Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Arrest of Greaves stimulates comparison to COPA issues; CNN relentless in covering it

On Dec. 20, the media started reporting on the arrest of Phillip Greaves II for his infamous Kindle book, rather a “tract”, on Amazon.


The Polk County, FL sherrif’s department apparently set up a “sting” to buy the book and then sent deputies to Colorado to arrest him for obscenity. I’m not sure how the legal extradition worked, but I thought this was harder and required US Marshalls. It’s disturbing that one could be arrested from another state by state authorities without being in the state. The same situation would occur with charges for alleged crimes committed through the Internet.

The Sheriff was clever in calling the tract a “Manifesto”, a word that has taken on a negative connotation, to be sure. (Some people call my first book “The Manifesto”). But it is more like a tract, according to Anderson Cooper.

Sanjay Gupta’s report Tuesday follows:


There would be a question as to whether the lack of images is relevant. But apparently text alone can be obscene (not the case with c.p. in the United States, although the case overseas generally).

I usually don’t put two videos from the same place in one posting, but I think visitors might want to hear reporter’s questions of Greaves. He denies acting on “fantasies” but says fantasy is important, and says that what he describes typically happens in many families. He says he is too poor to make bail.



CNN has really taken this issue as far as possible, with Sanjay Gupta joining Anderson Cooper in the “professional outrage” (as opposed to “recreational outrage”).

Remember, COPA was about the concept of “obscene with respect to minors”. In the Greaves case, the charge is “simple” obscenity, however. The charge might not have been possible under earlier rulings that had been made against COPA (back in 2002).

As a purely legal matter, it sounds as if the State of Florida will have to overcome tremendous First Amendment hurdles to obtain and sustain a conviction.

Friday, December 03, 2010

FOSI discontinues offering ICRA content labeling engine

The Family Online Safety Institute (FOSI) is telling visitors to its old ICRA (website url) site  that the FOSI Board of Directors has discontinued offering the content labeling engine, which has been discussed on this blog several times.  It says "Thank you for inquiring about ICRA".

The site says “While all current labels will continue to work with Internet content filters, the ICRA label generator, ICRA tools and Webmaster support will no longer be available.”

It’s not clear why this action was taken, as it would appear that a voluntary labeling system could be useful in addressing many troubling areas of potential Internet regulation, including protection of minors from accidental exposure to inappropriate content (all the COPA strikedowns notwithstanding), and possibly now in regulating tracking by advertisers.

I am not sure when this took place; until recently, ICRA redirected visitors to FOSI.  The ICRA product had been developed in the UK around 2003-2004, while COPA was in litigation in the US.

Thursday, December 02, 2010

"Do Not Track" controversy on web reminds one of the debates over filters and labels to protect minors

There is a controversy over “do not track” proposals, both as legislation and as a facility that users should invoke from browsers (they already can to some extent, especially with IE8).

Critics of the idea say that it would destroy the business model of the Internet, the ability of advertisers to show visitors ads that might actually lead to sales of products or services, pay people’s salaries, and help the economy. Makes sense.

More specifically, they say it would lead to “two Webs”: one with little free content and little advertising and little privacy risk (no need to log on or give personal information), the other where visitors accept some “risk”.

All of this reminds me of the debate on Internet filters for minors as was stimulated by COPA. The use of content labels, as already described here (and advocated by the ICRA, etc) generally promotes the idea of bifurcation of websites, with some intended to be seen by all visitors, and some only by adults or older minors. That’s the way it’s been with movies (and the rating systems) for years.

But to work, the whole web service industry along with advertising sponsors would have to have confidence in a world of relatively well educated or mature adults who can surf safely (and live safely) while accepting more “risk” on the web because they “know what they’re doing.” In practice, that ought to work. But it sounds like a tough sell.

It does sound as though the ICRA techniques for labeling content with metatags and using semantic web tools could be used to distinguish websites that allow advertisers to track, and that visitors could be told when loading a website whether tracking is permitted by their browser according to tags (but see Friday's post).

