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The DOJ's New Spin on Blocking Software 150

Posted by CmdrTaco
from the panties-in-a-bunch dept.
Bennett Haselton has writes "In recent arguments over the constitutionality of the Child Online Protection Act, both sides have argued over the efficiency of Internet blocking software. While COPA would prohibit commercial U.S. websites from publishing freely available material that is "harmful to minors", the ACLU has argued that blocking software is a far more effective alternative, since among other things it can block porn sites located overseas, non-commercial websites, and p2p programs, all of which are beyond the reach of COPA. On the other hand, we had the surreal experience of watching the Department of Justice lawyer arguing in favor of a censorship law by saying that the blocking software alternative was unfair to children -- because it blocked too much legitimate material." The rest of Bennett's essay follows.

"For example," said DOJ attorney Eric Beane during opening arguments, "one filter even blocked a website promoting a marathon to raise funds for breast cancer research. Part of the CIA's World Fact Book was blocked. And a page with an ACLU calendar. [Blocking software blocks] a significant portion of other materials on the World Wide Web, materials that in many cases are necessary for a child to complete his homework." (Opening arguments transcript, p. 37.) As someone who has been publishing critiques of blocking software for years, I read those words and felt like cheering, despite the fact that I'm sitting in the other side's fan section for this match. (Beane is right, but he's missing the point, which is that whatever problems exist with blocking software, are minor compared to the problems with COPA -- because blocking software raises no constitutional issues when it's used by a private party in their own house, whereas COPA affects everyone in the U.S.)

The irony, of course, is that three years ago, in the trial over the similarly-named Children's Internet Protection Act (CIPA) which required blocking software in all schools and libraries that receive federal funds, it was the ACLU pointing out the flaws in blocking software and the Department of Justice claiming that blocking software was accurate and effective.

At first it would seem that both sides are now guilty of flip-flopping. But reviewing what was said then and what was said now, my conclusion is that the ACLU did nothing more than shift their focus to a different set of facts, while the government did contradict themselves. And the source of this seeming flip-flop actually comes down to something pretty simple: two different ways of stating one set of numbers.

Now before going further I can't resist saying that I think the whole debate over "harmful to minors" material is pretty silly, because I don't think the pro-censorship side has ever put forth a reason why they think that pictures of naked people, or even people having sex with each other, are harmful to people under 18. I disagree with some people on matters like abortion and the death penalty, but I at least think they have some facts on their side; but I don't know of any facts supporting people who think that pornography is dangerous. Why is a woman's nipple harmful but a man's nipple isn't? How are the majority of high school students who have already had sex anyway, supposed to be harmed by pictures of other people having sex? And apart from the logical paradoxes, the pervasiveness of the Internet has now given us empirical data too: virtually all minors have now have access to anything they want to get on the Internet (either at home, or by sneaking to a friend's house), and where's the evidence that adolescents' brains have been hormonally turned to mush any more than they always have been?

But for the remainder of the discussion, suppose you're addressing people who believe that nudity and sexual material really are harmful to people under 18. (In any case, the judges probably believe it, and even if they don't, they're bound by legal precedents that assume as much.) The question is how accurately blocking software achieves this goal.

Blocking software has two types of error rates: underblocking (failure to block porn sites) and overblocking (blocking of non-pornographic sites). Underblocking errors are usually expressed one way: the percentage of porn sites in a given sample that are not blocked. But overblocking errors can be stated in two ways: the percentage of non-porn sites that are blocked, or the percentage of blocked sites that are not pornographic. (There are borderline cases like nude art sites, but it turns out they're not common enough to affect the margin of error much; the vast majority of sites are either clearly porn or clearly not.)

The key is that if you want the overblocking rate to sound low, you talk about the percentage of non-porn sites that are blocked. If you want it to sound high, you talk about the percentage of blocked sites that are non-porn.

For example, in the 2003 Supreme Court arguments over CIPA, Department of Justice attorney Theodore Olson downplayed the error rates of blocking software by saying:

"But even if it's tens of thousands of the -- of the 2 billion pages of material that is on the Internet, we're talking about one two-hundredths of 1 percent, even if it's 100,000, of materials would be blocked."
Here he's referring to the percentage of non-porn sites that are filtered. Attorney Paul Smith, arguing against the law, countered:
"And so we have -- on these lists is a proportion, a huge proportion, perhaps 25, perhaps 50 percent of the sites that are blocked that are not illegal even for children."
and:
"And the evidence is that there's about 11 million websites on the Internet, in --in the accessible part of the Internet and that 100,000 of those are the sexually explicit ones and that the --there are at least tens of thousands more that are on the list. So it's --the Government also says in their brief that about one percent of the Internet is over- blocked, which would be about 100,000 sites. So it is a substantial percentage. It is also a substantial amount. And most importantly, it's a very large percentage of what they're blocking is not what they intend to block."
-- that is, talking about the percentage of blocked sites that were non-pornographic. Both sides cited the same figure (100,000 non-pornographic sites blocked, apparently referring to an average across all blocking programs) -- but that same number could be seen as an "error rate" of either one hundredth of one percent, or 50%, depending on which formula you use.

