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Thursday, March 22, 2007

COPA: “Curses! Foiled Again…!”

Cue the villain music…but for whom does it play?

The Child Online Protection Act has been struck down yet again on freedom of speech grounds. For those of us who want to protect our kids from Internet Porn, is Judge Lowell Reed the villain? The ACLU? The porn industry? Is it the mindless, blind defense of capitalism and “the market” for porn, information, or whatever else is for sale on the Internet? Some Internet-Uber-Alles fan club? Is the villain a distorted interpretation of the First Amendment? Or is it COPA itself?

Actually, it’s laziness.

COPA is almost NINE YEARS OLD and has never been enforced. It’s been struck down twice before (once already by the Supreme Court). Why are we still arguing about it?!

I read through the various perspectives on the case, both current and historical (start with this March 22, 2007 article by Maryclaire Dale of the Associated Press). I am alternately frustrated at the lack of progress in getting the job done, and appalled that we’re relying on such an indefensibly simplistic and dim-witted legal construction.

The law has always been fatally flawed. But hey -- it was easy to write, made good press, and enabled lawmakers to bloviate, passionately and righteously.


So that’s what we got.

The problem is that the law is only one aspect of the problem. There are at least five major stakeholders who have to get involved, constructively and cooperatively, for us to have a chance. The way I see it, those five are:

  1. The content providers themselves – That includes pornographers as well as content-hosting sites like MySpace and YouTube. Self-identification, self-sorting, and self-policing in line with "sensible" disincentives for non-compliance. Any number of simple approaches would be a welcome start. In other words, make it easier for the rest of us to separate the good from the bad (or, the wanted from the unwanted).

  2. The technology providers – Like Blue Coat. More of us need to scour our portfolios for technologies that can help, and seed/gift them if necessary. We’ve all got idle assets in our closets, and in the right forum, they can make a world of difference.

  3. ISPs – Because the ISP is the guaranteed first and last stop for content. An ISP is a gate through which the content must pass, and with which a user must engage. The ISP industry can play a much more authoritative and compelling educational role. And they can play a real role in crafting workable policy, too, as long as the end result won’t induce a legal-liability coma, which is what they universally fear.

  4. Government – we need our best legislative, judicial, and law-enforcement minds on this problem. COPA was dead before it was dry. Come on, guys – this is NOT the best you can do, and it certainly isn’t right for 2007 (if it ever was, even in 1998). This is too important. And our law enforcement people are absolutely crying for better tools in this fight.

  5. Community organizations – Lions Club. The Rotary. Boy Scouts. The PTA. Civic organizations and churches. You have a way to reach your community members and help raise awareness. Ask a technology provider, ISP, or law-enforcement official to come and speak to your community. And get the BUTTS in the SEATS. We won’t have community action until we accept this as a community issue.

  6. Oh yeah. There’s one more.

  7. You. I don’t think this one requires any explanation. If it does, visit Traffic Control - America's Fight Against Internet Porn. (Full disclosure: yours truly was interviewed for the film).
So let’s agree that the villain music is being played for US – all of us who continue to fail our children, from our community leaders to our captains of industry to our government.

And it’s up to us to become the hero of this drama, and demand a set of laws, technologies, and accountabilities that works with and for all the key stakeholders, and compels action equally and fairly across our communities.

One of my life heroes is quoted as saying, “We get the government we deserve.” This quote is attributed to many, but I like to cite Mohandas Ghandhi, because of what he said next: “When we improve, the government is also bound to improve.”

What are we waiting for? Could it be leadership? Here’s a clue: Find a mirror…

9 Comments:

  • It's a combination of villains, I think, but in particular I believe the judge should take top honors on this one.

    Free speech doesn't mean freedom from being responsible. We already restrict other activities based on age: drinking, driving, retiring, voting, etc. Why should online porn be any different.

    Then there's the supporters of porn who want to make themselves easily accessible by all, even if it means they fall on innocent eyes, especially those belonging to children.

    By Anonymous Ken, at March 25, 2007 9:24 PM  

  • Hi Ken -
    Yeah, I'm quite disappointed in the porn industry's attitude of grabbing eyeballs, no matter whom they belong to. Get 'em hooked early, just like the tobacco companies. It's this attitude in particular that creates deep problems. We need EVERYBODY to cooperate. Unfortunately, without regulations, the content providers have a real conflict of interest in doing anything to restrict access. They lose because their competitors are just a click away. So even if they try to act "responsibly", they'll fail. It's an unstable situation, which is why we need a better law -- one that will hold up to constitutional scrutiny.

    I don't know if the judge really had much of a choice this time. COPA was so broadly (and IMHO poorly) written that he'd have had a real tough time giving in. He even said as much -- in one of the commentaries I read, he sounded exasperated and disgusted too.

    We need a better approach, and SOON. The longer we wait, the more this insidious behavior perpetuates itself and embeds itself into our culture.

