June 27, 2006 1:11 PM PDT

Congress mulls slew of Net sex rules

When it comes to topics conducive to political speechifying, few compare to the volatile mix of the Internet, sex and children.

At a hearing before the House of Representatives' Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations, politicians served up a dizzying slew of suggestions about what kind of new federal laws should be enacted.

The ideas were all over the map, and most were new. Only one or two have actually been turned into formal legislation so far, but politicians are vowing to take action in the very near future.

A child exploitation law is "one of the highest priority issues not just before this subcommittee, but the full committee," said Rep. Joe Barton, the Texas Republican who heads the Energy and Commerce Committee. "It is my intention to...see if we can't develop very quickly a comprehensive piece of anti-child-pornography legislation."

Following is a roundup of some of the proposals for new federal laws, rules or regulations that would target American businesses--if, that is, various members of Congress get their way.

Forcibly blocking off-color Web sites: Rep. Bart Stupak, a Michigan Democrat, lauded a U.K. approach that involves compiling a list of illicit Web sites and using it to cordon off access to them. Internet providers should, Stupak said, block "American predators from using U.S.-based platforms to access child pornography at any site worldwide."

Eavesdropping on what Americans are doing online: Rep. Marsha Blackburn, a Tennessee Republican, suggested surveillance might do the trick. "One issue that keeps recurring is how these companies are monitoring communications that might reveal the contents are child pornography," she suggested.

Rep. Diana DeGette, a Colorado Democrat, sounded a similar tone without endorsing the eavesdropping plan: "I don't think that people who are raping 2-year-old children on the Internet have any right to privacy."

Anticipating data retention
Net companies pledge porn crackdown
As Congress considers forcing Internet providers to snoop on their customers, AOL, Microsoft and Yahoo say they have a better plan.

Making certain hyperlinks illegal: One antigambling bill in Congress a few years ago would have required companies to delete hyperlinks to offshore gambling sites. Now the idea is resurfacing. "Who's able to link to which site...and how we filter that out" is key, said Rep. Greg Walden, an Oregon Republican. "Some ISPs are better than others."

Recording which customer is assigned which Internet Protocol address: Rep. Ed Whitfield, a Kentucky Republican who chairs the oversight subcommittee, said he wanted to learn "about Internet service providers' retention policies for IP addresses in particular." In one case, Whitfield warned, police could not find who had been assigned a "3-day-old IP address from an Internet service provider. That is unacceptable." (Attorney General Alberto Gonzales has been pushing for this as well.)

Dispatching "search and destroy" bots: The idea of disrupting peer-to-peer networks surfaced in 2002 in the House of Representatives, and Sen. Orrin Hatch said a year later that copyright holders should be allowed to remotely destroy the computers of music pirates. Now Rep. Walden has revived that idea, proposing that search and destroy bots be launched to scour the Internet for illicit content.

"If you could search for different things, you might be able to search for a known image, identify it and destroy it," Walden suggested. He dubbed the idea "technologically scan and destroy."

Restricting naughty Webcams: Rep. Cliff Stearns, a Florida Republican and chairman of a consumer protection subcommittee, cited a New York Times article about an adolescent boy who charged customers to watch him perform erotic acts in front of his Web cam. "We've heard about one Web site that had 140,000 images of adolescents from their Web cam," Stearns said. We need "to do whatever we can in our power to protect the innocent."

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39 comments

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destroy that evidence!!
>Now Rep. Walden has revived that idea, proposing
>that search and destroy bots be launched to scour
>the Internet for illicit content.

How will these bots determine what is illicit and what is OK? What happens when they are wrong and fry an innocent computer?

This is nuts, as by frying a suspect computer, they're destroying any evidence to support the reason for destroying the thing. Plus, for those who are wrongly destroyed, they no longer have evidence to prove their innocence. Aren't there rules against tampering with evidence that should block this idea completely? Seems they'd want to keep around evidence of actual criminal data so they could go to court and have the guy put in jail.

If you just wreck computers, you've done nothing really preventative or corrective, and now they have motivation to go beyond the computer screen and replace what was lost. Is this really protecting the children, or pushing them further into harm's way?

Movies have shown us that bad guys like to have some kind of kill switch of their own, so that they can press a button or something and have their computer "clean" itself of anything incriminating. Why would we want law enforcement doing this for the bad guys???

Destroying computers at the whim of some scanning software, that just seems like it'll cause more problems than it can try to solve.
Posted by amigabill (93 comments )
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Remember where this comes from
The idea came from the music industry. They originally tried to get the authorization for them to search and destroy copywritten music. Made as much sense then as it does now, doesn't it.

And as you point out with 10s if not 100s of millions of computers out there, a mere 0.0001 failure rate on mistakes still means thousands of computers fried unjustly.
Posted by David Trammel (66 comments )
Link Flag
Fried?
This is foolish talk of foolish men that have no understanding of the dark side of the Internet.