Then in this year's COPA trial, the ACLU called CMU professor Lorrie Faith Cranor who testified that in tests that she reviewed,

"[blocking software programs] correctly blocked an average of approximately 92 percent of objectionable content. And they incorrectly blocked an average of 4 percent of content not matching the test criteria."
(Oct. 24th transcript, p. 57.) Back to talking about the percentage of non-porn sites that are blocked -- which, again, when you put it that way, sounds low. On the other hand, although I couldn't find exact numbers cited by the DOJ's lawyers on the number of sites that were incorrectly blocked, in the portions of his opening argument quoted above, Eric Beane focused on the sad fact of the sites that were blocked -- not the fact that they comprised only a tiny fraction of sites on the Web. The two sides simply swapped formulas.

As for Peacefire's own studies over the years of blocking software error rates, one of the legitimate criticisms that could be made about our efforts was that we focused almost exclusively on the second number, the percentage of blocked sites that were non-porn. If you were interested in how blocking software actually affects the surfing experience of minors who are forced to use it, perhaps you would focus more on the first number, the percentage of non-porn sites that are blocked. Perhaps, you might say, that as an organization addressing the blocking software issue specifically from a minors' rights point of view, we really should have focused on that number quite a bit! But I did get a bit preoccupied with playing "gotcha" with the blocking companies, focusing on the percentage of blocked sites that were obvious mistakes, because it was frankly too much fun publicizing the absurdly high error rates of their programs, which belied the claims made by most blocking companies that all sites on their blacklist were examined by a human at their company before being added. (Although it seems to have done some good -- as far as I know, no blocking company is making that claim about their product today.)

The error rates were indeed absurdly high; we took a sample of the first 1,000 .com domains in an alphabetical list, ran them through several programs, and found that of the sites blocked, between 20% and 80% (!) were errors. (The median error rate was about 50%, which corresponds to the figure given by Paul Smith in the CIPA trial oral arguments quoted above.) This surprised even critics of blocking software, and skeptics complained that we must have made mistakes or simply fudged the numbers. (The whole point of using the first 1,000 .com domains was that if we had used a random sample and gotten error rates like that, we could have been accused of "stacking the deck" and using a fake random sample that was loaded with known errors and not truly random.) Years later, it came out that the companies whose products we'd tested, had been following a policy that if they found an objectionable site on a given IP address, all sites on that IP would be blocked, on the theory that hosting companies often group porn sites together on the same machine. Trouble was, while this may have often been true for bona fide porn sites, it was not true for most sites that featured just an incidental shot of someone's bare breasts or a large amount of profanity -- but this would also be enough to get all sites blocked at a given IP. So the 80% error rate was about what you'd expect after all.

You might think that a product with an 80% error rate could never survive in the marketplace, but consider who was buying the software. On the one hand, you had schools and companies buying the programs -- but they didn't care whether it worked so much as they cared about being able to show, for liability reasons, that they did something. On the other hand, you had parents who really did care about keeping porn off their computer -- but how many parents really did any thorough testing of the product, other than making sure it blocks the obvious sites like Playboy.com? A serious test could take days. Their kids are the only ones who would end up doing any thorough "testing" of the product, and if they found a way around it, it's not likely that they would tell their parents. With no market pressure to fix problems, an 80% error rate wasn't really surprising.

But even the most vocal critics of blocking software only pointed out that blocking software sometimes blocked sites about plumbing, or soccer, or aluminum siding; we never claimed that most of those sites would be blocked. Even with our high numbers of wrongly blocked sites, if they had been expressed as a percentage of non-porn sites that are blocked, they would have still sounded like a "low error rate".

The moral is, always keep track of what the "error rate" refers to in these debates. By moving around a few variables in a formula, the Department of Justice was able to go from saying in 2003 that blocking software was minimally intrusive, to making a speech in 2006 that made blocking software sound so tragically limiting that you could practically hear the violins playing. (I know, people who live in glass houses... *ahem*)

And what about the ACLU? If the Department of Justice is guilty of flip-flopping, from saying in 2003 that blocking software is a reasonable and narrowly tailored solution, to saying in 2006 that it's clumsy, ineffective, and overbroad, is the ACLU guilty of flip-flopping in the opposite direction?

Actually, the ACLU's position has always been consistent: blocking software has First Amendment problems when used in a school or library, due to overblocking and underblocking errors, but if used in the home it is still a lot more effective than a law like COPA, which would score pathetically on the same scale. As ACLU attorney Chris Hansen stated in opening arguments:

"COPA does not reach the 50% of all speech that is overseas... Filters are the most effective. Almost all of the filters that [expert witness] Mr. Mewett tested were at least 95% effective. Think about the 5% ineffectiveness compared to where we start with COPA being 50% ineffective..."
(Opening arguments, p. 22. Note: Chris Hansen has confirmed that the official transcript is wrong; it has him saying "35%" instead of "95%", which wouldn't make any sense.) As for overbreadth, COPA would criminalize speech by adults, intended for adults, something that no blocking program could ever do -- and as for minimizing collateral damage to innocent sites, does anyone think that even if COPA is upheld, parents will throw out their blocking software?

