Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Government appeals Judge Reed's decision on COPA

The Justice Department, it has been learned, plans to appeal Judge Lowell A. Reed's March 22, 2007 Opinion striking down the Child Online Protection Act of 1998 (COPA) to the Third Circuit. This continues a judicial battle that has been going on for nine years. The schedule is not known yet, but it would be likely to be argued in the fall.

The Third Circuit, remember, overturned COPA (that is, upheld Judge Reed's 1999 injunction issued without trial) in 2000 using a community standards argument that the Supreme Court, in 2002, rejected on the theory that it would confound notions of obscenity laws (deferring to Miller and Hamburg). But the Third Circuit upheld the injunction again in 2003, using arguments similar to those of Reed's opinion in the full trial in 2007.

Third Circuit Opinion in 2003. (PDF)

Third Circuit 2000 opinion here.

Monday, May 21, 2007

McAfee Site Advisor fits the philosophy of labeling

On my Windows XP Dell Inspiron laptop I have noticed recently that McAfee Site Advisor provides a bar with any site that I go to. Moreover, in Google, at least, search engine results are flagged with Site Advisor test results from the specific reference when those results are known.

The Site Advisor so far seems mainly concerned with harmful practices from a security point of view, such as management of email, invitation to link to known troublesome sites ("online affiliations"), download management, sign up forms, excessive popups or attempts to make a browser's favorite home page ("annoyances"), or scripting practices known to cause security problems.

The Advisor also invites users to make comments, including the site owner.

This does not appear on my other machine (Dell 8300), with XP Home. I believe that the difference comes from the fact that recently on the laptop McAfee recently pushed the most up-to-date version of McAfee Security Center.

Doaskdotell.com comes up with a green light. billboushka.com has not yet been checked. Only the main billboushka blog has been checked, and it is green.

The site evaluation does not appear to check for dead links, or links that don't match text. Links often become obsolete. I have also had difficulty with an older version of Word (2002) which, when converting to HTML, would sometimes scramble the links so that the link that the visitor got was actually one that proceeds the one indicated by the link. This seemed to be a bug in the XSL logic in building the HTML web page with XML programming. When this happened, I had to fix the page manually. Microsoft advises replacing Word with the latest version, as older versions are not supported.

There is a problem right now with an Access database of political arguments, that does not seem to work properly in IE 7.0. I am working on that. Right now, the SiteAdvisor does not appear to be concerned with scripts or applications under development that may fail for technical or connectivity or software compatibility reasobns. In the past, I had another site with a Java Starter, that I discontinued when the small ISP failed to continue supporting its JVM, leading to constant internal server errors. I am working on the idea of a more stable kind of application with SQL server for the future.

Microsoft has, for some time, offered to check sites for known phishing problems. Vista will improve the ability to check for problems.

The logical extension of all of this would be to check sites for content againt user supplied labels, as discussed earlier in this blog. Site advisors could also rate sites on the reliability of content, eventually.

Update: (May 22)

This morning McAfee advised me that Site Advisor (and SiteAdvisor Plus) are available for Mozilla Firefox (2.0). I installed and I get a similar report now from Mozilla on my XP Home machine (at both sites and on searches).

When one goes to a specific file on a site (with the same root URL), it appears that the SiteAdvisor rating for the entire site is given, but I am not absolutely sure about this.

Update: July 15, 2007

I've noticed that Google sometimes returns warnings from search results that a search result could harm a computer with "bad ware". This seems to be linked to the stopbadware site. Some reputable corporate media sites come back with this warning, so there may be some "false positives" and the stop site seems to have an appeal process. This seems to be another evolving service for home users that will need more fine-tuning.

Wednesday, May 02, 2007

Fiction: It can be dangerous!

The school writings in English creative writing classes of Seung Hui Cho, as discovered by the media and published on the Internet by AOL after the Virginia Tech tragedy, do raise the ante in the debate about implicit content, mentioned in the COPA trial last fall.

At particular issue were two short screenplays (“Richard McBeef” and “Mr. Brownstone”), both violent and minimalist, and both sending the strong implicit message that the author could have been abused about the time of the start of adolescence. The staff had considered the plays “juvenile” in that they did very little to develop the material into anything of substance beyond angry rants. The staff had also, as the media reports now show, been concerned that the writings suggested a possible propensity for future violence. It’s important to note that so far, however, there have been no media reports that Cho posted these or other “anti-social” writings on the Internet. Apparently, however, he did have access to weapons information, and in Columbine and in some other destructive incidents certain websites had been an influence.

Publishing history reports disturbing cases of novels that have led to lawsuits (“Touching” “Bell Jar”) because characters in the novels too closely resembled real people who claimed they were falsely defamed or had their privacy invaded. In more recent times, social networking sites and other personal weblogs have contained videos or narratives that seem self-defamatory, but where the authors believe that they are protesting unfair laws (such as against underage drinking) or social conformity conventions. These have been of great concern to employers.

Cho was a mentally unstable adult, so none of the arguments made during COPA apply to him legally. The practical argument is how people who feel “disenfranchised” behave when they find nihilistic material in the media.

One problem comes up with fiction, however, when the author seems to be like one of the characters and the author is presented “unfavorably” or perhaps, in the view of the author, just “objectively.” If the material is self-posted, others may wonder what the author’s “motive” or “purpose” (that is, what does the writer "have to gain" from making the posting) is and be inclined to read intention between the lines, whereas the same material from an established commercial source (like a movie studio) might not raise such existential questions. This did not matter for COPA, but it could matter in other legal scenarios (like enticement), that bear a curious resemblance to the thinking that led to the “don’t ask don’t tell” policy for gays in the military. Behind all of this is the issue of socialization, and that familial relationships and appearances, as they affect social hierarchies, matter much more to some people than to others.

I suppose that one could even propose this kind of problem if the writer makes a speculative abstract argument (not in fiction) that would obviously be unfavorable to the writer personally given what is known personally about his or her circumstances. If the law starts to go beyond the "objective legality" of content "prima facie" to analysing what the writer has to gain from being publicly known for having written and published it, then the law enters into an uncertain area that bears a curious relection of the culture wars. Again, this kind of legal reasoning could follow from the "precedent" that allows the rebuttable presumption clause of the military 1993 "don't ask don't tell" law regarding gays; but I have never heard of a legal test of the idea outside of the military -- yet.


Visit an important story (May 1, 2007) on ABC "Good Morning America" about reported security risks for female bloggers, link here.

Picture: Amish one-room schoolhouse in Bird In Hand, PA, similar to that in Nickel Mines (Oct 2, 2006 tragedy).