Wednesday, November 22, 2006

COPA: ACLU presents closing argument exhibits and mentions content rating

Although not all of the court testimony and arguments have yet been published on the web on PDF format, it appears that closing arguments were made in the COPA (Child Online Protection Act) case on Monday Nov. 20.

There is an account by Philadelphia Inquirer reporter Joseph A. Gambardello, "Internet porn trial ending: At issue during closing arguments was whether filtering offers effective ways to protect children," at this link.

The ACLU has an impressive exhibit list for closing arguments here.

The exhibits tend to suggest that filters are effective, and that the main problem in practice is the inability of many parents to learn how to use them. In some cases (such as Justin Berry's notorious case), very determined minors may bypass them. But the overriding issue here is a "haves" and "have nots" problem among parents; as I said in earlier blogs, "who picks up the tab".

The ACLU also has a chart presenting the argument that COPA is far from the least restrictive means to achieve a reasonable state goal, protection of less intact minors. It is interesting that the ACLU now mentions the idea that statutes requiring labeling of sites or web pages with HTM material, or a national rating system (comparable to movies) could be less restrictive means. The technology is something that I have been promoting on this blog.

You have to tread carefully, though, before passing a statute requiring ratings. The software companies would have to develop the software tools and infrastructure (both for web publishing and for browser settings). Right now, PDF files still can't be labeled, although images can be watermarked. Probably Congress would imagine that with legislation in place, the companies would do the job. I hope so. I guess it could provide employment for me in "retirement." But one has to be very careful about this, in the basic analysis. Right now, for example, ICRA requires every file on a site to be individually labeled, and every site belonging to one entity to be labeled before the ICRA seal can be used. One would need automation tools that don't really exist yet. WTC standards for browsers and XML to HTML come into play, but browsers would have to be much more consistent. (Consider the issue of XSL in browsers other than IE.) Source management techniques well known for two or more decades from the mainframe world (like Endeavor, CA-Librarian, Changeman, Harvest) would have to be applied to small business or personal business sites, perhaps. All of this would have to be thought through carefully with careful project management, among the companies involved in such a software development effort.

This is another iceberg to look at. But it is good to see other ideas being proposed.

Gambardello's story also indicates that the government believes that COPA is aimed only at "pornographic teasers" and not at sites with legitimate artistic content. (This agrees with the general tone of government briefs in the 2001 and 2004 appearances before the Supreme Court.) The problem here is the "eye of the beholder" problem, and the cultural problem that some parents do not want their kids exposed to certain ideas, whereas other parents do want their kids to learn about the same ideas. Remember the fracas on the show "Everwood" when Dr. Andy Brown tries to educate high school students about STD prevention.

We don't want to wind up with a "private" but bureaucratic rating system where it costs $15000 to get a site rated. Anyone seen "This Film Is Not Yet Rated"? The whole media world is becoming more and more seamless, even for the newbies.

It is important for us to see the actual text of the closing arguments as soon as possible.

The main page for ACLU coverage of the trial is this.

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