Even though the ACLU focused on different statistics in the two trials, in both cases they were focusing on the numbers that were relevant to the issue. When talking about constitutional problems with blocking software in schools and libraries, the percentage of blocked sites that are incorrectly blocked, is important, because it's their First Amendment rights that are at issue. The DOJ lawyer talking about all the sites that weren't blocked, was missing the point. If your site is being blocked, it hardly matters to you that for every blocked site there are hundreds that are not. "Hey, your site is not accessible, but don't worry, your competitors' sites are!"

On the other hand, when talking about the use of blocking software in the home, the publisher's First Amendment rights are not at issue; the issues that most parents would care about, are how effective it is, and whether most clean sites are still accessible. Well of course most of them are. Blocking software is not that bad.

Confused? The option to just stop making a big deal out of porn on the Internet is looking better all the time, isn't it?

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The DOJ's New Spin on Blocking Software

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  • by meburke (736645) on Wednesday December 06, 2006 @11:59AM (#17130500)
    Advocacy is good up until the point that you get to exclude relevant facts inimical to your argument. then it just becomes a matter of winning, justice, fairness and truth be damned.
    • by vertinox (846076) on Wednesday December 06, 2006 @01:08PM (#17131996)
      Advocacy is good up until the point that you get to exclude relevant facts inimical to your argument.

      IANAL but if you are presenting an argument to a judge or jury, you are not responsible to provide information to them that incriminates your client or their cause. In fact if you did so you wouldn't be a good lawyer.

      The responsibility of counter argument or evidence falls solely on the attorney's on the opposing side of the case be it corporate lawyers or attorney generals for the state.

      Only the judge and/or jury are supposed to take both side's information into account before making a decision. Not the lawyers presenting their argument.

      Outside court is a different story, but you often have to keep in mind that public opinion does creep into the courts. So it is in the best interest for lawyers to never present both sides at any time ever.

      In a truly fair world, it would be nice, but unfortunately that isn't how things are.
      • by TubeSteak (669689)

        IANAL but if you are presenting an argument to a judge or jury, you are not responsible to provide information to them that incriminates your client or their cause. In fact if you did so you wouldn't be a good lawyer.

        That's what discovery is for. Each side requests information that they think will support their case, or blow holes in the other side's case. You don't ask for it, tough cookies.

        P.S. In a criminal trial, the prosecutor is responsible to provide exculpatory evidence. I only bring this up because

        • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

          by meburke (736645)
          Well, not all law. Military Justice, for example, works a bit differently. Neither side is allowed to ignore or hide relevant facts, although the individual's' rights under the Constitution are still protected, in theory. In actuality, of course, a Colonel's word carries more weight in testimony than a Private's word. Still, Military Justice tends to be a bit more objective with less "salesmanship" and misdirection than what you see in civilian criminal cases. Criminal Justice in Iceland, Denmark and Sweden
      • C,mon. If you are not a lawyer and I bet you $10 that you don't know the Constitution of the United States of America, or the Declaration of Independence, I have a 99+% chance of taking your money. You need two things besides ordinary reasoning ability to evaluate Justice: One is a broad introduction to Justice that can be found in any basic Philosophy text or even in the "Encyclopaedia Britannica". The other is a knowledge of the standards by which our laws are supposed to conform. If you don't know the Co
  • by kidtux1 (896975) on Wednesday December 06, 2006 @12:02PM (#17130534) Homepage
    Does any one else think its not the purpose of the government to say what we can and cannot know, use and look at? Although I doubt the government will ever stop trying to do this, from trying to ban certain books to trying to ban how we use the internet. We just need to keep voicing our opinion and telling them we don't agree with this. --- http://www.iheartmygeek.com/ [iheartmygeek.com]
    • by Anonymous Coward
      they'll keep trying to censor things so long as people keep pushing their religion into government
      • by Shivetya (243324) on Wednesday December 06, 2006 @12:13PM (#17130778) Homepage Journal
        many in government are pushing stuff like this so that they can effectively control anything we can see. They start with the easy stuff, items likely to appeal to the broadest base, then then slowly add to it.

        Of course they may try to wrap it up in pretty sounding names, fairness doctrine is a good one for anyone who has read about some plans for radio, and apply what worked in other areas to the internet.

        After, do Nazi's offend you? They are censored in many areas of the world and its not religious based. Stuff like that will come to the US under the guise of "Hate speech / hate crimes". It won't be religious based. Even if it were it would only because it provides a convienent boost.

        • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

          by OldeTimeGeek (725417)
          No, many in government aren't pushing it.

          The pushing is coming from certain segments of the US public that are looking upon the US government to restrict certain types of information because it's easier than taking responsibility for it themselves. The folks that want sites/content banned have gotten organized and gotten legislation introduced and the initiatives in Congress are just government doing what it's supposed to do - the people's business.

          Don't like it? Don't just cry "censorship, censorship" or

          • I'd like to ask you to come out and post that every time somebody claims there's a giant government conspiracy afoot. Think you can handle that? It would really improve things. :)

            More seriously, I agree completely. "The government" as an entity, is so disorganized it doesn't know what most of itself is doing, most of the time. It's not trying to take over your life.

            The people trying to tell you how to live your life aren't in some dark bunker in Washington, or even in some smoke-filled room; they're probabl
    • Of course it's the government's responsibility to tell you what you can and cannot see/read/hear. It's those damn liberal Democrats who want to be Big Brother to everyone! All they want is a bigger, more intrusive government checking up on everyone and telling them how to live. It's liberals I tell ya. LIBERALS!!!!

