The CNN article about the Aqua Dots product recall says:
U.S. safety officials have recalled about 4.2 million Chinese-made Aqua Dots bead toys that contain a chemical that has caused some children to vomit and become comatose after swallowing them.
We immediately did our own product recall, removing the unsafe toy from our house last night after our daughter went to bed. But how did this product get into our house in the first place?
The CNN report continued:
Scientists have found the highly popular holiday toy contains a chemical that, once metabolized, converts into the toxic "date rape" drug GHB (gamma-hydroxy butyrate), U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) spokesman Scott Wolfson told CNN.
Children who swallow Aqua Dots "become comatose, develop respiratory depression, or have seizures," the CPSC warns in a statement issued Wednesday.
This is not the kind of "kids and tech" story I ever expected to report, let alone comment on. I say "report" because as of this moment, the news has made it to the financial pages of Yahoo, but nowhere on the front pages of Google News or CNET.
This summer was a litany of news about toy recalls due to lead content, fire risks, and other factors. Products that had been safe or seemed safe for years are clearly becoming unacceptably unsafe, which is a pretty harsh judgment coming from me: I was the one parent in our daughter's class who believed that poison ivy on the school campus should be left in place as a valuable teaching tool.
After this summer's bitter harvest, however, I have been thinking much more carefully about product safety. But I could not imagine that Aqua Dot beads, which look to me like multicolored salmon roe (or some other form of caviar) would be dangerously toxic.
But the problem is even more perplexing than just the pharmacological one. In their never-ending efforts to score political points while avoiding difficult issues, Congress keeps passing "tough on crime" laws.
One particularly bizarre case is that of a substitute teacher who used a poorly maintained computer to send e-mail to her husband, and after returning from the restroom found that malware had caused pornographic pop-ups to litter her screen. The teacher was convicted in January of four felony counts of risking injury to minors and faced 40 years in prison, though she was granted a new trial this summer.
The teacher's testimony that she was a complete "techno-noob" did not exonerate her from the responsiblity of handling a techno-meltdown enabled by a technically incompetent school administration. According to news reports, her lawyers asserted that the pop-ups were a result of spyware and adware on the machine, expired antivirus software, and an expired firewall license.
Might the DEA charge millions of households with crimes for possession of date-rape drugs? Might they pile on charges for making these drugs available to minors? It's impossible to imagine, unless your name is Julie Amero and you are a substitute teacher. Then anything is possible.
The first order of business Congress should address is better safety standards for our toys. But while they are busy with that, we should be more mindful of the ways in which our laws, like hand grenades, can explode and injury anyone in their blast radius.
We have so many ways of criminalizing so many behaviors; I don't think we need many more. We need more focus on using the tools, the science, and the good common sense we have. More criminalization won't fix bad safety protocols, and it may yet ensnare more innocent victims of a system that is badly maintained.