Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Wisconsin "teen" plea bargains after "sting" on Facebook


The AP and MSNBC report that a Wisconsin teenager (19) has plea bargained after being caught in a bizarre Facebook scheme where he posed as a female to “entice” others to send him inappropriate pictures, after which he could “blackmail” them. Prosecutors were relieved at a plea bargain because they feared having to make the “victims” testify. The scam in some way resembles as law enforcement “sting”, as discussed in prior posts here, and also may invoke the legal notion of “implicit content”, a notion tangential to the 2006 COPA trial. That is, a posting seems to have no legitimate purpose other than to “tempt” others into probably illegal conduct themselves. The details are at this link. This may be the most serious “scam” that I have heard of regarding Facebook misuse to date.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Virginia ponders relieving teens from legal uncertainty over "sexting" bu then backs off.


The Virginia Crime Commission has so far declined to proceed in refining the state’s child pornography laws with respect to teen “sexting” on cell phones.

This seems to more the result of disinclination to take a specific stand than anything else. Right now prosecutors have extreme discretion in deciding whether and how to prosecute, with the possibility on paper of mandatory registration for what a teenager may view as curiosity or a harmless prank.

However, some legislators want to exempt texting by minors from the state’s laws, or make them misdemeanors.

The Richmond Times-Dispatch story by Frank Green is here.

Monday, December 07, 2009

Nickelodeon said to link to non-kid-friendly sites


Clarie Shipman and Jay Shaylor have a report on ABC “Good Morning America”, “Children's Web Sites Can Lead to Adult Content: Some Sites Directed at Kids May Open Doors to Other Content”, Monday Dec. 7, web URL link here. Internet laywer and child safety advocate Parry Aftab (wiredsafety.org) appeared..

The problem involved some links from Nickelodeon’s nick.com (link), although Nickelodeon advises people they are leaving the site. I recall that Nickelodeon actually has internships for screenwriters for its specialized content!

Thursday, December 03, 2009

New York State removes thousands of SO's from social networking sites


The New York Daily News, with its typical supermarket-like bombast, ran a story Dec. 1 on p 5 about the New York State’s attorney general’s action to have s.o.’s removed from Myspace and Facebook, according to the states e-STOP law signed in 2008 by Andrew Cuomo. The link is here.

However, when people are convicted of these crimes, usually they are prohibited from owning computers or having any Internet access at all; they have an online death sentence. It’s hard to see how so many got back on social networking sites. Are we sure that this operation was limited to convicted offenders?

Tuesday, December 01, 2009

Washington DC, other police deal with c.p. stings


Del Quentin Wilber has a Metro page story in the Dec. 1, 2009 Washington Post about online undercover cops that follows on to the story about the Vanity Fair article last month. This concerns the Washington DC Metropolitan Police and FBI agents who pose as “consumers” of illegal content rather than as minors. The story is titled “Child porn cases take toll on investigators: Job exposes team to images of abuse few can comprehend”, link here.

The job requires specialized psychological tests and involves working with materials so graphic as not to be describable on a post like this (or in a conventional newspaper).

There seems to be almost no difference in the energy with which local police departments conduct undercover activity, as to whether they are in “liberal” of “conservative” areas, with respect to problems like this.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Vanity Fair: Internet stings and "pre-crime" (and "entrapment"): users: watch out


This comment that I am about to make is a practical one, devoid or moralizing. And I add, these blog postings don’t purport to give legal advice (I’m not an attorney). But sometimes a pattern of law enforcement practice is so persistent that any journalist must take note and pass it along. I could put this on the Internet safety blog or even the main one, but it is closest to the problem of protecting minors, so I tucked it away here.

The “advice” is never to get into chats (or text message exchanges or anything similar) “of an explicit nature” with anyone purporting to be a minor, or (particularly now) claiming to have minor children who would welcome illegal behavior. As often as not, there is a police officer on the other end, posing as a minor or, as in a sensational story on p 244 of the December 2009 issue of (Conde Nast) Vanity Fair (it’s no “September Issue” this time) by veteran writer and editor Mark Bowden, link here. (By the way, I couldn't locate Bowden's Q&A online; if someone finds it, please post a comment.)

Online, the article has the column title “Minority Report” followed by a formal title “A Crime of Shadows”. (I played fair with this; I bought a hardcopy issue at 7-11 Monday.) What comes to mind immediately is Dateline’s notorious series with Chris Hansen and “Perverted Justice”; but here there are no amateurs on the other end; there was a suburban Philadelphia female police officer posing as a mother with two imaginary but “available” children.

Bowden mentions the Tom Cruise flick “Minority Report” (based on the Philip k. Dyck story), where the concept is to apprehend people during the phase of “pre-crime.” This is more a national security thing; ever since 9/11 we’ve had to deal with the idea that some acts are so catastrophic that the perpetrators must be apprehended before the fact; that sort of thinking certainly has come to apply to protecting our children (whatever you think of the morality; in Europe, after all, the “age of consent” is usually less than in most states in the U.S.; in California and many other states it is 18). Ironically, the Vanity Fair cover story, depicting the white-hot young manhood of British actor Robert Pattinson, visually underscores the arbitrary nature of our definition of adulthood (the brain, they say, isn't fully grown until 25).

Bowden also discusses that this is the ultimate gray area, of purpose, intentions, enticement, even “thoughtcrimes” (a term sometimes used in other contexts by gay journalist Randy Shilts). In the speech area as to web postings, the legal term is “implicit content”, mentioned in passing during the COPA trial. That is, postings that don’t seem to result in legitimate personal gain (such as monetary) for the speaker may evaluate legal assessment as to “purpose” in some cases. It’s a dangerous possibility. But here, Bowden is still focusing on the engaging with others in Internet chat, when those others might be police.