      *psst* *psst* *mumble* *mumble*

      Republicans? Really?

      I hereby withdraw my previous comments.
    • Does any one else think its not the purpose of the government to say what we can and cannot know, use and look at?

      Yeah, these guys:

      The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved for the States respectively, or to the people

      Nowhere in Article One does congress have anything which gives them the authority to censor material.
      • Not to mention the First Amendment, which essentially says, "No F-ING WAY will Congress censor anything"*

        * Yes, I know. I put it into the vernacular.
        • by soft_guy (534437)
          I think a lot of what is wrong with United States would be fixed if the constitution had lots of curse words in it.
    • I somwhere work on the Hill.

      I have yet to see one letter opposing this piece of legislation (or here about one, out of the thousands we receive a week [although I here tons about immigration, outsourcing, public lands and other topics).

      This is because most people which contact their legislators often are considering these laws on a case by case basis (at least that is my best guess), and often do not see or understand the larger effects the laws will have. They will not know the history of the previous leg
    • by kimvette (919543)
      If they're going to want to block "inappropriate" content online, will this extend to online Bibles? After all, Song of Solomon is pretty graphic erotica and acts depicted in their as honorable between consenting adults are considered "sin" and "inappropriate" by many modern radical so-called "Christians" who pick and choose what to believe or discount out of the Bible. After all, if you want to block some inappropriate content, you should block all "inappropriate" content equally.

      This way, since everyone w
      • Yep, the Bible portrays the following without condemnation:
        • Incest (Lot and his daughters)
        • Terrorism (Attacking a civilian populace to achieve political ends -- the 10 plagues)
        • Genocide
        • Adultery
        And that's just off the top of my head. I'm sure there are more.


  • Why don't they prevent kids from calling 900 phone sex numbers first?

    Or walking in on their parents by accident? How's that for harmful?
    • Re: (Score:1, Funny)

      by Anonymous Coward
      "Or walking in on their parents by accident? How's that for harmful?"

      Or....watching what was left in the VCR after they taped themselves.

      I am still scrubbing my brain after 20 years.

  • by Phu5ion (838043) on Wednesday December 06, 2006 @12:08PM (#17130652)
    think of the seventeen year old congressional pages!
    • by Pojut (1027544) on Wednesday December 06, 2006 @12:11PM (#17130726) Homepage
      Anyone know why politicians don't use bookmarks?

      Because they like their pages bent over!!!!
  • by AndyG314 (760442) on Wednesday December 06, 2006 @12:13PM (#17130774) Homepage
    Why don't they just maintain a blacklist of sights with "mature" content, and make the list freely avalable to people who whish to block such material. That sounds like a whole lot eaiser solution than what they are talking about.
  • There is an easy solution to the problem. Blocking software with a central, and public, white list. Using a central process (with local overrides) allows small libraries to benefit and not have to maintain their own white lists, and opens the process to review. And by public/open, I mean that any citizen could look at approvals and rejections, time & date, and who is responsible for the white list request and who's decision it was to ultimately approve or deny it.

    And you must allow the white list proces
    • Enforcement of CIPA (or CIPA compliance) is what gets public institutions the vaunted "Erate" monies that continues their low connection fees (+70% off phone company rates.) As such, organizations WANT to follow CIPA rules (including having a blocking filter) to maintain these monies.

      COPA would be something for the courts, and legal associations to make money. Nothing more. At least with a Blocking filter on our end it's easy enough to toss a URL in that's being popularized by the media (myspace.com etc)
      • The proper URL is dansguardian.org [dansguardian.org] I do apologize.
      • by Liza (97242) *
        Um. Are you kidding?

        1) The courts don't make more money if there are more trials. They just schedule more trials and everyone going to trial has to wait longer. Courts are funded by your tax dollars.

        2) Prosecutors don't make more money if there are more trials. They too are paid by your tax dollars. Having a new federal crime of "harmful to minors" material on the Internet, if it was ever enforced, would mean that prosecutors weren't prosecuting something else as fast. More time for bad guy child molesters
  • I wonder how many of these attorneys were guilty of sneaking over to a friends house to look at their older brothers porn mags? Sorry, I had access to porn way before the net was around and I'm sure my son is going to find a way to look at naked ladies regardless of what blocks are in place on the net, or anywhere else.
  • Disgusting (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Puls4r (724907) on Wednesday December 06, 2006 @12:14PM (#17130808)
    This is disgusting. We're having an argument that is primarily motivated by religion in front of the DOJ and trying to force that moral view on the rest of the country. Show me proof that nudity, or even showing sex to children, somehow scars them for life. Answer: You can't. In fact, you can look at european culture for proof if you like. Do we need to dig into the mounds of proof that only teaching abstinence doesn't work either? You can make the exact same analogy about Beer, and how the problems we have over here compared with the notable LACK of problems they have in Europe around college bingeing, etc. Beyond that, if the parents want to badly to prevent their children from seeing it, they have the ability to do so. It's called personally responsibility. Chaperoned play-dates. Unplug or password the computer etc etc. People go around putting latches on all their kitchen drawers and outlet covers on their plugs - and then they explain to the kids as they get older. Generally speaking, by the time their old enough to get around the simple safe guards, they've been taught about it. (Of course...... sexuality only seems to be deadly to Americans, but I digress). Hell, let's take this to the logical conclusion. Women and men need to be segregated lest they their lust overcome them. Women must wear veils and never show skin other than their eyes.... oh wait. I think there's a religion out there that does that already. I could go on and on and on regarding this issue. Russia tried to restrict the Western viewpoint. The Nazis burned books. The Middle East... and so on. This is one more form of clear repression, but what amounts to a very large group. America: Land of the Free and home of the Brave? Only if you're a good Christian.
    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by operagost (62405)