Wednesday, November 03, 2010

Supreme Court hears arguments on CA ban on "HTM" violent video games

The Supreme Court on Tuesday (ironically, midterm Election Day) heard the arguments in Schwarzenegger v. Entertainment Merchants Association, over a California law prohibiting the sale of violent video games to minors, following the notion of the “harmful to minors” construct well known from COPA. The plaintiff is also known by several acronyms, such as EMA, ECA, ESA.

A site called “Joystiq” has a report on the arguments by Christopher Grant, with a Scribd PDF of the oral arguments, here.  AOL published this to its subscribers this morning.

Reportedly Alito ribbed Scalia on what James Madison would have thought of video games.

The Washington Post has an article today by Robert Barnes, “High Court weighs California effort to ban sale of violent video games to minors”, (website url) here.

Many observers fear the effect of this case on other areas of entertainment, especially movies; the R-rating could become stricter as to violence. I recall being prohibited from seeing violent movies as a kid in the 50s; around 1952 or so there was a Saturday morning show “Movies for kids” that showed segments of “The Clutching Hand” that was disturbing enough then!

Monday, November 01, 2010

Some sites with teen-OK text or forums may display questionable images in ads; would this have been a COPA issue?

I’ve discovered at least one website, “Just us boys” which, while offering valuable content about LGBT issues (including discussion forums) which certainly could have social and political value for older minors, displays some pornographic ads. I’m not sure what would have happened in COPA with sites whose own content did not fall within the HTM definitions but whose ads did. But the site says you can suppress the ads by supporting the site. That certainly is objectionable, at least in a practical sense.

The particular file was a forum about the Tyler Clementi tragedy, which I discussed on my GLBT blog on Oct. 27, 2010 (the link is there).

The site has an “excellent” reputation with Mozilla’s Web of Trust, which is more concerned perhaps with malware than content. Likewise, McCafee site advisor gave it a green light. Neither McAfee, Webroot/Sophos/Spysweeper, nor Kaspersky gave me any warnings.

Visitors to websites that discuss sexual issues may, however, feel concerned about finding unwanted images or ads. Parents who would not object to the content might object to their teen kids finding the images. In some cases with some sites, a computer user could not know if a subject in such an image was under 18 and possibly exposing the user to potential legal risks if the cached image were later found on the hard drive.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Massachusetts passes a COPA-like law, and the law is immediately challenged in federal court

From Some approaches to filtering or labeling Internet content

Well, COPA-like state laws are still in the news, particularly now in liberal Massachusetts, according to an AP story by legal affairs writer Denise Lavoie, link here

The law was motivated by an incident where someone sent an explicit message to a 13 year old girl. But plaintiffs, in a federal suit, say that the law is worded way too broadly, much like COPA, to include posting of all “harmful to minors” materials on the Internet. Plaintiffs say that this could even apply to discussions of contraception, abortion or gay sex.

The Commonwealth disagrees, saying that the law applies only to messages sent to specific people known or reasonably believed to be minors.

I've never learend the final disposition of similar laws in Virginia and New Mexico, which, as far as I know, have never been enforced.  (Virginia's was before te Virginia Supreme Court).

But it’s likely that the case will refer to the 2007 COPA decision in Philadelphia.

The story was run today on p A5 of the Washington Times.

Picture:  no, not Boston; downtown Philly, from the train, where the COPA trial was held in 2006. Sorry about the tilt.

Wednesday, October 06, 2010

Florida girl bullied after one cell phone image sent; tragic ending

Dr. Phil appeared on AC360 tonight (Oct 6), talking about the dangers of cyberbullying, partly because they don’t look the victim in the eye. This is a video everyone should see. The basic link is here.

Dr. Phil’s appearance came after Anderson described a case in Florida where a 13 year old girl sent an inappropriate image of herself after prodding from a boyfriend, and it was sent to six schools. Eventually, after the bullying, which the school system dropped the ball on, she took her own life. Later people even wrote bad things on her family’s memorial Myspace page.

