now with more cowbell
and then there was content
Posted: 2003-07-29 14:29
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Author: Phil Gengler
Section: Stuff

Apologies for the long gaps between updates, I've been alternately busy and lazy, and in neither state did anything get written for the site. Since my last update, no doubt a number of events have transpired; and no doubt you've read about them if you're interested. What I'm going to do now, and hopefully continue doing, is to take one or two things and write something, so that the site doesn't just turn into link propagation.

The subject today is H.R. 2885, or the "Protecting Children from Peer-to-Peer Pornography Act of 2003." The title, as expected, is bullshit, and the bill very plainly says it intends "[t]o prohibit the distribution of peer-to-peer file trading software in interstate commerce." So, the bill is designed to kill P2P.

This bill has been the subject of a lot of discussion on the pho mailing list, mostly because of the severe inconsistency between the bill's title and it's purpose (both have which have been amended since it's initial introduction). Looking at the title of the bill, we see something not new for Congress, a bill designed to limit the potential for children to be exposed to pornography online. Looking just a little deeper, though, the bill specifically says it's supposed to be putting an end to P2P programs in the US.

It calls for a technological measure that could prevent the installation of a P2P program, a 'do-not-install beacon' that a P2P program would be expected to look for. This 'beacon' is designed to be installed on a machine by a juvenile's parents, and any and all P2P programs are supposed to check for this beacon and refuse to install if it is found. Hardly anything needs to be said on how asinine this is, and how simply a program could ignore any 'do-not-install beacon' and install anyway.

Beyond the 'beacon', the bill creates restrictions on P2P software, namely that they must notify the user of the potential for finding porn, confirm with the user that they're over 13, comply with COPPA, not work-around any security software (such as a firewall), and most unenforceable, is that if the creator or distributor of a P2P program is outside the US, they must appoint a US resident to register with the Commission created by this act to oversee compliance.

I was always under the impression that US laws only applied to US citizens, and so if someone in Germany (for example) makes a P2P program available for download to the whole world, including the US, then what affects them is German law, and not US law, since they're neither a US citizen nor are they in the US. Without being able to enfore this as law worldwide (which, last I checked, we still aren't able to do, fortunately) any stipulation that would apply to a US citizen is without force, since unless the person is actively targeting the US (which we'll assume they're not, and since there likely isn't a marketing campaign, is unlikely to happen), then they're just making something available to the whole world.

It is not the role of any country to attempt to rule the Internet. The 'net is completely different from any other 'communications system' ever created, but governments around the world aren't able to see this, and keep trying to govern it the same way they govern other systems. To try and do this is to not realize the potential of the Internet, and also serves to cause those affected to seek hosting and services from other places where these behaviors are still legal. It's similar to the Star Wars quote, "The more you tighten your grip, the more star systems slip through your fingers." In this case, the more one country trys to regulate and restrict Internet behavior, the more those affected are going to move their operations to places where they're not subject to these rules, where there is even less control.


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