      Do we need to dig into the mounds of proof that only teaching abstinence doesn't work either? You can make the exact same analogy about Beer, and how the problems we have over here compared with the notable LACK of problems they have in Europe around college bingeing, etc.

      While I agree that the drinking age in the USA is stupid, this is a total red herring.

      (Of course...... sexuality only seems to be deadly to Americans, but I digress).

      Yes, you do.

      Hell, let's take this to the logical conclusion. Women

      • by Puls4r (724907)
        No sir. I did not make the assumption that ONLY Christians are concerned about this.

        I made a generalization. If you can't accept generalizations in conversations like this, then you should probably go elsewhere. Otherwise you're going to get so bogged down in semantics, "show me the cite on the web page" crap that you'll never see the truth or even the philosophy beyond the argument. It will end up turning into a point-counterpoint my scientists are better than yours BS argument.

        It's not a strawman
    • Proof (Score:2, Insightful)

      by gillbates (106458)

      Why is a woman's nipple harmful but a man's nipple isn't?

      Because it teaches young girls that their self-worth is dependent on their ability to arouse a man. It exposes children to issues which they should not have to deal, and distorts their perception of the primary purpose of sex.

      The primary rationale behind outlawing porn is emotional, not religious. China actively persecutes Christians, yet they also outlaw porn. It isn't simply a religious issue - it is about the emotional well being of child

      • Re:Proof (Score:4, Insightful)

        by russotto (537200) on Wednesday December 06, 2006 @01:15PM (#17132164) Journal
        Their sense of self is now defined by factors largely beyond their control - i.e. their appeal to the opposite sex.
        This is NEW? No, this is old, older than the caveman.
        100 years ago, heck, even 50 years ago, teenage girls prided themselves on their ability to do domestic duties - cooking, cleaning, social graces, etc.
        And just what do you think all that cooking, cleaning, and social graces were in service of? That's right, landing a man.
        Porn only reinforces the notion that a person's self worth is a matter not of their personality and intelligence, but of their sexual appeal to others
        Even granting that for the sake of argument, it's insufficient reason to restrict it. Unless you also think it should be the government's job to restrict the bald statement "Your worth depends on how attractive you are to the opposite sex".
        • by gillbates (106458)

          ...insufficient reason to restrict it.

          If minors possessed the wisdom and maturity, or even the responsibility of adults, I could understand. However, they don't. There is nothing in the law that prevents a parent or guardian from intentionally exposing their children to the naked human body. If the parent deems it valuable, the parent can provide it. The issue is more a matter of letting the parents decide what their children see than of an absolute ban on porn.

          What these kinds of laws really ai

          • "Which is more important?

            That children have access to educational opportunities outside the traditional classroom, or,
            That minors have access to pornography."

            You seem incapable of understanding this, but this is not about the children. This is about the Federal government and the Bill of Rights. Protecting the children is not an automatic argument winner.

            If you don't want your children to see or hear certain things, it is YOUR responsibility to supervise them, NOT the Federal government's. Trying to usurp o
            • by gillbates (106458)

              Trying to usurp our government in order to have it become a surrogate parent for your children is unacceptable.

              Hey, it's my government too. And my tax dollars. Why should my tax dollars go to support something that neither I, nor the majority of Americans, want?

              It's not about surrogate parenting at all - it's a simple request that the Government refrain from interfering with us raising our children. It's that simple. We don't want the Government to step in as a surrogate parent, because they'd d

              • by e40 (448424)
                SideShowBob is right, if you don't want your kids to see porn, then take appropriate measures. Parenting is hard. I know, I have a kid. Pushing it off onto the Feds would not work.
                • by gillbates (106458)

                  So I guess me being a good parent would be to keep my kids from the public library. Even if I supervise them, there's always the possibility that they'll encounter porn; sure, I can take it away after the fact, but that's not really acceptable to me either.

                  And people wonder why so many Americans don't believe in evolution... Is it any wonder, when in the name of free speech the libraries are made intolerable to the majority of America?

                  And we read that we are falling behind in science...

                  America wi

                  • by e40 (448424)

                    So I guess me being a good parent would be to keep my kids from the public library.

                    By your reply I can tell you are or will make a great parent. (Do you really think teenagers would really look at porn at a public library?)

                    And people wonder why so many Americans don't believe in evolution...

                    That is the best ad hominem attack I've seen... well, today!

                    The rest of your comments were so far out there (and unrelated to anything I said), I really don't know what to say.

