More legislation requiring the wrong people to police the Digi-Intertubes-highway

Thursday, December 06, 2007

Ok, so like I was saying yesterday, I'm in IT. My boss runs a small web-based insurance service business, Periculum Services Group, and also runs an independant bookstore. So I end up doing dual duty with the office and the bookstore.

Recently we decided that we would get the bookstore it's own DSL connection (it's been sharing the office's connection) and open up a wireless hotspot. Cool! Except today, I read this:

House vote on illegal images sweeps in Wi-Fi, Web sites

"This is what the SAFE Act requires: Anyone providing an "electronic communication service" or "remote computing service" to the public who learns about the transmission or storage of information about certain illegal activities or an illegal image must (a) register their name, mailing address, phone number, and fax number with the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children's "CyberTipline" and (b) "make a report" to the CyberTipline that (c) must include any information about the person or Internet address behind the suspect activity and (d) the illegal images themselves. (By the way, "electronic communications service" and "remote computing service" providers already have some reporting requirements under existing law too.)


Failure to comply with the SAFE Act would result in an initial fine of up to $150,000, and fines of up to $300,000 for subsequent offenses. That's the stick. There's a carrot as well: anyone who does comply is immune from civil lawsuits and criminal prosecutions."

Now, I'm not saying that my plan on setting up this connection was to create a hub of child-porn trading (and I've probably just been added to "a list" just for that comment), but as a budding young Libertarian I am getting sick and tired of my government telling me that I have to do their job (policing) for them and that we face $150,000 in fine if I don't.

Frankly, I'm thinking a HotSpot access point is becoming more of a hassle than it's worth!


B Mac 1:31 PM  

With a lot of this type of legislation, I wonder how much a lack of technical understanding plays into the decision-making process. The average Senator is 137 years old. How are they supposed to make judgment calls about these types of things? After all, the internet can be very tricky:

When legislators try to stay ahead of cyber-criminals, and they try to do so on the techie's turf, it doesn't usually work out well.

steves 1:42 PM  

This almost middle aged small 'l' libertarian doesn't see it as much of making people into an enforcement arm of the criminal justice system, but rather making them mandated to report certain illegal activities.

I have mixed feeling about this.

Sopor 2:23 PM  

Well you're right Steves, this isn't 'enforcement' as such...

It does imply responsibility to have some sort of surveillance... but that's actually not too difficult from a technical standpoint, just not something that a little bookstore should have to deal with.

Smitty 5:08 PM  

It's all part of a legislative trend that I see a lot where instead of targeting a very specific behavior, they cast a huge net. Kiddie porn is very very bad. But with this law, the legislature assumes everyone may be guilty and they make you comply with yet one more bit of red tape to prove you're not. "We don't know who the bad guys are, so we'll make everyone comply with this new mandate."

steves 7:40 AM  

Good point Smitty. While I probably know more about technology than a senator, there is plenty I don't know. What do you think would be the best way to address child porn and predators?

An overly broad law that deals with the 1st Amendment will likely be shot down by some court.

Smitty 9:05 AM  

There is no evidence right now that says that the tactics cops are using to entrap predators isn't working.

When you get into the realm of "deterrence" measures and lengthy sentences, I don't see much that works there. Deterrence works well for rational people; the people who think of these laws and, largely, you and I. But a sex predator, a drug addict...they are already not rational. If they were, they wouldn't do what they do. Thus, basketball score sentences and "deterrence" measures fall flat on their face.

At the end of the day, we can't all be spied on by police and government agencies to assure we are not breaking the law. There's not enough resources for the government to do so, and it certainly sets a bad precedent. I think what's happening now is what works. If I would add one thing to it, it would be additional resources into communities; give bucks to police to work with local computer consultants to teach parents how to look on their home PCs for activity that shows signs that their kid is being preyed upon. That type of intervention has worked amazingly well concerning gang-related interventions between parents (or parent...) and their kid.

Sopor 7:14 PM  

Ya know Smitty, I'd be more happy with that than being told that I need to monitor the connection of every user who taps into our free access point.

From a technology standpoint, truly monitoring and tracking illicit and/or illegal is not as much difficult as it is expensive. To be able to break encryption and the like requires expensive enough hardware to prevent a small independent bookstore to offer wi-fi.

However, my company has some high-tech staff and experience in consulting. My boss (and the owner) is as much of a philanthropist as being a bootstrap company allows him to be, so this kind of thing (being able to give back to the community without simply sending checks) would be right up his alley!

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