Saturday, September 04, 2010

Craigslist "self-censors"

Craigslist has “self-censored” and removed its “adult services” link from its “Services” section, replacing it with a graphic of white letters on black, reading “censored”. The ABC News story by Kevin Dolak is here and was a lead story for Google account members to see when signing on Saturday afternoon.

Pressure and jawboning from officials of 17 states contributed to Craigslist’s decision. Connecticut was the leading state.

The states’ attorneys general had written that women and children might be victimized by the ads.

Yet Jim Buckmaster had written in Craiglist’s blog Aug 18 that “Manual Screening Matters”, link here.  But CNN says it tried to "test" the manual screening and Craigslist accepted the add that common sense said was HTM and that violated Craigslist's guidelines.

Coincidentally, in the early briefings in the whole COPA process, I recall that EFF and the ACLU made much of the prospect that plaintiffs would have to self-censor while trying to guess what content was would be legally acceptable.

David A. Fahrenthold has an article in the Washington Post, front page Sunday morning Sept. 5, "Craigslist stops offering links to 'adult services' ads", link here, and the article says "Legal experts say it is difficult for state prosecutors to charge Craigslist for sexual ads, because of a federal law that limits the liability of Web sites for content posted there by others."  That refers to Section 230 of the 1996 Telecommunications Act, an essential protection against downstream liability that makes it possible for ISP's to let people publish on the Internet without third party review (including this blog).

Thursday, August 19, 2010

OpenDNS may enhance parents' ability to filter websites for kids

The following video from PC Magazine shows how parents could use OpenDNS on their router, and enter blacklisted and whitelisted sites that minors are allowed to see. This is explained at about 4:30 into the video (not embeddable). The flm demonstrrates the settings with Netgear.

There are ways to provide protection from other minors’ hazards as well, such as phishing. Typo errors, which can lead to porn, are also prevented.

Check David Burt's "Review: OpenDNS Adult Site Blocking" at Get Parental Controls here. He reports a healthful underblocking rate of 96% on a test apparently performed in 2007.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

"Mousemail" and "Collyou" will help parents monitor emails, texts, cell phone use

A product called Mousemail has been presented on CNN as “family safety for email and texting”, with the main link here. The service prevents inappropriate messages from reaching a child and is said to help stop cyberbullying.

There is a similar service for tweens and teens called “coolyou”, link .

These products come from a company called Fuzebox, link.

Christie Dedman has a story from the Birmingham News, “MouseMail.com & CoolYou.com Provide Parents Options on Monitoring Child's Text Messaging”, link here .

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Ladies' Home Journal and Parry Aftab look for "lowest common denominator" for kids' safety on Internet

Ladies’ Home Journal has an important article by Mika Brzezinski, on p 82 of the “September issue” (2010), titled “Internet Intervention”, where the author, cohost of MSNBC’s “Morning Joe”, must intervene to control her daughers’ online use. Internet security consultant Parry Aftab, of “WiredSafety” meets with the family.

The LHJ has the following video of the meeting; some versions of it require subscription:



Many of the recommendations sound trite: keep the “family computer” in a public area, no closed doors, etc. Note how Parry Aftab plays the outside professional, telling the family and kids what to do.

I generally think parents can adjust their rules according to the maturity of their kids. But remember the case of the New Jersey principal who wanted all parents in his middle school to ban Facebook and other social networking sites at home? The thinking is collective, even quasi-Maoist: if some kids are restricted, but see that their better-off friends aren’t, their own parents will have a harder time enforcing these kinds of “rules.”

Here’s a “TVNewser” account of the story, link.

I could not find a LHJ link to the text of the story yet. But here is a story from April 2005 that is provocative, by Stephanie Emily Pfeffer, “"Are Online Blogs a Good Idea for My Kids?": Online diaries -- aka blogs -- can be fun and innocent, or they can lead to trouble. Here's what parents need to know”, link here.