    By Blogger John Carosella, at March 26, 2007 4:49 PM  

  • Children are the god's most beautiful creation and future of your nation. we should take care of them and save them from bad habits. This blog helps a lot parents with new ideas.

    By Blogger Net Visitor, at April 21, 2007 12:32 AM  

  • I think that traffic control is a neat idea. The CP80 solution is great. John, I saw and now own the movie and your comments were both insightful and to the point. I think that the Children's Way program also will be doing great things to help children. Their virtual world will instill in kids these principals of internet safety. Just part of the solution.

    By Blogger Mark, at May 12, 2007 9:16 AM  

  • Hi Mark,
    I love the ideas behind Children's Way. I'm really pulling for those guys -- having the kids draw the parents into their online world is probably the ONLY way parents will get familiar enough with that world to become effective, knowledgeable Internet parents.

    Thanks for mentioning Children's Way. I should do a whole entry on what they're up to...!

    By Blogger John Carosella, at May 14, 2007 10:26 AM  

  • Your content is just superb and useful. I'm also trying to blog my experience and data I have collected from net community. Please check out my webpage and suggest me wht can I add more and wht I should remove. Your comment is most welcome. Http://allaboutparenting.blogspot.com

    By Blogger Deepti, at June 14, 2007 3:33 AM  

  • One place they might want to check out is http://www.deviantart.com

    I used to have an account there (I am a part-time photographer and artist), I say used to because there have been an increasing number of minors posting nude and near-nude photos of themselves there in a bid for attention.

    deviantArt touts it's policies in its FAQ section... FAQ #249 states its policy on minors and the material they may or may not post.

    I have reported several individuals on this policy over the past several months... and quite seriously, nothing has been done about it. So, I have pulled my work from their site and refuse to do any further "business" with them.

    I have a 19 month old daughter, and the thoughts of one day finding her there disturb me to no end.

    I honestly hope, by then, that someone has taken action against this poor administration of a website that is increasing in popularity by near-geometric proportions.

    Thank you.

    By Blogger R. Allen Walker, at July 08, 2007 2:38 PM  

  • I think a lot of what you said is correct, and the bottom line is that parents need to take responsibility for their children and what they watch, consume, etc.

    Common sense tells us not to let our children walk alone down the middle of the highway. However, that same level of common sense is often not there when it comes to the virtual "Information Superhighway".

    The 'net as we all know is a great place for information, communication and entertainment, but the people online are real people, drawn from society at large. There are rotten apples in the real world looking to take advantage you and I, scam us, steal our identity, etc., along with predators looking for children that are easy targets.

    These same rotten apples are online as well, and to think they're not actively looking for their next target is burying your head in the sand.

    The proliferation of pornography on the internet, from mainstream porn, to fetish, to the bizarre and the flat-out illegal, is running rampant. ISP's are doing very little to constrain it in any way. Most ISPs carry newsgroups that have access to everything listed above and more.

    As long as there is easy access to the material catering to pedophiles and predators, a silent subculture will continue to grow. The material they're addicted to will at some point no longer satisfy them, and some will take it to the next level and venture out into the real world and target our youth.

    The cycle of addiction that everyone agrees applies to such things as alcohol and drugs also applies to sexual addictions, in whatever form that takes. Addiction is addiction, and it needs to be viewed as such. Removing the easy access certainly will go a long way to slowing the growth of the problem, and keeping some from ever getting there in the first place.

    As a former police officer who investigated cyber-crimes, online predators and so forth, I've dealt with a lot of this first hand. It's pretty mind boggling how much the predators have embraced technology and the internet, and how many parents just want to pretend the dangers don't exist.

    As a parent, simply educating yourself as to what is out there; how the basics of the technology works (internet, e-mail, chat tools, instant messengers, social networking sites, peer-to-peer technology, the new cool place to go online, etc) is probably the biggest hurdle to getting your head around the seriousness of the issues.

    It's very simple... The better informed you are as a parent, the better decisions you can make. You can stay a step ahead of the curve, and not wait until it's too late to react.


    Palaestra Training
    has created a great training series on
    Internet Safety training for Parents
    that every parent should watch.

    It's a great series that covers it all, getting a little technical where necessary without being overwhelming. It is over 8 hours of instructional training on everything from how the internet works, to instant messengers, social networking, to the predator mindset, tools used, etc.

    Until parents educate themselves and close the gap between the pre-internet generation and our internet savvy youth, the problem will only continue to grow.

    By Anonymous Christopher Rees, at August 26, 2007 12:14 AM  

  • Hi Christopher --

    Thanks for the link to the resources. I agree with you that parents just don't know enough. It's very hard to get that point across, in part because the knowledge gap is gargantuan for many parents -- kind of like the difference between seeing in black-and-white, and seeing in full color.

    My hope is that people who DO know will take it upon themselves to educate those in their communities that DON'T know. A little help goes a long way, and many hands make light work.

    And certainly, when it comes to educating ourselves in ways to keep our kids safe, it's worth the team effort.

    By Blogger John Carosella, at August 27, 2007 12:12 PM  

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