          • by soft_guy (534437)

            There is nothing in the law that prevents a parent or guardian from intentionally exposing their children to the naked human body.
            Yeah, you try that in the US, I'm SURE you will land in jail and on the list of registered sex offenders blazingly fast.
      • by lahi (316099)
        I sincerely hope that all erotophobic Americans will do what they preach and stop reproducing once and for all. Preferably they should realize like the bald eagle in the Muppet Show, that we are all naked under our clothes, and as a consequence commit suicide.

        -Lasse

        (Who will not set his foot on U.S. soil until perhaps the day when the First Lady is a black, atheist *lesbian*. Preferably one with a scientific degree in biology.)
      • by rahlquist (558509)

        Because it teaches young girls that their self-worth is dependent on their ability to arouse a man. It exposes children to issues which they should not have to deal, and distorts their perception of the primary purpose of sex.

        Today, American teenagers have epidemic rates of emotional problems. Where did they come from? What changed from 100 years ago?

        100 years ago, heck, even 50 years ago, teenage girls prided themselves on their ability to do domestic duties - cooking, cleaning, social graces, etc. Teenage boys thought of sports and college. Now, both seem to be preoccupied with their appeal to the opposite sex. Their sense of self is now defined by factors largely beyond their control - i.e. their appeal to the opposite sex. Their happiness is no longer within their own control - it is now controlled by a fickle population, one beyond their ability to understand.

        Porn only reinforces the notion that a person's self worth is a matter not of their personality and intelligence, but of their sexual appeal to others. It's a subjective, ever changing standard.

        You defeated you own arguments here. Their self worth is tied to self image because even 50 years ago teenager worked far more than they do today. Their preoccupation with their self image is a result of too much time on their hands not a result of seeing someone unclothed. Some of the emotional problems also likely stem from the fact that by hiding them away in closets from the real world we create children who think of their bodies and what they can do with them as something dirty which is utterly ridicu

      • Their happiness is no longer within their own control - it is now controlled by a fickle population, one beyond their ability to understand.

        This is a falicy whose roots are far more depressing than people who are depressed because they don't have perfect skin or c cup breasts. You yourself are entirely responsible for whether you decide to be happy or not. You choose to allow others to affect your sense of self; it's not something that they can force upon you.

        Finally, it's worth noting that not all porn

      • Uh huh. Which is why all those people in Europe are forced to live our their worthless, depressed, miserable lives in torment; their spirits broken because they've seen so many naked people when they were growing up.

        Get real. Our culture doesn't need porn to turn our kids into shallow, vapid little bastards; it does that perfectly fine with nothing but what can be shown on network TV. At the same time, it's quite easy to find sexual imagery in other parts of the world, and by all measurable parameters, chil
    • Show me proof that nudity, or even showing sex to children, somehow scars them for life.

      Show me proof that nude children, or even having sex with children, somehow scars them for life?

      The national argument isn't "should there be censorship or not?", it's "Where should we draw the line?" You think it should be in a different place than some other people do. I sincerely hope you're not the kind of idiot who thinks that anyone who disagrees with you is an idiot or a villain. Wait, this is /. Never mind.

    • by pjt33 (739471)
      You can make the exact same analogy about Beer, and how the problems we have over here compared with the notable LACK of problems they have in Europe around college bingeing, etc.
      You may be correct that the European country I live in has a lack of problems around undergraduate students binge-drinking. However, are you taking into account the high rate of 14-17 year old binge drinkers we have?
  • Could it be that the ACLU is using this argument just to win this case? That they are only arguing for software blocking just to defeat COPA?

    The submitter talks about flip-flopping, both on the side of the DOJ and the ACLU, but arguments you made in other court cases can't be brought up in later court cases, can they? I mean, the judge doesn't rule against you for flip-flopping, right? You base an argument on the facts of this case and this case alone? Even if the DOJ faces off down the road against the
  • Isn't this something that a globally enforced .XXX domain name for erotica and .MAT for mature would fix?
    • by EzInKy (115248)

      Isn't this something that a globally enforced .XXX domain name for erotica and .MAT for mature would fix?


      No, there is too much variation in what people consider naughty and what people consider nice around the world. But locally enforced .censored TLDs certainly would.
      • I don't think you understand this whole "world wide web" thing all that well.
        • by EzInKy (115248)

          I don't think you understand this whole "world wide web" thing all that well.


          I understand it well enough to understand that what may be considered obscene in one jurisdiction can be perfectly acceptable in another. I also know that besides .com, .org, .net, .mil, .edu, and .gov there also exist country level TLDs such as .uk, .us, .es, etc, and that new TLDs such as .info and .biz have been added. The most effective way for those who feel it is necessary to restrict what others may view is to restrict where
          • You're back to square one. What group decides what is obscene and belongs in .xxx? What is hate speech and belongs in .kkk?
            • by EzInKy (115248)

              You're back to square one. What group decides what is obscene and belongs in .xxx? What is hate speech and belongs in .kkk?


              You must really misunderstand my meaning because that is my very point. Those who desire to be censored should move to censored TLDs while those who wish to remain free should stay where they are.
            • I think he's more suggesting that certain governments could enforce their own laws against sites in their own CC TLD -- so all sites under ".us" would be U.S. jurisdiction and follow U.S. law, and ".ir" would be under Iran's. If certain countries wanted to restrict their own citizens to only browsing within their own country's TLD, then they could do that (although they'd have to build their own Great Firewall to do so).

