There were any number of issues I’d wanted to get to yesterday and didn’t. But this was one of the big ones:
MSNBC is reporting that the days of corporate police are getting closer all the time, at least on the Internet. A new law quietly but unanimously passed through the Congress, which goes into effect at the first of the year, begins the process of compelling your ISP to snoop through every file passed back and forth from your computer to the Internet in search of kiddie porn:
But such monitoring just became easier with a law approved unanimously by the Congress and signed on Monday by President Bush. A section of that law written by Republican presidential candidate Sen. John McCain gives Internet service providers access to lists of child porn files, which previously had been closely held by law enforcement agencies and the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children. Although the law says it doesn’t require any monitoring, it doesn’t forbid it either. And the law ratchets up the pressure, making it a felony for ISPs to fail to report any “actual knowledge” of child pornography.
And we all hate the idea of kids being used by letchers of the world for profit and malice, so this is the kind of provision that gets passed into law without a second thought by a lot of Congress critters. But let’s you and I give it that second though, shall we?
First above all, since when is a corporation required to snoop on it’s customers by the government? And where does it stop? If your ISP or Google is forced to reveal private data of it’s customers, we should be worried that FedEx, Kinko’s or the Wegmans One Hour Photo Lab will be the next corporate entities pressed into the service of corporate policing of citizens. Call me old fashioned, but I’d always thought of the local police department or the FBI as the sort of agencies that were better off as public services, rather than private enterprises.
Secondly, to bring the discussion back to the Internet, let us consider who is going to be affected by this law: everybody. Well, no. Not quite everybody. Those of possessed of a relatively nominal level of computer sophistication will have no problem at all getting around anonymously on the Internet. Even if that means driving around looking for unprotected WiFi hotspots to get their porn from. Criminals, in other words, will always find a way around the system.
So that leaves everybody else. All the people not going out of their way to hide their identities on the Internet. All the people who are – in the end – doing nothing wrong. They’re the ones who are left completely open to having every single email, every single Christmas purchase, every single lookup of herpes, alcoholism, battered women’s shelters, or gambling problems filtered and categorized for the benefit of. . . well, anyone with access to that data, do you suppose?
And at what point does some of the other information not related to kiddie porn also become fair game? When does the government decide that – as long as we’ve got all this data lying around – it would be a good idea to look into possible drug use or illegal downloads or simply saying things in an IM session that someone determines is “dangerous?”
You’ve heard all these arguments about privacy and free speech in the past. The question is: when is someong going to do something about it?