You know what? Censorship is forbidden by the US Constitution, and pretty much all state constitutions. So why is it that so many politicians think it’s a fair trade to allow some censorship, in return for an illusion of a modicum of "safety"?
As some of you are aware, Andrew Cuomo is trying to rid the Internet of child pornography. Now, don’t get me wrong; getting rid of these douchebags is a laudable goal. But Andrew’s approach to eliminating it has effectively tread some very dangerous constitutional ground, and he needs to be reined in, and now.
You see, Andrew’s quest came about because he found out that scumbags actually use the Internet to distribute child pornography, and one of the places they do so is via Usenet.
The problem is, Cuomo’s "solution" is ham-handed and constitutionally repugnant. He has chosen to take the typical right wing approach to a problem, which is ironic, since he’s not actually a right winger. Rather than actively pursuing the perpetrators of child porn and shut down the distribution of child pornography on Usenet, or even to shut down individual newsgroups where such filth propogates, he’s decided to force ISPs to sign an agreement that turns them into Internet police, and to bar access to any newsgroup that features child porn.
Well, you can guess the results of this "agreement." After all,
Usenet isn’t exactly a huge money maker for ISPs, and some are just
looking for reasons to restrict access to certain content to preserve
bandwidth (right Comcast?) The result, folks, is that ISPs are
censoring while swaths of Usenet, and they’re doing so with the
implicit blessing of the New York Attorney General, who seems to feel
that censorship of free thought is a small price to pay to force
scumbags to find another avenue for disseminating their filth.
Cuomo has taken the political route, because he knows these tactics are losers
in the courts, as well they should be. If you’ll recall, The
Communications Decency Act and the Child Online Protection Act were
both struck down by the Supreme Court, because they were too broad, and
effectively barred perfectly legal activities, as well as the nefarious
activities at the heart of the laws’ purpose.
So, Cuomo has taken a more circuitous and therefore more dangerous route.
For those of you unfamiliar with Usenet (and let’s face it; most
people are unfamiliar with it, which is why Cuomo’s actions are having
such a chilling effect), Usenet is one of the last free vestiges of the
original Internet, as designed in the first place. People of like mind
form something called a "newsgroup," in which they freely discuss their
interests. Some newsgroups are moderated, but most are not, which means
that Usenet is one of the last places on the Internet not touched by
corporate hands, and it is ruled by the people who choose to
participate in that newsgroup. To date, there are literally hundreds of
thousands of newsgroups out there, discussing just about every subject
you can think of. That is, it WAS like that. Now, large numbers of
people are losing access to large swaths of the last free place on the
As a result of signing an agreement with Cuomo, to
keep from being sued, AT&T, AOL, Time Warner, Sprint. Verizon and
now Comcast have all agreed to "do something" about child porn on
Usenet. Again, that is a laudable goal; the problem is, Cuomo
apparently envisions ISPs hiring someone to monitor all of the
newsgroups, and only bar access to those found to contain kiddie porn.
Only those of us in the real world know how this is actually going to
work, and is working.
This is from an "announcement" to Verizon DSL users last month:
On 06/24/2008, Verizon will be modifying its Newsgroup offerings to only offer
groups in the Big-8 Newsgroup hierarchies, which are listed below. Users will
not be able to post or download from any other newsgroups.
Missing? The alt. hierarchy, among others. There are over 19,000
newsgroups in the alt. hierarchy, and in an internal investigation by
Cuomo’s people, only 88 were identified as containing kiddie porn.This means,
in order to curb access to 88 groups identified as having kiddie porn
offered on them at some point, Verizon subscribers will now lose access
to 19,000 other discussion groups, such as alt.tv.lost,
alt.current-events, alt.fan.rush-limbaugh and evenalt.religion.christian.episcopal. Good thing; you just can’t tell about those damned Episcopalians.
This is the net result of Cuomo’s actions so far:
- As noted, AOL eliminated Usenet access three years ago, in a cost-cutting move.
- Time Warner Cable eliminated Usenet access altogether.
- Sprint has barred access to the more than 19,000 groups in the
- Verizon, as you see above, has barred access to at least 30% of Usenet newsgroups.
- AT&T is blocking access to the alt.binaries hierarchy. And
not just groups like alt.binaries.pictures.lolita, which should set off
red flags, but also alt.binaries.tv.drwho.
In other words, Cuomo’s "solution" to this problem entails violating
the free speech rights of millions of people all over this country, in
order to "protect" us from a very small subset of evil scumbags. The
agreement forces these ISPs to become Internet police, but ISPs are not
equipped to take on such a role, and the end result is that ISPs are
censoring largechunks of the Internet.
Imagine kiddie porn flies out of a car and lands on Cuomo’s
windshield. He’s not 100% sure where it came from, but he’s on I-95, so
he orders the shutdown of Interstate 95 from Maine to Florida. Yeah,
that’s what it’s like. And it will be just as effective, because the
kiddie porn distributors will just find a different place in which to
peddle their disgusting wares.
In other words, it will not eliminate kiddie porn on the Internet; it
will just force the kiddie porn people to pay for alternative access to
Usenet. Yes, that’s right; while subscribers to major ISPs are blocking
your access to alt.fan.barry-manilow, Mr. Pervert-Scumbag is paying for
a service that will give him access to the groups he loves so much,
anyway. It doesn’t solve the problem, it merely shifts it to another
So, here’s the dilemma. Since it’s not going to be effective,
anyway, why is this a fair trade off? Why is it perfectly okay for a
self-described American crusader, especially one who takes an oath to
protect and defend the Constitutions of New York and the United States,
think that absolute censorship is a fair trade for removing one avenue
for scumbags who would trade in child pornography, especially when
there are so many other avenues available? How about doing your job,
Andrew? How about going after the scumbags and locking them up, instead
of encouraging ISPs to CENSOR those who might want to offer an opinion
in alt.religion.christian.episcopal? Your job is to PREVENT censorship,
not encourage it.
You can’t turn ISPs into net nannies; it’s
not allowed, and frankly, it won’t work, anyway. Courts have time and
time again repudiated such efforts at forcing ISPs to do your dirty
work for you. ISPs can’t act as police, and blackmailing them into
doing so has an incredibly chilling effect on free speech.
Andrew Cuomo should be ashamed of himself, and we should be putting pressure on ISPs to stop bowing to it.