              Of course, it would be the end of the Internet as we know it, but I don't think that the
    • Absolutely not, because:
      A) nothing like that would or could ever be globally enforced

      B) the definition of material that would fall into that category varies from city to city, much less from country to country

      On the other hand, a *.#.kids.us domain could work, where:
      A) The # represents the age of the kids that some committee in the US decides can view content on that site. For example, the Cheerios website with little games and such could be cheerios.5.kids.us, while a website useful for anatomy classes in
    • by smoker2 (750216)
      Yeah, and let's have a .milf too !
    • An easier to control option would be .kids or something. Not that I think any of these would solve the 'problem'. Why don't parents just, uh, parent?
    • Isn't this something that a globally enforced .XXX domain name for erotica and .MAT for mature would fix?

      Yep. Of course, after the nuclear war and super-smallpox epidemic that wipes out 99% of the Earth's population, I don't think people will be that interested in porn for a while, so that would be the time to do it.

      Oh, wait -- you mean, fix it today, in our world? Without killing nearly everybody that might possibly have a different idea of what "erotic" and "mature" mean? That's ridiculous. Don't be stupi
  • by wiz31337 (154231) on Wednesday December 06, 2006 @12:17PM (#17130868)
    Anyone else find it odd that they are singling out the internet?

    I believe this snippet of the prosecution's opening remarks sum up what I'm trying to say nicely:

    "There is no other medium of communication that has a federal criminal harmful to minors law. It is not a crime to engage in harmful to minors speech in books or magazines or leaflets. It is not a crime to engage in harmful to minors speech on radio, on records, on movies, on videos or even, indeed, on broadcasts or cable t.v. in all of those instances, there is either no federal law at all or the federal approach to has been regulatory, not criminal."
    • by gillbates (106458)
      Yes, but would you really want the federal government regulating the internet the same way they regulate tv and radio stations? Where simply having a reader post a foul mouthed reply could get you fined thousands of dollars?
  • Only 1% Porn (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Paulitics (1036046)

    I thought only 1% of webpages contain porn [slashdot.org]. So what percent of the internet is harmfull to children? 2%?

    I think we should spend more time worrying about protecting children in the real world from Chester the Molestor(Mark Foley), horrible parents, war, poverty, and hunger. If the worst thing that happens to a child is they see some porn, they have been very lucky (and I hope they took notes).

  • by dasunt (249686)

    Does anyone know of a study or statistics that actually evaluates exposure to pornography on non-adults?

    The study would be difficult (it would probably have to rely on self-reporting for evidence, and not only is self-reporting frequently misleading, but easy access to pornography may correlate with other factors in the home).

    Sure, passing laws "protecting" the children from the evils of the world is good re-election fodder, but is there any evidence that pornography is harmful to children, and if it

    • Whenever you want to disprove (or prove) a hypothesis that "doing action X to children hurts them", you encounter some problems; pesky little things like research ethics often get in the way of scientific research.
      • by dasunt (249686)

        That's why I suggested self-reporting. You can always quiz adults about their childhood activities.

  • They are MY children (Score:3, Interesting)

    by houghi (78078) on Wednesday December 06, 2006 @12:27PM (#17131032)
    and I can censor them any way I like.

    the blocking software alternative was unfair to children


    I don't care if it is fair or unfair. I decide what is fair and unfair. If I want to block 100%, that is MY choice. If I want to block 1% that is MY choice.
    • by jackbird (721605)
      ... unless your child happens to use computers in school, at the public library, etc. Then it's someone else's choice.
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      You're not a public institution, which is what this law covers.
      • by Liza (97242) *
        Actually, COPA applies to all web site publishers. It would require the sites to keep minors from seeing their "harmful to minors" content.

        You're thinking of CIPA, which applies to schools and libraries.

        None of these laws apply to parents deciding what kind of Internet access to allow in their own homes.
    • by RexRhino (769423)
      They are no longer your children... they are now the government's children, and you are given the revokable privledge of raising them.
  • Now before going further I can't resist saying that I think the whole debate over "harmful to minors" material is pretty silly, because I don't think the pro-censorship side has ever put forth a reason why they think that pictures of naked people, or even people having sex with each other, are harmful to people under 18.

    This reminds me of the many successfully defended IRS criminal prosecutions I have read about. When the golden question "show me the law that I am in violation of and I'll pay my taxes" is
  • The ACLU has been very consistent on this matter. They didn't like CIPA because it required blocking software in public areas. This impinges on the freedom of speech of many people. They don't like COPA because it censors information that may be inappropriate for children. This too impinges on the freedom of speech of many people. What they're saying is, "We don't need a law that inhibits free speech to protect the children. There are tools out there to protect children should their guardians deem it
  • by styryx (952942)
    "The key is that if you want the overblocking rate to sound low, you talk about the percentage of non-porn sites that are blocked. If you want it to sound high, you talk about the percentage of blocked sites that are non-porn."