The story of what happened to “J” when he started conversing with police officer or employee Michele Deery, who drew him into the interest into the “imaginary” daughters, when “J” insists that it is her that he really “wanted.” Is this entrapment? The depiction of the parking lot arrest is brutal: but so far, most of these arrests happen only when the target goes to meet the imaginary child (in a few cases, the police have barged in while the presumed offender was online talking to decoys). The article goes on to reproduce a lot of the chat log. Toward the end of the article, Bowden writes “J was guilty of some things, serious things … He was guilty … of a lifelong inability to establish a healthy intimacy with a woman” (how many of us are “guilty” of that? – how about many gay men?) “He was guilty of lacking moral boundaries and good sense. There is a chance that without treatment of some kind J would have evolved into someone dangerous.” He will also be on a s.o. registry, possibly linked with other real offenders. He gave up his computer and joined a church, the article says.

At one time, I had no sympathy for men caught in these stings, but the overuse of these police tactics makes me wonder. The story of former weatherman Bill Kamal (known to the DC gay community in the 1990s) and what happened to him after his bust in Florida in 2004 is instructive; you can read about it in a 2005 Jacksonville newspaper article “Miami weatherman says he was framed by false claims”, link here. Read the article; he may have a point. But as far as we can tell, his life was ruined.

Monday, November 09, 2009

Filters could be important to home bases businesses as well as to parents


I found, through Mixx, a website called hubpages that gives some simple arguments for parents to use Internet filters, on a page called “The Benefits of Internet Filtering”. The site has some babytalk and is less esoteric in nature than all the stuff we said three years ago at the COPA trial, but here’s the link.

People with home bases businesses who bring people into the home as contractors or employees who in turn use the Internet (nannies, for example) might want to consider using filters to block objectionable sites. It may in some cases be a good idea, on specific computers available to workers, to block access to personal sites authored by the employer. Various packages allow the parent or business owner to do this, as explained toward the end of this page from Netnanny.

Related to the use of filters and whitelists and blacklists are privacy policies. Webmasters who do not directly collect personal information but who accept advertising should still post privacy policies (and sometimes “business privacy policies” as I discussed May 30, 2009 on my main blog). Netnanny addresses the privacy policy issue, with respect to protecting the information of minors, here.

Monday, November 02, 2009

Best strategy for protecting kids is early parental guidance


In today’s environment of social media use, there is a growing sentiment that parents need to get up to speed on social media, and join their children, probably in the “tween” years, gradually encouraging more independence. Learning socially responsible behavior online is a bit like learning to drive.

At least, that’s the tone of a New York Times blog entry by Jenna Wortham, “Tweens on Facebook, and , Emoticon Overload”, web URL link here.

The article suggests a much more progressive strategy for protecting minors on the Web, that is, joining their journey in due course. But that takes some degree of net literacy from all parents.

Tuesday, October 06, 2009

VA school assistant principal caught up in legal side effects of sexting


A website called “Threat Level” documents how a 60 year old assistant principal at Freedom High School in South Riding, Va (in Loudoun County, about thirty miles from Washington DC) was “accidentally” caught up in the sexting controversy trying to do his job. He was investigating a photo (perhaps not really illegal) possessed by a student and was asked by the principal to preserve it on a school computer, so he asked the student to send it to his own cell phone (mistake, it turns out). When they boy got in trouble again, fingers were pointed at the assistant principal, who had to spend $150000 clearing himself when probably he hadn’t broken the law after all. The story, by Kim Zetter, April 2009, is on Wired, here.

Monday, September 21, 2009

HTM comingles with "Harmful to Adults", according to conservative columnist


The Washington Times has a feature on Mondays, “Cultural Challenge of the Week: How to save your family” (as if you had to presume you’re a victim cowering in fear), with Rebecca Hagelin writing, on p A18, “The plague of pornography.”

She decries the voyeuristic fantasy-based interest of “otherwise respectable” businssmen between flights at airports, and then discusses her work at Salvo Magazine (link), and makes the point that young people exposed to porn “have a lack of interest in marriage and in having children of their own,” after talking about viewing people as “objects.” That sounds like she is following on the heels of Wetzstein’s recent column discussion the recent Allan Carlson book “The Natural Family: A Manifesto.”

The Washington Times link is here.
Hagelin also gives a “victims” link here.

She seems to be as concerned as adults as children (the old HTM issue), although its odd that she makes a comment (taken or read literally, as an “Aspie” like me would) that children don’t become interesting in marriage – literally, should they?

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Law banning commercial sale of depictions of animal cruelty brings back some arguments from COPA, CDA


There is a law, passed in 1999, regarding the sale of depictions of animal cruelty, which in some ways resembles laws against obscenity and child pornography, even COPA. The law is USC 18.3.48 with Cornell Law School link here.

Some of the argumentation dealt with “crush videos” and the idea that for some people they represent a sexual fetish. Other argumentation sounds familiar from COPA.

Back in April, the Supreme Court indicated that it will hear a case challenging the law on First Amendment grounds, partly because it could interfere with legitimate reporting. The sale becomes illegal when the act is illegal in the jurisdiction sold. So, theoretically, it’s illegal to sell a video of a bullfight in Spain. There was a comprehensive story in “Finding Dulcenia” by Rachel Balik in April here.

The 3rd Circuit had struck down the law in United States v Stevens, but the Justice Department is arguing for its reinstatement. The defendant had been prosecuted after Pennsylvania police were able to purchase some video that he regarded as educational.

The First Amendment Center has some legal analysis here.

Wednesday, September 02, 2009

NY Times reviews general problems of s.o. registries: do they really protect minors?


On September 2, 2009 the New York Times featured a front page story by Monica Davey, “Plenty of Data … but Registries are Just Start”, link here.

