Do the people who come up with these foolish laws even use the Internet themselves?

These proposals are asinine and unworkable. But thank God things are going so well in the world that the Justice Department has the resources to make fighting Internet porn a national priority.

UPDATE: Ginny posts on related topics.

20 thoughts on “Do the people who come up with these foolish laws even use the Internet themselves?”

  1. I heard about an idea to require porn websites to have their own domain, like .porn or whatever. That would be a big help in reducing accidental access and it would be, I imagine, easier to ban all porn websites because one could just ban that entire domain.

    Also, why do you think the proposal would be unworkable?

  2. One man’s porn is another one’s art. While one man is being educated, another is being aroused.

    That doesn’t mean I’m always sympathetic with that argument (our lives have coarsened), but it isn’t easy or even always desirable to draw the line.

    Anecdote: His flock turned against Jonathan Edwards in part because he named teenage miscreants from the pulpit. They had been passing around a book on mid-wifing. He thought it didn’t treat women with sufficient dignity to look at the book in that way. But I can just imagine some teeb arguing studying the book showed his respect for women, knowing it would help if he was the only one around some woman going into labor. Not that their parents as well as Edwards might not have had their doubts.

  3. The proposals are unworkable because the people at whom they are directed have no incentive to cooperate. The only way to enforce the rules would be via some kind of national filtering system a la China, which I think is a nonstarter for both political and technical reasons.

    The proposals have the aroma of a cynical political ploy intended to reduce defections among the Republican base. A better way to accomplish the same political end might be for Bush directly to address the issues that are driving Republicans away — wishy-washiness on the war and evasions on immigration policy.

  4. The policy is stupid and unworkable, not to mention stupid.

    But the “free speech” arguments against it are also pretty stupid. Telling you that you must properly label your speech still allows you the right to freely speak, it just means people will have an easier time identifying what it is and tuning out if they so desire. (Again, it’s unworkable, but there’s nothing philosophically wrong with the idea of “truth in advertising”.)

    One website I visit daily is The Marriage Bed, a website for married Christian couples which is focused on sexual issues. I don’t want the government banning the site from the internet, but I have no problem with them (in principle) requiring the site to state that the material therein is sexually explicit.

  5. I realize that for servers located outside of the US, there is little that can be done short of a filtering mechanism, but for those within the US it doesn’t seem all that much trouble.

    What do you think of a different domain, like .adult or something like that?

  6. Above: “One man’s porn is another one’s art. While one man is being educated, another is being aroused.”

    I vaguely remember high school – where I was often being educated and aroused simultaneously.

  7. Yet another case where I am a conservative and not a libertarian. I am strongly in favor of imposing the equivalent of “time, place and manner” restrictions on online rhymes-with-forlorn (spam filter keeps out the word itself), much like it is restricted in the rest of the world. The technical details may be difficult, I really don’t know. When people say that it is impossible to do this or that on the Internet I am always dubious. Businesses exist somewhere, have assets somewhere, have banks somewhere. The Internet touches the Earth in many places, and has to do so for anyone to make any money off of it. Polluters can be fined if they dump poison in the river — Purveyors of this material can be fined if they go beyond lawfully imposed limits in promoting their material on the Net. The basic idea that parents and any other citizens should be assisted in trying to keep this offensive material from appearing on our screens, and making it difficult for anyone using my computer to intentionally or inadvertently run into it, is an admirable goal which would also be very politically popular. I do not consider this kind of thing trivial at all. This material is “speech” under the law (in fact, it is a drug), but can be and should be subject to reasonable limitations to keep it away from people who want no part of it. Its ubiquity on the Net is a serious problem. A free speech absolutist would say it is wrong in principle to restrict this material in any way. Majorities are not so absolutist, and they are within the scope of the Constitution in imposing reasonable limitations, and for myself I see no meritorious philosophical objection to doing so. People who actually want this stuff will still be able to get it.

    Hans proposal of a domain that would allow easy filtering is one I have seen proposed. The practical limitations may or may not be insurmountable. I doubt they are.

    I side completely with the proponents of the purportedly “foolish laws”.

  8. I await a technically competent description of how any centralized restriction on Internet porn is going to work. I don’t think it’s going to happen. For the forseeable future, if you want to shield your kids from online porn you are most likely going to have to do it yourself via supervision and filtering software (though I wouldn’t put too much trust in the latter).

  9. “…you are most likely going to have to do it yourself …”

    I will make a prediction. This kind of thing, in addition to spam and other abuses of the “commons” of the Internet, are going to be increasingly big sources of consumer/user complaint. If the industries that rely on the Internet do not find ways to at least make self-help more effective, then the Government, however ineptly, is going to be called in to “do something” because there will be political demand for it.

  10. The laws may be enacted but they will not be effective. Remember the various legislative attempts to ban email spamming? They sure worked well. My take on the whole “Internet porn” thing is that it’s a cynical ploy to score points with social-conservative voters. I resent Bush’s waste of political energy on such things when there’s a war on.

    Whatever happens, you are still going to have to protect your kids on your own.

  11. My obligation to protect my family is a given. However, what we have now is the equivalent of a child molester or a flasher or a con artist or other sociopath every twenty paces as you walk down the sidewalk. The response could be, well stay off the Internet. But that is increasingly becoming as meaningless as “don’t walk down the street.” I do think there will be changes in the status quo, and I do not think that it is a permanent technological impossibility to make the Net as most people use it less of a freak show and snakepit.