Michelle Obama says she doesn't let her daughters use electronic media "at home" at all during the week. What about homework?

Monday, August 02, 2010

Internet filtering explained in "baby language"

Here is a little high-level page on a site called “Hub Pages” by “Jlcalzone”, “The Benefits of Internet Filtering”, link here.  Most of the points made here are simple and sound like “common sense”. But one point that is particularly interesting is the giving the parent the ability to block social networking sites altogether. Another is monitoring web-based email sites. Still another is blocking certain games and newbie apps. And still another is that many families have several computers, including one for each teen kid, and one for each spouse; so different levels of access are appropriate on different machines (and mobile devices). The idea that you place a single “family computer” in one public area of the home seems passé.

Keep in mind that ISP’s generally allow multiple screenname logons with different levels of access for each screenname. A few years ago, I experimented with AOL’s, but the “young teen” setting did not block any of my websites, subject of the COPA litigation.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

What about "R" movie trailers embedded in blog postings?

I’ve noticed that a few smaller motion picture distributors place on YouTube trailers that (even as trailers) have been rated “R” and presumably contain material that might have met the definition of HTM had COPA been upheld. In one case (with Screen Media Films) an entire R rated film was placed on YouTube, but could only be viewed by those having YouTube accounts and logging on, which was supposed to provide evidence of being over 18.

In these cases, embed code was offered. Therefore, the interesting question arises that, had COPA been upheld or should some other form of COPA be passed in the future and meet constitutional challenges, could a blogger be violating COPA when using the embed code on a “commercial” blog (one with any paid advertising)?

Generally, when embed code is used, the first image of the video appears, and generally, as a practical matter, the image is not likely itself to contain HTM (“harmful to minors”) aspects. It’s only if the video is played from the embed that such images would later appear on the visitor’s computer, embedded within the blog posting as still visible. I don’t know if opinions were ever offered as to whether this would have violated COPA or any TOS provisions.

As a precautionary matter, I don’t embed trailers that themselves are rated R (it’s OK to embed a trailer for an R movie, but the trailer should not contain R images). Larger motion picture companies usually provide trailers that themselves are approved for all audiences. All distributors ought to do the same.

It would be interesting to wonder if ICRA content labeling could be placed in embeddable trailers.

Friday, July 23, 2010

McAfee automatically updates (my computer, at least) with Parental Controls, addressing COPA-like issues

Last night, on an older laptop with McAfee, the automated update loaded an apparently new McAfee Parental Controls feature. Afterward, when I went to the Security Center, it told me that I had not activated the Controls.

As I am the only person using the computer I don’t need them, but I found it interesting that it loaded. It appeared to give the parent the ability to supply keywords that would cause a webpage to be rejected.

Here’s a write-up at “Internet Filter Review”.

McAfee’s own "Security Insights Blog has a detailed discussion of its product here  ("“Parental Controls” – When Parents Don’t Want to Control Their Kids and Kids Don’t Want to Be Controlled") and a discussion of the evolution of filtering for HTM materials since 2000, particularly during the period of the COPA trials.

I remember AOL’s parental controls a few years ago, and I experimented with setting up a “young tween” screen name, and found it was not particularly effective.

I have to add that kids vary enormously in maturity. When I was substitute teaching, on one assignment I got a “blue screen” error and an eleven year old sixth grader knew how to get the machine back up with windows commands. (He’d be entering college by now, or be working for Facebook or Google.) Some kids catch on very quickly to how everything works.

Again, we see that private business can do more to protect minors than government -- the libertarain position.

Monday, July 19, 2010

FTC protects privacy of minor consumers in bankruptcy of "gay youth" magazine

Although the relevance to censorship and minors is perhaps tangential here, I wanted to pass on a news story about the FTC prohibiting the former publishers of a “gay youth” magazine called “XY” to sell or disseminate the personal information of subscribers, partly because it could compromise the lives of subscribers currently or because of past interests.