She discusses the Garrido case in California, as something that slipped out of sight for 20 years because of its low tech nature. The article talks about the proliferation of state offender list websites, and many private subscription ones, some of which can be easily loaded onto mobile devices by nervous parents traveling in neighborhoods they believe to be bad.

Some of these sites are pretty explicit themselves and could frighten kids who find them. Furthermore, as John Stossel has pointed out, they mix the non-violent offenders together with the “worst”. In some communities, even non-violent offenders are so stigmatized that they concentrate in rural areas or become homeless.

Liliana Segura has an article on this problem on AlterNet, here.

In one of my own screenplays, not now displayed and something that got me in trouble when I was a substitute teacher over the “implicit content” issue (only tangential to COPA), an accused s.o. (who may, according to the logic of the fictional story, not be legally guilty) foregoes trial and then prefers jail to actually being on the registry and “free” on supervised probation; the character dies in prison while his music is performed publicly by one of his “contacts”, an irony that some people found too much to take. But it’s easy to imagine a story like this in independent film. None of the material came even close to the “HTN” definition of the 1998 COPA law.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Retrospect: How others see my involvement in the COPA trial


I just noticed this today while researching other stuff: I’m identified on the right frame of the Nerve Blog on the COPA trial (from October 2006). The entry that comes up is here. I like Nerve’s characterization of me as “an outspoken critic of the U.S. military's "don't ask, don't tell" policy and author of Do Ask, Do Tell: A Gay Conservative Lashes Back". That's a fair characterization of me!

Wednesday, August 05, 2009

Lessig's "Code 2.0" seems to support simplified but mandatory content labeling


Recently I purchased the 2006 version of Lawrence Lessig’s revised book “Code”: that is, “Code 2.0”, from Basic Books and Perseus Publishing.

I plan a complete review soon in my books blog, but I notice that he has quite a bit to say about COPA (and the earlier CDA) and is optimistic that a relatively simple content labeling system would effectively protect minors.

Early in the book, he notes that commercial interest, through cookies and behavioral tracking, have developed the potential capability for webmasters to determine much more about visitors than plaintiffs against COPA-like laws admit. Later (around p 252) he talks about the real world examples of what is expected of vendors not to sell certain things to minors, and indicates that there is a burden in cyberspace that is much harder than in physical space. He suggests that the "Identity Layer" related to TCP/IP could be engineered to identify whether a user is a legal adult, with little cost to speakers.

Access can be blocked, he says, when speech is “regulable” and the listener is a “minor”, but the burden on regulability is on the speaker, but on identifying the listener is on the visitor (that is, the parents or teachers, usually).

He suggests that self-publishers or speakers on the Web be required to place metatags like “” on their published objects, that browser vendors and various vendor applications be expected to recognize them (as a kind of software “V-chip”), which he says can be done for negligible cost in an open source environment (like the way he says Mozilla was developed).

On the other hand, he thinks that the “Platform for Internet Content Selection” or PICS standard of W2C, as essentially a protocol for rating and filtering web content, is overkill: it envisions a variety of communities setting separate but “peacefully coexisting” standard sets (that is, the religious right and New Age parenting communities can have separate standards for rating). He describes PICS as both “horizontally” and “vertically” neutral.

Lessig also equates pornography (legal for adults, meaning not "child porn" and not obscenity) to "harmful to minors". However, many of the plaintiffs at the COPA trial (myself included) had expressed concerns in briefs that the HTM definition could ensnare material not generally viewed as porn. "You know it when you see it."

Lessig's book and this analysis appear to have been written before the October 2006 COPA trial in Philadelphia (I attended one day of it). So they would have been written before Judge Lowell Reed's opinion was rendered in March 2007.

The W3C site for PICS is here.

ICRA (FOSI) says that it "has also provided a simplified PICS interpretation of the current vocabulary alongside the RDF labels" on its main page here.

It looks like this material is going to start developing again.

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Harvard doctoral student argues against filters, for complete Internet ethics education


Justin Reich, a doctoral student at Harvard University School of Education, has an interesting op-ed in the July 11 Washington Post, “In Schools, a Firewall that Works too Well.” Reich argues that Internet filters in schools keep out valuable material and that students and teachers alike become cynical in trying to get around them. He says that there is no substitute for a complete program of Internet and technology citizenship education in the schools, including all topics like copyright and reputation, as well the more “obvious” problems about pornography or supposed “adult” or “harmful to minors” content.

He does point out the downside of the Children's Internet Protection Act of 2000, under which "any school or library that uses federal funds to buy computers is required to install Internet filters." This is old hat now.

The link for the op-ed is here. Reuch is co-director of Ed Tech Teacher, here.

Thursday, July 02, 2009

Public schools should teach responsible Internet use at home; this would help protect minors


Recently, Electronic Frontier Foundation put together a copyright education course for schools, which I discussed on my main blog on June 12, 2009.

However, it seems that public schools should gear up to teach responsible computer and technology use, and even ought to include the curricula as part of standards of learning, such as Virginia’s SOL’s.

Besides copyright, students should learn about defamation, privacy invasion, harassment and cyberbullying, and even some idea of what trademarks and patents mean.

While schools should teach the legal risks of “sexting” on cell phones and other devices, states should remove the practice from felony prosecutions and should not treat incidental occasions as “child pornography” or as a reason for sex offender registration. States need to change their criminal codes appropriately.

A broad inclusion of the legal responsibilities associated with technology use would help protect minors from inappropriate materials at home, including not just pornography, but other activities including bullying and responding to inappropriate contacts from chat or instant messages.

If (and more likely when) I return to formal employment, helping school systems deal with these issues could he high on the list of my own goals.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Billboard (by Calvin Klein) in NYC provokes "COPA-like" controversy


A Calvin Klein billboard in Soho in Manhattan, at Lafayette and Houston Streets, is thought to go to far as it shows a threesome of young people whom some say are made to look underage. According to federal law, the producer of the ad would have had to document and register the ages of the models as at least 18.