Frying people's computer equipment is lunacy. Any server doing that and its sponsors would face retaliation.

Due process under international law is the right way -- FOLLOW THE LAW AND RESPECT THE PEOPLES RIGHTS.
Posted by 3mp1re (4 comments )
Link Flag
This is nuts!
I don't know about you all, but I refuse to give up any of my rights in the name of terrorism or pornography. I find it absolutely amazing how little regard our Congressmen--and women--have for our individual rights as citizens of this country.

We may win isolated battles against terrorism, child porn, or whatever, but we are losing the war to save our freedom.

Which is more important to you?
Posted by Pete Bardo (687 comments )
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Why don't the US representatives go to China and learn from real pros?
Why don't the US representatives go to China and learn from real pros?
Posted by hadaso (468 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Here's an idea...
...how about staying the hell out of legislating content and letting the parents actually get involved in their childrens' lives enough to protect their precious little kids' Internet experiences proactively (for once)?

Surfing over your kid's shoulder means more time spent together, and allows you as the parent direct control of what the kid sees or doesn't see. It also means that you can teach them what to avoid and how to avoid it. It's a process called (*gasp*) being a parent.

Just as surely as bad legislation comes wrapped in a flag, bad legislation can also come wrapped in a diaper...
Posted by Penguinisto (5042 comments )
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$$$ always trump responsibility
The responsible way to control this problem is to invest enough resources in police investigative manpower, training, and equipment to weed out the places where the bad guys are. The job is doable, as we can see by the successes the State authorities have had over the last couple of years in the war on fraud/spam/hacking when resources are made available to combat a problem. But like immigration reform, health care, and other public needs, success requires an investment of dollars and a commitment to getting the job done. It isn't surprising that the people in government who indulge the libertarian fantasy that government is not necessary in a modern industrial society aren't willing to invest dollars to meet social needs (though they apparently acknowledge there is some need or obligation attached to this problem that can't be met without government) or that they offer up the most desperate crackpot suggestions to avoid having to do the right thing. Anyone who honestly believes child pornography is a scourge has a moral obligation to bring effective tools to bear on it, including funding, and avoid injuring their cause with crackpot suggestions that can't pass public scrutiny. Now, who is serious here about solving the problem and who is just a talker? Ante up...
Posted by Razzl (1318 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Again....electioneering....
Blocking constitutionally protected content...good idea. Think of the lawsuits!

Looking to our government to supervise our children again...one moment legislators lament the loss of "family values", now they replace family involvement with their own. Nothing new from Washington....
Posted by gefitz (1116 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Who pays the price?
Filing lawsuits to pre-emptively challenge unconstitutional laws costs money.

Ultimately, the US will lose the legitimate adult industry's revenues as the datacenters will be moved outside of US jurisdiction.

Currently US hosted domains are almost 100% free of child pornography. Most CP is offshore or on peer2peer networks.

40 million Americans visit porn sites monthly.

Think again -- forcing adult content offshore will make US laws irrelevant. If Washington is unhappy about content now, what could they do when it becomes extra-jurisdictional?
Posted by 3mp1re (4 comments )
Link Flag
Send a message in November.
I for one will not vote for any of these right-wing self righteous "representatives" who are blinded by their own self-importance.

All this is meant to do is keep things fresh in voter's minds. It is scary that the very people they are puting on this dog and pony show would really like this to be Red-China-USA. The government is NOT the moral police! Wake up America!! Do we really want the US government turning into the Taleban?

These proposed "Laws" are nothing but a forced moral code on everyone in this country. I imagine the Riaa or Mpaa is behind the idea of pulling the plug on the P2P networks.

Best way to protect the children is to have INVOLVED parents. Do not let the internet/ video games baby sit youre children and we will not have these issues. These ideas all make me sick. We need to go after where the Child Porn originates, not where it ends up on the internet. Once the kitty porn is on the net the crime has already been commited.
Posted by (20 comments )
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November
Just a point of clarification: Half of those proposals being mooted today came from Democrats.
Posted by declan00 (848 comments )
Link Flag
Who's supporting this industry in the first place?
I'm supportive, concerned and angered somewhat about some of the steps that are outlined in the article.

My first impulse is to agree with some of the suggestions. No one wants to condone such a depravity of the human spirit. But Im cautious about our government. Our government makes mistakes, because we make mistakes.

Our government is us, all of us, yes even those that are pedophiles, alcoholics, racists, junkies, sex addicts, over eaters, democrats, republicans, Christians, Catholics, atheists and much more than I am capable of envisioning.

I agree with the comment about parents taking more responsibility, I agree with the comment about being ready to stand up for what we believe in and making some hard, even discriminatory practices. And believe me as a minority, I literally bristle at the very thought of any type of discrimination.

But, I believe these comments are at the center of the only real solution to removing this issue from the forefront of our consciousness.

