Is This Really (About) Kiddie Porn???

I’ve long held that if either house of congress votes nearly unanimously for some bill or another, that they’ve likely just done something monumentally stupid. What happened yesterday stands as evidence of my theory:

The U.S. House of Representatives on Wednesday overwhelmingly approved a bill saying that anyone offering an open Wi-Fi connection to the public must report illegal images including “obscene” cartoons and drawings–or face fines of up to $300,000.

That broad definition would cover individuals, coffee shops, libraries, hotels, and even some government agencies that provide Wi-Fi. It also sweeps in social-networking sites, domain name registrars, Internet service providers, and e-mail service providers such as Hotmail and Gmail, and it may require that the complete contents of the user’s account be retained for subsequent police inspection.

Before the House vote, which was a lopsided 409 to 2, Rep. Nick Lampson (D-Texas) held a press conference on Capitol Hill with John Walsh, the host of America’s Most Wanted and Ernie Allen, head of the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children.[…]

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.)

The definition of which images qualify as illegal is expansive. It includes obvious child pornography, meaning photographs and videos of children being molested. But it also includes photographs of fully clothed minors in overly “lascivious” poses, and certain obscene visual depictions including a “drawing, cartoon, sculpture, or painting.” (Yes, that covers the subset of anime called hentai).

One may begin to look at this and scratch one’s head, saying “how can it possibly be reasonable to comply with such a law?” Of course, it isn’t. That’s not at all the point. The point is to shut down open access wi-fi networks. Kiddie porn is a red herring. There are two parties being served:

  1. Telcos: The telcos hate free wi-fi. They believe it cuts into their profits, and the networks they’ve spend billions building (mostly cellular voice networks). Shutting down free wi-fi enables them to stop VoIP over wi-fi. The telcos (Verizon especially) have successfully sued and shut down municipal wi-fi networks in the past. They are the first party being served by this law.
  2. RIAA, MPAA, et al: Basically, these guys can’t trace the IP address of someone using an open Wi-Fi network to an individual file sharer. Furthermore, leaving one’s home wi-fi network open for anyone to access has successfully been used as a defense against RIAA lawsuits, namely by making it impossible for the RIAA to prove whose computer it was, connected to the network. Congress has a history of handing these guys whatever laws they ask for by extremely lopsided votes, so it’s entirely likely they’re the real ones behind this. Though I suspect it’s the two of them together.

Either way, the last thing this has to do with is kiddie porn. It’s more about shutting down Apple and Panera Bread and hotels and the like from offering free wi-fi that could be used for truly anonymous P2P file sharing, and that may otherwise be sold by a telco less-than-anonymously.

Let me know if you have any questions.


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