The New York Daily News story is by Sara A. Armaghan and is here and it was featured Monday June 15 on ABC “Good Morning America”.

Neighborhood residents, in one of the nation’s most liberal areas (the West Village is nearby) say that the billboard sends the wrong message to minors and is harmful to them. Fashion companies say that they must promote their products in a competitive environment during economic downturn. There is no real oversight of the content of billboards. Is there a correspondence with the “harmful to minors” of COPA? Well, the pictures probably still wouldn’t have met the legal definition.

Tuesday, June 09, 2009

Digital movie or TV filtering runs into DMCA/DRM problems: analogy with COPA filtering arguments?


Seth Schoen of Electronic Frontier Foundation has an interesting analysis of the Child Safe Viewing Act of 2007, which it had commented (to the FCC) on with “Examination of Parental Control Technologies for Video or Audio Programming, here.

Movie studios had sued ClearPlay over a product that skipped particular scenes in movies, and Congress passed the Family Movie Act in 2004 to protect innovators who offer playback movie editing from copyright infringement claims.

Then there is a product called TVGuardian, a V-chip alternative from Principal Solutions, which apparently will become ineffective in a digital environment unless the product is allowed to circumvent Digital Rights Management in order to filter shows for minors.

In the COPA case, many of the plaintiff’s arguments were based on the effectiveness of filters. In digital TV, DMCA anti-circumvention provisions can prevent similar effectiveness of filtering technology of shows and movies.

The link for Schoen’s analysis (June 8) is here.

Thursday, June 04, 2009

COPA, sexting, and "self promotion": we don't see around the corners


A day after more media reports that a central Virginia county sheriff was investigating another teen for possession of porn in his cell phone after receiving “sexting” meesages, it seems to me that the whole question of protecting minors – and the families that raise them – has become convoluted indeed. We constantly find more legal and security-related corners that we just don’t see around.

COPA was focused on what now seems, in retrospect, a relatively narrow issue, of images and perhaps text that would be “harmful to minors” when placed by commercial sites on public areas of the Internet. What we found was that many of the concepts weren’t so narrow: what is “commercial”, what is “prurient”, how relevant is the maturity level of the individual minor (the “Smallville Problem”). The Judge that decided the case, as well as the Supreme Court when providing guidance, articulated the idea that many supposedly stable legal concepts can play “shape shifter.”

But, even getting beyond the sexting issue as well as laws like COPA, what we find is that the biggest underlying problem for parents protecting minors is the easy self-promotion. A lot of it has to do with search engines, and a lot of it has to deal with the incredible power of social networking sites. When one draws attention to oneself before one has “paid his dues” and competed appropriately, one can attract unwelcome and unexpected attention to oneself and even other family members (especially of teens). We’re finding this particularly in the behavior of employers, making sniff judgments on social networking profiles (it seems that this happens now even with profiles supposedly marked private), and it is a problem that seems to be growing. This isn’t really a teen’s problem. Teenagers learn that the world is a competitive place, and in the world that they can perceive, the web, as well as the high school stadium (or the classroom) is a place that everyone competes. No wonder they do what they do. They’re just copying what they learn from us, and they can’t see around all the corners. But neither do we.

Friday, May 15, 2009

The American "adult" industry could be on its way out?


David Goldstein has an amusing, or perhaps sobering article in "The American Prospect", reprinted by Alternet. May 15, “Is the Porn Industry Doomed?” I couldn’t get the American Prospect site to come up, so the Alternet copy is here.

Larry Flynt reportedly asked Congress for a $5 billion bailout of the “adult” industry. Is he pulling our leg? Okay, conservatives say, its because of the porn business that men don’t want to get or stay married. Fantasy is more appealing than reality, but that goes beyond porn, doesn’t it. That was a key point in the COPA trial.

Diane Duke, Executive Director of the Free Speech Coalition, admits that piracy and free content could be driving the business down.

Goldstein goes on to discuss the politics of it on Capitol Hill, including Barney Frank, and pretty soon we get into “Outrage” territory.

Thursday, May 07, 2009

Northern VA authorities take cautious approach on "sexting" by minors


The Fairfax County (VA) Police Department has been handling the “sexting” issue carefully, according to a front page story in The Washington Post on Thursday May 7.
The story is “Sending of explicit photos can land teens in legal fix,” link here.

Typical the police department confers with a Commonwealth attorney, and may recommend counseling or juvenile court instead a full prosecution, as has happened in other states. The laws were never really designed to protect kids from each other this way and lump them in with “predators.”

Police say that many are “good kids” with no records, and have no concept that explicit photos could wind up on the Internet and be found by future employers or schools.

Update: May 13, 2009

Station WJLA-7 announced that Fairfax County police will have an information forum for the public on the sexting issue at West Springfield High School tonight, May 13.

WJLA provides a report of the meeting "Concerned Local Parents, Teens Gather for Sexting Meeting", link here. WJLA provides a video from the meeting there. The suggestion was made that parents take cell phones away at bedtime, and police said that over 20% of teens have texted. Technically, they are committing serious felonies. There is talk of changing the laws (with "Romeo and Juliet" age provisions) but police say it is difficult to do so without inviting real "predators" back in. Kids don't think what they are doing is wrong, and the problem it creates is indirect and existential.

Today, Ellen DeGeneres, on her show May 13, frivolously called "Sexting" "Texting with a booty call". I wonder if she realizes how serious the legal issue is.

