple issue for reflexive ‘free-speech’ advocates, who forget that Constitutional protection was intended for political speech in the public arena, not for pornography. However, one might ask the question, “Are we a better society for having abandoned all the restrictions on public indecency and pornography that obtained in the first half of the past century?”
    /Mr Lynn

  4. Cap’n Ed wrote:
    We don’t need a nanny state deciding what to block for our own good.
    Where do we draw the line between prudent government regulation and an intrusive “nanny state”? For example, state law requires that my niece must wear a helmet when we go cycling despite the fact that millions of children have cycled in the past without helmets and have magically survived. State law requires that everybody in a car wear a seatbelt despite the fact that milliosn of people have ridden in cars without seatbelts and lived to tell the tale. Warning labels on cigarettes… Filters on the internet… Mandatory nutritional information… No trans-fats… The list of laws and regulations by which the government mandates “what is for our own good” is seemingly endless and getting longer every year. Much of the problem, I think, is that legislators feel the need to justify their phoney-baloney jobs (“I passed a bill requiring that helmets must be worn by people who ride unicycles!”)
    But the bulk of the problem is the “do-gooder” instinct in many Americans that dates back at least to the Progressive Era and probably to the Puritans. We think we can make a better, safer society through legislation. We think we know better than the other fellow how to live his life (in some cases, we do…). I’m sorry to say that, in the collision between society’s good intentions and personal liberty, liberty usually loses.
    mrlynn asks the excellent question:
    “Are we a better society for having abandoned all the restrictions on public indecency and pornography that obtained in the first half of the past century?”
    I think we all agree that society is better off without “indecency”. But how to define it? Is Playboy indecent? Penthouse? Hustler? Britney Spears videos? Daytime soap opera love scenes? Late night cable softcore? Hardcore porn? Depending on who you ask, none, some or all of these things are indecent. My fear is that, once government gets into the business of deciding what its own people can see or hear or read, we’re on a very slippery slope.
    Let me rephrase the question:
    “Are we a better society for having embraced restrictions on public use of racial ephithets that obtained in the first half of the past century… even though this requires ‘speech codes’ and ‘hate speech’ laws?”

  5. Why does the government have to be involved? Can’t Bill Gates just turn off the valves on a couple of tubes?

  6. Pornography (of the adult variety) has existed since ancient Babylon — archeologists have uncovered clay images of people engaged in various “activities.” What is not needed is Ted Stevens and Ted Kennedy (of all people) deciding what is proper for us and our kids. What is needed is responsible parents dealing honestly with their own children when in comes to sex. If you’re honest with them, they’re more likely to follow your moral teaching.

  7. The most grievous harm to children comes from people on the internet criticizing politicians and asking for more transparency in government spending.
    The children scream: HOW DARE THEY QUESTION CONGRESSIONAL SPENDING! Politicians simply must respond to such a heart-felt cry from the children.

  8. I am not much caring about pornography on the net. This bill sounds very much like a way to provide liberals with a form of internet ‘fairness doctrine.’ I am willing to bet that liberals world-wide would ‘filter out’ anything that might conflict with their version of reality… and won’t that make one Hell of an ideological split between Left and Right?
    The islamists will cheer.

  9. “No, they aren’t foolproof, but then neither is congress.”
    Making congress foolproof would be like making a “Roach Motel” roach-proof, wouldn’t it?

  10. Cap’n, for just this once I’ll agree with you 100%.
    In regards to the comparison with helmets for kids: clearly you have to draw a line somewhere – that’s true with any issue – but there’s some huge differences between the two situations. One is that a little porn won’t hurt a kid quite the same way that having their skull laying on the ground in two separate pieces will. For another, making sure kids wear helmets doesn’t harm the rights of adults, particularly first amendment rights, which are more vulnerable than most for some reason. And finally, there’s no liability reasons – I don’t have to feel the need to throw myself off the MOA parking ramp because I killed a kid who wasn’t wearing a helmet.

  11. Thanks, Jeff. And I’ll add this: traffic laws apply to public roads, which are by definition within the purview of the government. The government does not own the Internet.

  12. I’m disturbed that some commentators seem to think that this is no big deal. The first ammendment may not cover pornography, but there is a vast difference between placing restrictions on the sale of such material and applying a Chinese style government operated “filtering” system to the internet. To even make such an equivocation is myopic.
    I know you social cons hate porn, but get over it. Why is it that your supposed commitment to government intrusion only extends so far as you are opposed to the thrust of that intrusion? As long as the government is seeking to enforce your vision of a “better society”, you are ever willing to go along.
    By the way, regarding the notorious Chinese internet filters, they filter porn as well as political content. Maybe one should keep that in mind.

  13. This is one the main problems with having 75-year-old dinosaurs in Congress. There’s no way they can keep up new technology.

  14. Perhaps the estimed Senators will outsource the filtering to the Chinese? they can simply extend the Great Firewall of China to include the US…

  15. I’m a social conservative and yet I have no particular problem with porn, as long as the participants and the viewers are conscenting adults, nor do I consider government censoring of the internet a good idea. I think that they should use the internet to find and stop criminals and terrorists, but that any restriction of access should be limited to offering a taxpayer-funded no-go list or series of lists so that people can implement these lists and hopefully protect their children from offensive content – but only assuming that private enterprise doesn’t come up with a viable tool to do the job (which I think they probably already have). Personally, I use the “pay attention” method to make sure my kids aren’t accessing inappropriate content on the net.

  16. Why do I get the feeling that protecting children is a cover story for protecting the RIAA and MPAA? Once the filtering is in place, it wouldn’t be hard for a senator to say, “Now that we have this great filtering system, lets set it to monitor for copyrighted material too”. It just seems a little suspicious that this comes up a couple of days after the P2P bill for universities gets defeated. After all, who has more money to contribute to Steven’s campain, children or the *AAs?

  17. I am a Christian conservative and am convinced that pornography is bad for an individual’s psyche and for a society just as tobacco is bad for about every part of ones body. That is why I have a server-side filtering service for internet service to my home.
    But I think this is a very bad idea. I do not want the government deciding what content on the internet to filter or not, nor deciding who online is underage and therefore needing protection. It is (another) vast extension of government power into an area that is not their business.

Comments are closed.