    This is part of a more general picture. When new technologies arise, they go through a “Wild West” phase, where there are lots of participants. As the new technology matures, and as people become more reliant on it, and as people sink more and more money into it, they turn to the government to police it, to secure property rights and to create barriers to entry against new innovators and competitors and to start organizing the thing for routine use on a commodity basis. The pioneer-types then move on to whatever is the next “frontier”. I have no reason to think the Net will fail to follow this pattern.

  12. OK, you want it, but you can’t tell me how it’s going to work. Neither can the pols. The closer you get to the details, the harder the problem becomes. The conventional tech answer is something like: “Recreate the Internet using new and improved protocols.” Good luck getting that to happen. And if it somehow does happen it will be with so many unintended consequences and political agendas tacked on that you will wish it hadn’t.

    I think the answer will evolve, and is evolving, not as centralized censorship but as increasingly effective software and hardware tools applied at the margins of the network — that is, at the level of ISPs and individual users. The politicians are less than useless in this regard.

    I also think that the cost in freedom of any government attempt at centralized filtering is likely to be high. I don’t see any reason why adults should be forbidden pornography, and it’s probably a given that any govt attempt to keep porn from kids would block it from adults as well. And it’s forseeable to a certainty that the definition of bad content would be expanded over time to fit the political bandwagon of the day, whatever day it happens to be.

  13. And it’s forseeable to a certainty that the definition of bad content would be expanded over time to fit the political bandwagon of the day, whatever day it happens to be.

    Like television censorship?

  14. Few customers can tell “how it is going to happen.” They are offered a product they like. Hobbyists look under the hood. I tend to agree that a practical solution here will come from the private sector. There will be increasing demand for such things and I seem to have more faith than you do in the ingenuity of the techies out there.

    But there will be increasing political demand that the politicians “do something” on the government side, and saying that consumers of pornography have a “right” to the stuff won’t even be a political speed bump. Once this gets going far from some principled struggle on the basis of “free speech”, what we will see is tactical capitulation by the relevant industries, which will agree to police themselves better to avoid a worse and more arbitrary outcome. “…any govt attempt to keep porn from kids would block it from adults as well.” No. There are all kinds of limitations on pre-Net porn. Adult bookstores are restricted in where they can operate, and require customers to show ID. If porn sites could be required to have a specific identifying tag, or voluntarily agreed to do so, then they could be easily kept away from those who don’t want and easily found by those who do. So this is absolutely wrong. The guys who just gotta have their porn will get it, since the demand for it is enormous. I don’t buy the slippery slope argument at all. Making it harder to find video images of people having intercourse with animals, for example, is not going to lead to any imposition on core political speech.

    You can ridicule this proposed regulation all you want, but there is going to lots more initiatives like this one.

  15. -There is a fundamental difference between centralized control of network content and control at the margins. It is akin to the difference between an open society and a totalitarian society. I see no reason why better control at the margins (i.e., by individuals) will not become reality, and I think you misunderstood me on this point. At the same time I see little reason why effective centralized control of Internet content will become reality, and this is my main point.

    -As far as I can tell, most of the political demand for Internet content restrictions is being generated by politicians. That should give you pause.

    -Speaking of politicians, it’s a good thing they don’t design our aircraft and bridges. Reality doesn’t always respond well to fiat.

  16. I’m surprised the network operators haven’t stepped up to profit off this. Guys like Comcast and AT&T are desperate to layer on the “value add” services to get the incremental dollar. I’m surprised they’re letting the web nanny duties and profits slip to 3rd party vendors. The network operators control the access points after all, not to mention what goes on the backbone. SBC has floated the idea of slowing traffic from guys like Google unless they paid a tariff. If they can do that, no reason they can’t block adult related sites. They should charge a nominal fee like $3-$5 a month, and sell it as part of an internet package. If they want a cheap way to do it, Comcast or Time Warner should just acquire a company like Net Nanny. That way they will instantly get the software and staff to support it. Seems almost like a no brainer.

  17. I agree. However, I suspect that the people who run some of the big ISPs do not understand their business as well as you do.

    I am acquainted with the guy who runs the regional ISP that I use. Maybe I will ask him for his take on these issues.

  18. “I see little reason why effective centralized control of Internet content will become reality, and this is my main point.” I don’t know if it will be effective, probably not. But the status quo is not tolerable, and the demand that “somebody do something” is one that politicians will grasp, whether or not what they “do” is effective. Look at Sarbanes-Oxley — a counterproductive waste done in response to a perceived desire that they “do something”. I’d prefer that the Internet not get similar treatment, but I am afraid it is going to if the current situation is not better policed in some more rational way.

    I disagree that the complaints are “generated by politicians” — politicians generate things in response to constituent ocmplaints or because they think constituents will like them. Parents I talk to who are trying to be responsible would like this problem dealt with and are irritated that there is nothing that works well beyond standing over the kid. So I think there are political points to be scored, and I hope that it does not go down that road. Just because a law is stupid and impractical (conceding arguendo that it is) does not mean it won’t be passed if there is sufficient public irritation to make it’s passage seem appealing.

    The private sector is not really moving on this. Like Nito, I am a little bit surprised by this.
    Nito’s suggestion that there is a way this can be dealt with privately strikes me as promising. There are profit opportunities for those who can offer something along these lines.

  19. The KGB was tireless in suppressing porn. A person smuggling Playboy into the USSR risked a life sentence to the Gulag. The Cultural Revolution suppressed porn as did the Gestapo. Suppression of porn is a characteristic of totalitarian governments and secret police. The powers needed to suppress porn are the same powers which are vital to an effective secret police. Porn suppression is used to gain popular support for laws aimed at suppressing political dissent.

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