Sunday, May 03, 2009

Recent columnist: do "adult materials" discourage "real relationships?" If so, there's a "continuum"


This column may sound like it is more about young adults than minors, but I thought I would put it here anyway. Cheryl Wetzstein of the Washington Times contributed a two-part series on pornography, starting Sunday April 26 in the “Sunday Read”. The first link leads to the second, so I’ll just give the first one. In the first part, she discusses the controversy at the University of Maryland over the showing of “Pirates II: Stagnetti's Revenge” on campus, at taxpayer expense. No, I haven’t seen it or rented it, and don’t expect to review it. She goes on to make a modern metaphor of the porn business to “big tobacco”. Only in these times; such a comparison would have been unthinkable a generation ago.

But it’s the second part (p 17 of the May 3 “Sunday Read”) that gets interesting. She characterizes pornography as encouraging people to “develop secret lives”, “feel bad about themselves”, and, most importantly, “lose any interest in making love with an actual person.”

The reader can imagine how this all might connect with past debates over COPA.

But it also connects to other areas of psychology, like discussions of “narcissistic personality disorder” and the “milder” (if that’s a good word choice) “schizoid personality” where people just prefer to stay in their own worlds rather than maintain emotional connections to specific others. It’s quite far from the libertarian notion of harmlessness; it’s more about karma. We have a meritocratic, competitive society, and living by its values has “logical consequences” – which could mean, following the example of zoo animals (following after Desmond Morris) that many people lose interest in continuing with their own progeny. Does that tie in to conservative concerns about “demographic winter”?

But if so, this takes us away from focusing just on pornography for its own sake, to going deeper into our value systems, and ponder what makes us important to other people.

That was one of the dichotomies that characterized the COPA trial in Philadelphia in 2006. The government focused so much on the technical definitions of “HTM” and of specific kinds of images. The ACLU, quite correctly, reasoned that expressions are connected and form a continuum. If you’re going to have open individual expression, you’re going to have to become bigger than the risk.

Wetzstein's second column reminds me of a comment about "self-dating" in a book by Katherine Kersten and Mitchell Pearlstein of the Center for the American Experiment in Minneapolis, the book called "Close to Home", reviewed here on March 28, 2006 on my books blog, link.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

What if somebody sends "illegal" pics with a stolen cell phone -- and it's yours?


Yesterday, there was a little incident that reminded me of just how precarious all these legal risks could be. Some time back, my cell phone clip broke, and yesterday I went out on some errands and just put the cell phone on the front seat of the car. I forgot to lock the car (it’s old). I came back, and yes, the cell phone was still on the seat, with a missed call. But I thought, what if someone had stolen it and not simply ran up charges, but also engaged in underage “sexting”. It could have been traceable to my phone. Could I have been prosecuted? I wonder.

A good reason never to leave a cell phone lying around these days.

Monday, April 27, 2009

Norton offers "Online Family" Internet safety package for parents


Parents now have another tool for monitoring their kids’ online activity, called “OnlineFamily.Norton”. ABC Good Morning America presented the product on Monday, April 27. The product allows parents to monitor what their kids do online, not only what websites they visited (maybe even this one), but also what ads were served to them (which could become an increasingly sensitive issue). It allows parents to check their Myspace or Facebook profiles and activity, IM’s, tweats, and similar activity. Most of all, it allows parents to set time limits on computer use for each child. Norton offers a video (in Cinemascope, no less) where a kid has to call his father when he hasn’t finished his math homework in the allowed ten hours per week. The time limit could apply to schoolwork as well as recreation.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Dr. Phil, Lisa Bloom urge moderation in dealing with sexting problem.


Lisa Bloom has an interesting column on "Betty Confidential", “Sexting: Should teens be prosecuted” here. Although she agrees that it is demeaning and should have consequences of an ordinary disciplinary effort in schools and with parents, it should not result in prosecution, which is “police powers” overreaction to say the least. Doing so will dilute scare police resources in going after real, adult abusers. And a long-term label is a punishment that goes way beyond the “crime” committed by a teen with a biologically immature brain in terms of ability to “see around corners” and calculate long term consequences of simple, impulsive actions enabled by technology. She also points out a dangerous trend: “power hungry” local prosecutors. Remember Nifong?

Dr. Phil covered the problem on his April 16 show, link here. He discussed the case of Brittany, who sent pictures of herself and nearly committed suicide later. He then covered the case of Brian, 14, whose activist father was able to protect him from prosecution for forwarding an image.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

ABC GMA holds towm hall on teen sexting issue


ABC News and Good Morning America have an article announcing a “town hall” about “The Truth About Teens Sexting: 'GMA' Holds a Town Hall Meeting to Discuss the Growing Teen Trend”, story by Cole Kasdin and Imayan Ibanga, link here. GMA has a video today about “Logan” who served only a few days in jail but was forced to register as a s.o. and could not go to college because he forwarded an image of a girl in “anger.”

The video seemed itself to come from a townhall style meeting, where parents say they are caught in the middle of something where technology has given kids the ability to do things that kids and parents can’t possibly anticipate the legal consequences of.

On April 16, ABC GMA followed up with an interview with Perry Aftab, who suggested that parents install Google Desktop on their kids' computers to monitor, and that they look up their kids' names and cell phone numbers in search engines.

Wednesday, April 01, 2009

Columnist pans prosecutions of teens for cell phone images


On April Fools Day, 2009, Ruth Marcus has a column on p A21 of the Washington Post, “Keeping kids from one byte too many,” link here. Marcus makes light of the prosecutions in a number of states for teenage cell phone “sexting” and now notes that a federal judge has blocked a teen “topless” cell phone incident in Pennsylvania that could have marked three girls, presumably for life. (I’m not sure which incident). However, she writes, a Florida state appeals court has upheld c.p. charges against a 16 year old girl and her 17 year old boyfriend, maintaining the state interest in “protecting minors.” I fail to see how this is protecting minors.

