Thursday, June 12, 2008

The Censorship of UseNet...

Child pornography is indeed the bane of the internet. As a result, it also happens to be the primary battleground where censorship policies - even those broadly applied to many legal forms of online content - are implemented in the name of child porn. When will legislators get it right?

Attempts by the government to block access to such sites have, for the most part, failed to-date, with the courts ruling many policies unconstitutional for violating the First Amendment. Now, several large ISPs - Verizon, Time Warner, and Sprint - have announced they will be blocking access to child pornography websites.

That's a good thing.

What's not so good is that in order to carry out this objective, the ISPs have decided to also block access to UseNet discussion boards. UseNet is one of the oldest internet services and has been in use since 1979 - long before most people ever even heard of the Web. Its discussion boards are integral to the internet's historical development, and it's typically used for such innocuous activities as debating with fellow Phish fans about whether Fall Tour '95 was better than Summer Tour '97. But because a few UseNet boards have become magnets for child pornographers to share their content as well, "Sprint will be blocking the entire "alt." hierarchy of Usenet, while good old Time Warner Cable has no time for such fussiness and will just stop offering all Usenet access."

This is certainly troubling, and it follows the old pattern of blocking wide swaths of internet content in order to block a far narrower target; which, again, has been repeatedly recognized as unconstitutional.

What's needed is for government legislators to step in and create far stiffer criminal penalties for disseminating child pornography, and to then give law enforcement officials stronger policing power to go after the perpetrators. Leaving it up to private ISPs to deem that an entire segment of the legal internet is no longer acceptable for public consumption is not a viable solution.


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