Friday, April 21, 2006

Bush Administration proposes labeling for web sites with sexually explicit content

Attorney General Gonzales is proposing a mandatory labeling requirement for web sites publishing sexually explicit material. A web site operator not labeling their sexually explicit web site would face imprisonment.

See Gonzales calls for mandatory Web labeling law and U.S. attorney general calls for 'reasonable' data retention

This kind of discussion is not new, and the articles above give a history of the previous efforts along these lines. The big bugaboo that has people scared, of course, is will their children accidentally stumble across these sites. I've looked at some of those sites, and the raunch people engage in and look at it simply astonishing. Some of that stuff is clearly not for children, and it's quite possible to stumble across it.

e.g. "A second new crime would threaten with imprisonment Web site operators who mislead visitors about sex with deceptive "words or digital images" in their source code--for instance, a site that might pop up in searches for Barbie dolls or Teletubbies but actually features sexually explicit photographs."

One issue mentioned in the article is concerns by search engines. For example the government might decide to make a law requiring that search engines correctly index sexually explicit sites, and then correctly return results based on the sexually explicitness of the query. But, as the search engines pointed out, it's rather difficult to determine whether something is sexually explicit or not. And, in some cases, the raunchy crowd will reuse innocent words to have raunchy meanings.

The whole issue raises a whole range of freedom of speech considerations.

The people who publish and read/view the raunchy material certainly have a right to do so. That's called freedom of speech, but there's a principle I heard a few years ago that's very apropos. Your freedom to swing your fists stops at my nose.

Should their freedom to publish raunch stop somewhere before it reaches childrens eyes?

But, wait, there's more ..

For example, how can this preserve the right of medical researchers to discuss Breast Cancer?

For example, the Dirty Old Mens Association Intermational (DOMAI) exists to publish photographs of naked women. You might think, oh, they'll fall directly into this sexually explicit category. But, I challenge you to look through their site and find sexual explicitness. The purpose for that site is the celebration of beauty, specifically the beauty of the feminine form. They don't publish sexual pictures, but instead the pictures are of naked women in their beauty. Often the sexually explicit pictures are, to my eye, very degrading as it presents a naked woman purely as a sexual object. On the DOMAI site their pictures are very affirming of beauty and femininity.

I will say the proposed law is interesting by explicitly naming the kind of content which must be labeled.

In the past there was always a question over whether something is, or is not, pornographic. Like I said about the DOMAI site, there's a long tradition of non-pornographic artwork depicting naked women as beauty.

They are borrowing definitions from existing federal law: sexual intercourse of all types; bestiality; masturbation; sadistic or masochistic abuse; or lascivious exhibition of the genitals or pubic area of any person. Clearly those categories are easy to verify and enforce, unlike prior standards which.

The second article linked above is a little more chilling. It concerns requirements proposed to be placed on "internet service providers" requiring that "data" be retained for 90 days. They are claiming that the "failure" of ISP's to retain data is hampering investigations into criminal activity, including "gruesome sex crimes".

This may be very innocent and above board, but it also may be coming from the existing government plans to create a ubiquitous spying apparatus akin to Big Brother.

Again, there is a privacy consideration. In this case the "data" is our activities on various web sites, email we send and receive, even chatroom transcripts. The requirement is for that "data" to be retained, so that it can be handed over to government investigators.


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