In fact, it seems that on a state level there are a lot of prosecutors who see political opportunism in going down paths that seem intellectually flaws. On my Internet safety blog, I’ve already covered the problem of prosecutions for c.p. placed on unprotected work computers by viruses, when the prosecutors failed to look at whether the employers (in one case, a school district) had even bothered to properly protect its work computers. That’s something to bear in mind especially today, as supposedly Conflicker activates.

Marcus also goes on to discuss the idea of friending one’s own kids on Facebook or Myspace. Does that “protect” them?

ABC Nightline has a video (2009/04/01) on the sexting issue here. A Pennsylvania DA agreed to drop charges if the kids would go to a five-week class on the dangers of sexting, but apparently the federal judge ruled that they could not be required to go.

The ACLU maintains that child pornography laws are designed to protect minors from other adults, but not to protect minors directly from their own actions. A girl's mother said that her daughter had done nothing wrong and should not have to go to the class, and a federal judge agreed.

Saturday, March 28, 2009

ACLU says no to government mandated filters; ACLU helps teenagers in cell phone cases


The ACLU has a blog post Jan 26, 2009 (on its “Blog of Rights because Freedom can’t blog itself”) named “Internet Filters: Voluntary OK, not government mandate” here. The blog post includes an embedded YouTube video by First Amendment Chris Hansen in which he explains the objection to proposals in some states to “require” filtering in many situations. He says that filtering overprotects (rather like a chess opening strategy) and excludes about 20% of material that is not conceivably harmful to minors.

The ACLU has also been active in the “sexting” cases in helping those teens charged with very serious “offenses” fight back. Wired, in a March 25, 2009 article by Kim Zetter, says that the ACLU is helping three teenage girls fight charges in Pennsylvania. The story is “ACLU sues prosecutor over ‘sexting’ child porn charges” here. The article contains a secondary link to the PDF complaint document. The case concerns Tunkhannock School District in Wyoming County, Pennsylvania. This does not seem to be the same case discussed on this blog in Oct 2008 (updated in January) about Greensburg PA.

Could the Myspace case (reported yesterday here) be a suitable one for the ACLU to act on?

Friday, March 27, 2009

NJ teen arrested for inappropriate Myspace photo of herself


Beth DeFalco, of the Associated Press, reported today, here that a teenage girl in Trenton, NJ was arrested for posting about thirty nude photos of herself on Myspace, and charged with child pornography. Apparently her motive was to be found by her boyfriend. If convicted, she will be forced to register as a sex offender.

This is the first known case where such an arrest was made and prosecution contemplated for a social networking site or blog posting. But around the country there have been several prosecutions for sending nude cell phone photos of minors, a practice now known as “sexting”.

AOL reproduced the story, and the public was surprisingly concerned about this behavior, according to survey results.

Myspace certainly would have removed the inappropriate images when it learned of them. And it should not have been possible for her to have a public account, according to Myspace policies. But Myspace apparently has no way to reliably verify age, an issue well known from the COPA trial covered on this blog in 2006.

Using oneself as the subject of “existential” content does not necessarily protect oneself legally; it could make it worse, according to theories about implicit content.

According to this theory, Justin Berry, well known from New York Times coverage a few years ago, could have been prosecuted. Parents have been told that kids should not have webcams for use on home computers.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Media reports concerns that normally somber kids go wild on the Web under peer pressure


NBC Washington tonight (March 26, 2008), with Colleen Williams reporting, discussed the continued troubling practice of teen exhibitionism, on YouTube as well as Myspace and sometimes Facebook. One YouTube video (I will not embed it here) showing a teen smoking weed had gotten 114000 views. Teens sometimes believe that they make themselves “popular” by exhibiting rebellious behavior publicly. (Remember the episode of Smallville where Clark is exposed to red kryptonite and goes into wildly rebellious behavior out of tension of “never telling”?)

Author and teacher Candice Kelsey (author of “Generation Myspace”, reviewed on my books blog May 25, 2008), discussed the problem, and said that in her classes she has seen teens who are very reserved in class go wild on YouTube or on Myspace.

64% of all teens self-publish on the Internet.

The report was intended to warn parents that they need to watch what their teens post, and get accounts and know their kids’ usernames and passwords.

Employers and colleges often look at profiles and videos, although the ethics of the practice has been questioned by many authorities, and that objection has been discussed on these blogs.

Authorities find the practice of “self-deprecation” on the Internet troubling, as many people view this as indicative of what someone really will do and do not regard the Internet as a separate “parallel universe”.

Also, on Tuesday March 25, Washington DC station WJLA reported that Maryland is considering a law requiring ISP's to meet certain standards in offering Internet filtering. I could not find the legislation on line. Stay tuned!

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Columnist questions effectiveness of video game ratings


Cheryl Wetzstein has an interesting column in the family-centered “Sunday Read” of The Washington Times, Sunday March 22, 2009, “Game warnings need obfuscation”, link here.

The article makes the point that computer game labels tend to attract younger kids who want to see and play games rated for older kids – they want the “knowledge of good and evil” a bit early. She playfully suggests eliminating ratings and using the idea that “verbosity promulgates egregious epigrammitization” as a friend once said to me back in the early 1970s.

What would the same suggest mean for Internet content ratings? What about downloadable games? And, of course, what about movies (with the MPAA system), now with Instant Play from Netflix and other sites?

Monday, March 16, 2009

"You Diligence: Responsible Social Networking" helps parents track by site rather than by computer


A service called “You Diligence: Responsible Social Networking” (link) is available to parents. It sends email alerts to parents when certain objectionable keywords appear on the child’s Myspace or Facebook page. The alerts also supply a context in which the words appear, since words by themselves are often “meaningless.” It’s important that the tracking is by site, and not by specific computer or even device (such as cell phone).

