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<nettime> Conor Friedersdorf: The Legislation That Could Kill Internet P
Patrice Riemens on Wed, 3 Aug 2011 16:52:17 +0200 (CEST)

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<nettime> Conor Friedersdorf: The Legislation That Could Kill Internet Privacy for Good (The Atlantic)

Kiddieporn appears to still function as the primary omnibus baseball bat
to smash 'the anarchy' on the Internet (with terrorism a good second). But
as with 'white slave trafficking' it will become interesting to see when
the concept itself that it seeks to represent will come under closer

bwo support.antenna.nl

original to:

The Legislation That Could Kill Internet Privacy for Good
By Conor Friedersdorf

The Atlantic, Aug 1 2011,

An overzealous bill that claims to be about stopping child pornography
turns every Web user into a person to monitor

Every right-thinking person abhors child pornography. To combat it,
legislators have brought through committee a poorly conceived, over-broad
Congressional bill, The Protecting Children from Internet Pornographers
Act of 2011. It is arguably the biggest threat to civil liberties now
under consideration in the United States. The potential victims: everyone
who uses the Internet.

The good news? It hasn't gone before the full House yet.

The bad news: it already made it through committee. And history shows that
in times of moral panic, overly broad legislation has a way of becoming
law. In fact, a particular moment comes to mind.

In the early 20th Century, a different moral panic gripped the United
States: a rural nation was rapidly moving to anonymous cities, sexual
mores were changing, and Americans became convinced that an epidemic of
white female slavery was sweeping the land. Thus a 1910 law that made it
illegal to transport any person across state lines for prostitution "or
for any other immoral purpose." Suddenly premarital sex and adultery had
been criminalized, as scam artists would quickly figure out. "Women would
lure male conventioneers across a state line, say from New York to
Atlantic City, New Jersey," David Langum* explains, "and then threaten to
expose them to the prosecutors for violation" unless paid off. Inveighing
against the law, the New York Times noted that, though it was officially
called the White Slave Traffic Act (aka The Mann Act), a more apt name
would've been "the Encouragement of Blackmail Act."

That name is what brought the anecdote back to me. A better name for the
child pornography bill would be The Encouragement of Blackmail by Law
Enforcement Act. At issue is how to catch child pornographers. It's too
hard now, say the bill's backers, and I can sympathize. It's their
solution that appalls me: under language approved 19 to 10 by a House
committee, the firm that sells you Internet access would be required to
track all of your Internet activity and save it for 18 months, along with
your name, the address where you live, your bank account numbers, your
credit card numbers, and IP addresses you've been assigned.

Tracking the private daily behavior of everyone in order to help catch a
small number of child criminals is itself the noxious practice of police
states. Said an attorney for the Electronic Frontier Foundation: "The data
retention mandate in this bill would treat every Internet user like a
criminal and threaten the online privacy and free speech rights of every
American." Even more troubling is what the government would need to do in
order to access this trove of private information: ask for it.

I kid you not -- that's it.

As written, The Protecting Children from Internet Pornographers Act of
2011 doesn't require that someone be under investigation on child
pornography charges in order for police to access their Internet history
-- being suspected of any crime is enough. (It may even be made available
in civil matters like divorce trials or child custody battles.) Nor do
police need probable cause to search this information. As Rep. James
Sensenbrenner says, (R-Wisc.) "It poses numerous risks that well outweigh
any benefits, and I'm not convinced it will contribute in a significant
way to protecting children."

Among those risks: blackmail.

In Communist countries, where the ruling class routinely dug up
embarrassing information on citizens as a bulwark against dissent, the
secret police never dreamed of an information trove as perfect for
targeting innocent people as a full Internet history. Phrases I've Googled
in the course of researching this item include "moral panic about child
pornography" and "blackmailing enemies with Internet history." For most
people, it's easy enough to recall terms you've searched that could be
taken out of context, and of course there are lots of Americans who do
things online that are perfectly legal, but would be embarrassing if made
public even with context: medical problems and adult pornography are only
the beginning. How clueless do you have to be to mandate the creation of a
huge database that includes that sort of information, especially in the
age of Anonymous and Wikileaks? How naive do you have to be to give
government unfettered access to it? Have the bill's 25 cosponsors never
heard of J. Edgar Hoover?

You'd thing that Rep. Steve Chabot (R-Ohio), who claims on his Web site to
be "an outspoken defender of individual privacy rights," wouldn't lend his
name to this bill. But he co-sponsored it! You'd think that the Justice
Department of Eric Holder, who is supposed to be friendly to civil
libertarians, would oppose this bill. Just the opposite. And you'd think
that lots of tea partiers, with all their talk about overzealous
government and intrusions on private industry, would object.

But they haven't.

As Julian Sanchez recently wrote on a related subject, "In an era in which
an unprecedented quantity of information about our daily activities is
stored electronically and is retrievable with a mouse click, internal
checks on the government's power to comb those digital databases are more
important than ever... If we aren't willing to say enough is enough, our
privacy will slip away one tweak at a time."

[*The piece originally stated that David Langum was affiliated with the
University of Chicago. In fact, the only connection is that the quoted
argument was published by the University of Chicago Press. Thanks to the
alert reader who caught my error.]

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