We will never be able to completely remove this wickedness, but through a united effort, we can make it so uncomfortable for purveyors and participants of this behavior that people will think thrice before engaging in such lusts.

Whether the lust is financial or otherwise.
Posted by EmbSysPro (57 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Watch who you are calling depraved
Many normal sensible healthy people think that there is nothing wrong with porn. The problem is that they don't speak up, while you bible thumping prudes go crying to the Government because it makes you uncomfortable.

Grow a thicker skin and if something offends you don't freaking look at it. Let the rest of the rational people in the world look at whatever they are comfortable seeing. Perhaps we could have a .bible domain and all of you "decent, upstanding" types can go there and leave the rest of us non-delusional adults in peace.
Posted by PzkwVIb (462 comments )
Link Flag
Seig Heil, y'all!
Who the hell are these politicans trying to kid? all these things they've layed out have very little to do with actual child porn, and is more or less them trying to legislate morality. And censor the internet. We are still in a battle over network neutrality where the politicans promised that there was no need becuase there would be no blocking of sites, and then they suggest blocking "off-color" sites? And what does that mean, sites with dirty jokes? Why not turn the WHOLE internet over to the FCC while we're at it. You know why not? What part of "international network" do these morons in congress not get? Oh, that's right, not very much at aall. They are so completely clueless about technology, they are offering things that aren't even possible. We have idots running the country! Stupac? What a fitting name. Just a few letters shy of the truth.
Posted by MisterFlibble (207 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Truth
.... But it cannot be the duty, because it is not the right, of the state to protect the public against false doctrine.

The very purpose of the First Amendment is to foreclose public authority from assuming a guardianship of the public mind through regulating the press, speech, and religion.

In this field every person must be his own watchman for truth, because the forefathers did not trust any government to separate the true from the false for us. ...

Mr. Justice JACKSON, concurring
U.S. Supreme Court
THOMAS v. COLLINS, 323 U.S. 516 (1945)
Posted by 3mp1re (4 comments )
Reply Link Flag
False
the concept of false doctrine really isn't applicable here, 3mp1re. The reason that child pornography is banned by the courts is because of its invariable tie to an illegal industry that causes unimanginable harm to non-consenting children... and such harms legitimately justify limitations on speech... it is not a question of whether the speech in question constitutes false doctrine or not (if it was we would ban any and all depictions of sex with minors- think the sex scene in the movie traffic or "virtual" depictions of child pornography).
Posted by chector1020 (1 comment )
Link Flag
Late is seeing this story, but......
I felt compelled to comment on this one. There is too much lunacy in the article to touch on it all here. I will say however, that the bills described in the article demonstrate the woeful ineptitude of our nation's lawmakers to either understand the basic operation of the internet, or write any law that doesn't over-reach in it's grasp.

Protecting the children of the world is of the utmost importance, but should not mean that we have to bury the rest of the internet in a cloak of censorship and regulation.
Posted by Ghost Spider (27 comments )
Reply Link Flag
I am not sure whether to laugh or cry
"I don't think that people who are raping 2-year-old children on the Internet have any right to privacy."

And this is an elected official. That is scary. If the scummiest person has no rights, no one has rights. They either apply to all, or no one.

For the retards, I am not saying that child rape(or any kind of rape), child porn, ect should be protected. It should not be and isn't.
Posted by qwerty75 (1164 comments )
Reply Link Flag
I agree
What happened to the principle of Innocent until PROVEN guilty? Looks like Congress wants to rid us of that protection.

The fifth amendment clearly states that no person shall be denied life, liberty, or property without due process of law. That does include pedophiles as much as some might not like it.

I agree, the way they exploit children is wrong. However, he has a right to have a jury of 12 peers decide his guilt or innocence. The same as anyone else.

Geez, first congress tries to whittle away the 1st amendment with that flag burning legislation...now this. I'm starting to re-think hanging some effigies from my tree.
Posted by mr3vil (42 comments )
Link Flag
best argument I have heard for limited government in a long time
Politicians believe they can outlaw sex on the internet? I hope it will be as successful as how they outlawed drug use in the US? As we know the drug war has been very successful. (Taxes increase, drug use increased, and the prison population increased.) Child pornography is a serious issue that needs to be dealt with in a serious manner. Frying peoples computers and killing peer-to-peer networks is a far cry from a serious approach.

Government is wholly inadequate to deal with the problem. Fortunately private enterprise seems to be taking the lead here. A recent Cnet article talks about an approach Microsoft, AOL, Google, and others are working on. This technique uses checksum hashes to tag illicit images. ISPs simple scan packets against a database of known hash values and flag them when found. This approach appears to be the best balance privacy concerns and legitimate law enforcement needs. It catches pedophiles while leaving the average citizen and their surfing habits alone. It is far preferable to the creation of a domestic spy agency tracking all internet usage.
Posted by p.shearer (60 comments )
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