The Washington Times story on March 15, 2009 is by Gabriella Boston and is called “Internet service lets parents eye child’s circle of friends”, link here.

It would be interesting to see if the service extends to other areas, like blogging services, and can connect up with content labels.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Two teens in VA charged in cell phone "sexting" case; serious risks in use of technology


Two students (ages 15 and 18) in Spottsylvania County VA have been charged with asking underage girls to take pictures of themselves, and then of “sexting” the pictures to their friends. They have been charged with possessing and distributing child pornography.

As noted before, this is a case where the law can come down suddenly when technology is used in an asymmetric way.

Already, teens have been convicted of this events and forced to register for years, although usually they do not get jail time. But the registries do not separate them from violent offenders.

The county sheriff warned that parents must learn to become diligent in how their kids use technology.

Police are looking for other teens who participated and may make more arrests, according to local news sources. It is likely that many of those involved in possessing and sending messages are of minor age themselves. Advice: don't do it!

The news story by Ellen Blitz appears in the Fredericksburg Free-Lance Star, here.

Tuesday, March 03, 2009

W3C works on labeling standards for webmasters; how will blogs work?


The Family Online Safety Institute (FOSI), which incorporates the Internet Content Ration Association (ICRA) now links to Contentlabel.org, which says that its purpose is “to create, discuss, formalize and promote new codes of conduct.” It promotes the W3C Semantic Web technology called “Resource Descriptor Framework”.

It also says that it plans to develop standards for labeling blogs, including the “Gossip Girl” mobile kind, games, Creative Commons, and e-commerce.

One issue with ICRA is that, before displaying the ICRA seal, the webmaster is supposed to label every file in a domain (and in all related domains) This may prove burdensome for older sites that were developed manually with all links set up manually. It may be much easier for sites for which content is dynamically loaded from databases or is loaded by asp, or is generated in various ways from XML with style sheets.

I’m not sure how this all fits into Blogger and Wordpress, but here is a reference (“Using XSLT and Microsoft's MSXML to integrate an RDF / RSS news feed into a web site”) on how RDF’s work in Blogger (link).

“Perishable Press” has an article on Wordpress RDF codes, here.

And in Quebec, Frederick Giasson offers “Converting your WordPress and Mediawiki data into RDF on-the-fly” link here.

There will be a lot of work in putting these pieces of technology development together to make a useful voluntary labeling standard for bloggers.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Bill would require ISP's, Wi-Fi users to keep detailed records for possible use by cops later


There is a proposal in Congress called the Internet Safety Act, by U.S. Senator John Cornyn and Representative Lamar Smith (both Texas Republicans), which would require ISP’s to keep detailed records of each subscriber’s access for up to two years, on the theory that the subscriber could later be accused of a crime involving children (as on the recent Dateline sting). Telephone companies keep records for limited times (you can check your long distance and local usage for wireless online) but these are not normally used by police. Some legal observers say that the law would require home Wi-Fi networks to keep track of their own usage. The story, on NetworkWorld, by Stephen Lawson is “Proposed Law Might Make Wi-Fi Users Help Cops”, link here.

The Senate Bill is S. 436 (111th Congress), with the govtrack reference here.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

CA: Ninth Circuit strikes down law restricting sale or rental of violent video games to minors


The Ninth Circuit has struck down a California law that bans the sale or rental of violent video games to minors (under 18) and requires labeling. The AP story is by Samantha Young, here. A three judge panel unanimously upheld an earlier ruling by a District court. The law never took effect.

The text of the Opinion on the Ninth Circuit Website is here (PDF format). The Opinion was by Judge Callahan, and cites the First and Fourteenth Amendments. The case is called “Video Software Dealers Association and Entertainment Software Association v. California" (naming Arnold Schwarzenegger, governor, and Edmund G. Brown, Attorney General for the State of California.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Does old ruling Ginsberg v. New York matter to COPA?


There is a twist in the recently revised “Bloggers’ Legal Guide” published this month by the Electronic Frontier Foundation. In talking about students’ rights, EFF poses a question about a minor student’s posting “adult” materials on his or her own (off school) blog. EFF says that obscenity law is interpreted differently with respect to minors. It appears in context that the law may be taken differently when posted by a minor, as well as when sold to a minor or given away to a minor.

Of course, COPA (the Child Online Protection Act of 1998) was all about this issue on the Internet and the Web, and it has been overturned and the free speech victory has been upheld all the way to the Supreme Court, as covered already. EFF refers to a 1968 case in New York State, Ginsberg v. New York, about the sale of girlie magazines to a teenager. There is a slightly simpler definition of “harmful to minors” than in COPA, specifically: “(1) appeals to the prurient, shameful, or morbid interest of minors, (2) is patently offensive to prevailing standards in the adult community as a whole with respect to what is suitable for minors, and (3) is utterly without redeeming social importance for minors.”

It’s still not clear to me what the relevance of Ginsberg is to the recent COPA litigation and opinions, because Ginsberg occurs in the physical world, but EFF here is still talking primarily about blogging on the Web. The EFF reference is here, and the Findlaw copy of the 1968 Supreme Court Opinion is here.


In fact, the Opinion (see the link from the March 22, 2007 entry on this blog) Judge Reed discusses Ginsberg on p 77, in paragraph 43. Here the judge distinguishes between the physical world and the paradigm of the Web.

My Feb. 14 longer posting on the EFF Legal Guide is on my main blog, here.

Sunday, February 01, 2009

COPA: my own previous self-censorship


Since the plaintiffs have won in the COPA case and prevailed against attempts to appeal by the government, I thought I would make a note about the minor amount of “self-censorship” that I did in the online version of my 1997 “Do Ask Do Tell” book. The Affidavit that I submitted in December 1998, point 19, explains some of the self-censorship. The link is here (follow the additional links at the end of the page to my book). I had been told by one of the EFF attorneys (back in December 1998) that I was the only plaintiff who had self-censored.