    Specifically: "blocked sites that are non-porn" Vs. "non-porn sites that are blocked"

    How does this change the percentage? And how does that make it the key? Is it a skellington[sic-humour] key?
    • by styryx (952942)
      For the record I do get it. It's relative to the entire internet in one case and not the other.
  • How are the majority of high school students who have already had sex anyway, supposed to be harmed by pictures of other people having sex?

    The answer to that question is pretty well researched, though almost impossible to implement beyond the family unit.

    It's pretty clear to researchers who study the effect that sexual images have on children that they don't develop healthy behaviors around sexual issues. They treat sex as an "object" and not really a part of a more complex relationship. Be careful how yo
    • by lahi (316099)
      Not a flame but a curious (and skeptical) comment. You don't provide any references, but a search on Google revealed a possible candidate to represent such findings: http://www.frankwbaker.com/explicit_media.htm [frankwbaker.com]. As you don't provide any context, for the sake of argument, I will assume that this Texan study is what you were referring to. Apologies, disclaimers, etc.

      Now, pardon me, but I am rather skeptical of any research of this matter conducted in the fatherland of prudes: Texas. Even if the media may sho
  • by Stabilis (1036402)
    Let's start by getting a few things straight. According to recent numbers about just how many web pages there are on the Internet, the statistic that only 1% of those pages contain pornographic material means that there are over 600 million pages with pornographic content. That is definitely a problem. As to Puls4r's statement that this is primarily a religious or moral issue I say examine the facts. Studies show that pornography is one of the most addictive substances known to man. We have passed law aft
    • by lahi (316099)
      By that reasoning, food should be outlawed. After all, food is 100% addictive. I am sure all 6.something billion of us are strongly addicted to food, and prefer to consume it every day. Better outlaw public food consumption, food recipes, restaurants (gastronomic brothels!) etc. Oh, let's not forget air!

      Sex, conducted safely (which is more likely the case when performed by well-informed participants) is not unhealthy. You don't die from premarital intercourse. Masturbating while looking at pornography is e
  • Meek's Law states:

    If technology can be exploited, it will be.

    Meek's Corollary states:

    All technology can be exploited

    No matter how this is decided on the free speech front, it will only be a matter of time before blocking technologies are bypassed. Look at spam. Once predicted to be dead by this year, it has had a renaissance of sorts, with spam volume doubling this year. The reason? The blocked learned to beat the blockers. People are deceiving themselves if they think there is some sort of tec
  • It was religion long ago, then nationalism and pride that was used by the minority power-holding to supress people's free exchange of ideas. In this century both of them are not heeded as much. What to do ? Need to find some other thing that is exploitable for supression - enter child abuse.

    we are all delicate on the matter, everyone knows it, and they exploit it - for what - for something that will in fact definitely be used to supress things that are harmful to the power holding minority.
  • In recent arguments over the constitutionality of the Child Online Protection Act, both sides have argued over the efficiency of Internet blocking software.

    You mean efficacy. I don't think anyone cares how many processor cycles or other resources are consumed by it. The ratio of false to true positives and negatives is much more relevant.
  • by Beryllium Sphere(tm) (193358) on Wednesday December 06, 2006 @01:38PM (#17132664) Homepage Journal
    and that "children" is a pretty wide range of ages and abilities.

    An adult on 17-year-old with mature critical thinking skills isn't going to be screwed up by a Holocaust denial site. An eight-year-old? You'd better have spent a lot of effort getting that eight-year-old to be skeptical, the effort might not work, and what school is going to train their students to question bad reasoning and arguments from authority? They'd put themselves out of business.

    Anyone who gets their ideas about sex from mainstream porn will wind up seriously off the mark. Real women are based on carbon compounds, not silicon compounds(*). Real lovemaking has little in common with porn film activities. And I bet you wouldn't have to be on porn sites for long to find something genuinely contemptuous toward women. A line is crossed when the site starts calling them "bitches".

    (*) Silicones, with an e, are silicon compounds. Specifically they're a chain of alternating silicon and oxygen atoms with alkyl side groups.
  • I seriously doubt there have been any real studies about the "harm" that pornography does to children. But, studies of addiction in adults are common and porn is clearly addictive to some percentage of the population.

    The real question is how exactly would you like to answer questions from your children after their viewing a collection of still images from a hardcore porn movie dealing with rape and/or bondage? Is this something that you would be comfortable with? As many younger children do, would you be
    • by danlyke (149938)
      I think we're veering off-topic here, so I'll mention that and hopefully get a little lenience from those with "off-topic" moderator points, but you ask "how exactly would you like to answer questions from your children after their viewing a collection of still images from a hardcore porn movie dealing with rape and/or bondage?"

      I'd point out that people like to play cowboys and indians, people like to play cops and robbers, and you can play at both of those games without actually scalping people or shooting
  • I don't think the occasional sight of naked people is damaging to children; however, I do think continued exposure to pornography could be: it can develop into an addiction, and it can give teenagers unrealistic ideas about sex (though TV and movies do that already).

    In the home, the high false-positive rates with filters could be tempered one of two ways, I think:
    a) whenever a site is blocked, pop up a dialogue box allowing a parent to permit the use of that site (temporarily or permanently, the page or the
  • ...in this case would probably be prohibited from being published on the Internet.

    Bravo.

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