I see that I did restore some self-censored items (as the item in Chapter 3, the “fallen male” reference), but a few of the most explicit passages (in Chapters 1 and 2) remain “self-censored” more or less back to “PG-13” language. They can be found by searching for the “++” strings in the Chapter 1 and 2 text.

I have thought about restoring the original text here. For the time being, I’m leaving the censored items as they are. The concerns are practical. There could occur some restructuring of circumstances in my life and strategy, so I would prefer, if for reputational reasons if none other, to leave this in place for the time being. Furthermore, there is at least some incentive to actually buy the book, to see the full original text.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Supreme Court lets COPA ruling stand without review


The ACLU has announced that the Supreme Court has declined to review Judge Reed’s 2007 opinion striking down The Child Online Protection Act of 1998 (COPA) (and the Third Circuit’s concurring opinion last July). Here is the Press Release, dated Jan 21, 2009, “Supreme Court Refuses to Revive Online Censorship Law”, here. The ACLU email calls this “an amazing result.”

The ACLU has a 3-minute YouTube video on COPA "Protecting Children and Free Speech Online", here.

Patricia Neal Warren (Wildcat Press and “The Front Runner” classic lgbt novel) wrote today in an email “And yes, we won't be surprised to see another monstrosity of a new bill show up.” But that can be true in a lot of other areas (maybe something like mandatory insurance).

Lee Tien of Electronic Frontier Foundation has an article, Jan. 21, 2009, "After 10 Years, an Infamous Internet-Censorship Act is Finally Dead," link here.

Friday, January 16, 2009

China, Hong Kong, British Commonwealth all interesting in rating and filtering sites with filter technology


Danny O’Brien of the Electronic Frontier Foundation has a interesting perspective, dated Jan. 14, 2009, “Global Net Censorship in 2009: For the Children, For the Rightsholders, link here.

On this COPA blog, we already considered the Internet Safety Technical Task Report, which seems to indicate that children are safer than we thought. Everyone knows that China has strict Internet censorship, mostly to quash political dissent, but to “protect children” with respect to their Confucian values. Less known is the fact that Hong Kong is implementing a somewhat “milder” censorship practice, restricting bandwidth and imposing a “three strikes rule” for offenders, similar to what the RIAA wants ISP’s to do now regarding copyright infringement. The same is coming true in Britain and Australia, which are considering ratings systems. But we’ve already noted the ICRA (centered in London) is already making strides getting the net publishing and browsing community to adopt a filtering system, that would probably be more effective than the “adult ID” concepts that had been proposed for COPA. I would expect to find the same trend in socially conservative countries, like Singapore and Malaysia.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Internet Safety Technical Task Force finds Internet not dangerous for minors, but questions age verification attempts


The Internet Safety Technical Task Force has issued a final report (Tuesday Jan 13) “Enhancing Child Safety and Online Technologies: Final Report of the Internet Safety Technical Task Force to the Multi-State Working Group on Social Networking of State Attorneys General of the United States” with the link here on the Harvard Law School site. The report is almost 300 pages long, like a book. The Task Force found that, as a whole, cyberbullying among teens was a far more serious threat that sexual predators (as in the notorious NBC Dateline series). Unlike many other sources, it feels that most Internet users in the US use it in good faith. Apparently it does not think most general content is harmful to minors. Furthermore (relative to what was already litigated in COPA) it found that it would be hard for companies to verify the ages of minors because they usually lack driver’s licenses (since states are raising ages) and their own insurance. Apparently the unsuitability of using credit cards for this purpose is a given now, as it was analyzed in the COPA trial in 2006.

The New York Times has a story on the report on p A14 on Wednesday Jan. 14, by Brad Stone, here.

Monday, January 05, 2009

Parents, schools should be wary of proxy servers; however COPA had addressed the issue


One problem with using filters could be the idea that minors could visit proxy servers, which then would deliver material to them that ordinarily be filtered. Mixx this morning (Jan 5) is offering a story by “Punch Through” that explains how this works. I note that McAfee has not rated the site yet, and I wonder what the policy toward a proxy service from a safety rating service like McAfee Site Advisor or Web of Trust should be, since the service seems to be designed to get around parental or school controls.

The descriptive page for Punch Through is here.

A home user (such as a minor) who uses this site might risk visiting a harmful site, with spyware, in the attempt to see “prohibited” content. I don’t know how anti-virus software would behave when sites are visited this way.

The COPA opinion, mentioned below, discussed the Proxy server issue, and PunchThrough's claims may not be completely correct. Nevertheless, public school administrators and information technology departments should monitor their systems (such as Internet caches) and make sure that students do not use unauthorized proxy servers. Parents should do likewise. In this environment, there is no substitute for parents who are Internet-educated themselves and tuned in to what their teenagers want to do online. Parents and schools should also use memory content-based as well as blacklist or whitelist filters, as noted below.

Furthermore, proxy server access would not get around voluntary content label filtering, as discussed before on this blog.

In the March 22, 2007 COPA Opinion (link is available on the entry for that date on this blog) and ruling by Judge Reed, Point 108 on p 35 maintains that it is difficult for minors to circumvent filters with proxy servers and cites testimony at the 2006 trial in Philadelphia. Point 109 points out that accessing a Proxy server will not avoid the effect of a filter that analyzes the content of a page once delivered to computer memory, although it might avoid blacklist or whitelist technologies.

Point 183, on p 58, discusses geolocation of access, including proxy server access, through companies like Quova, with which I once had a phone discussion. The point goes on to discuss AOL access also, with behaves like proxy access in some ways.