The magazine and website were quite glossy and impressive. The concept or subject matter might seem morally inappropriate to some people, but the publication did not actually contain material that met the usual legal standards for sexual explicitness or even HTM as under the now defunct COPA law.

The EFF story by Marcia Hoffman is “FTC: Don’t sell or use consumer information on gay youth”, link here.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Second Circuit rules against FCC broadcast indency rules, compare to CDA and COPA

The Second Circuit Court of Appeals has overturned the “indecency” rules at the FCC against commercial broadcasters, saying they are too vague, as reported today by Cecilia Kang in the Washington Post, link (web url) here. The rules had imposed considerable fines for certain words and acts appearin on broadcast television (Justin Timberlake and Janet Jackson's "wardrobe malfunction" in the 2004 Super Bowl halftime provided controversy.)

The ruling pointed out the arbitrary nature of what is considered indecent language, and that English tends to invent new metaphors almost daily to deal with sensitive sexual issues.

Major network and UHF broadcasters are subject to rules that don’t apply to other cable channels or to Web TV or Internet streams, adding further to inconsistency.

The Broadcasting Law blog has an article here. 

What’s interesting is that some of the points were argued for regular Internet speakers in both the Communications Decency Act (1997) and COPA litigation.

Here is the text of the Opinion Fox v. FCC
The earlier Petition for Review was here.

The Volokh Conpiracy site has this analysis.

Friday, July 09, 2010

Facebook, PTA form partnership to protect kids online when using site

Doug Gross has an article today on CNN, “Are your kids safe online? Facebook, PTA want to make sure”, link here. Embedded in the article is a link to a story about how young is too young for social networking sites, which say you must be 13 but have no way to prove it (as we know from the COPA trial).

Facebook and the Parent-Teacher Association developed a partnership to develop standards for proper Facebook use by minors.

Thursday, July 08, 2010

Australian group says filters don't work, in contradiction to US COPA trial

A group in Australia called the “Safer Internet Group” (link) has been lobbying for more systematic control of potentially HTM materials on the web, with a five-pronged approach, and it claims (in opposition to findings in the US COPA trial) that Internet filters really don’t protect minors, in a story by Ari Sharp in an Australian site called “the Age” here.

One of the prongs called for "comprehensive policing of illegal materials on the Internet".  But I'm not sure what's "illegal" in Australia compare to the U.S. 

Thursday, July 01, 2010

Do Blogger and Wordpress widgets for ICRA content rating exist yet?

I have noticed recently that some corporate sites, such as television station WJLA in Washington DC, are stating that they adhere to the ICRA content rating system. (Reminder, the Internet Content Rating Association is now part of the Family Online Safety Institute).

Since I have used Blogger as a repository of most of my new content (especially media reviews) for the past four years, I have wondered whether Blogger and Wordpress have widgets for installing ICRA labels, properly coded and linked, into individual blog posts. ICRA requires that every individual file or posting be labeled before a site can be considered ICRA-certified.

So far, I can’t find any evidence that one can. Here is a discussion from Feb. 2007 on Wordpress about the issue (link).

Blogger seems to have widgets for rating things, but not related to ICRA (link), for example, this link.

Perhaps it would be more logical that a blog be required to have only one rating set in the headers; parents could reasonably expect that all postings in a particular blog remain within certain constraints as to suitability.

Both Wordpress and Blogger allows developers to submit widgets but widgets must work and pass quality assurance standards to remain available.

One can imagine the same question about Myspace blog posts or even Facebook entries and tweets.

The question of rating widgets for blog posts  could become important in the future. Wordpress and Blogger are both very good at labeling and correlating huge volumes of archtypical posts (like movie or book reviews). Even though COPA was struck down in 2007 and the ruling has held, market pressures for rating systems for blogs could grow in the future.

If anyone has news on this matter, please comment.

Sunday, June 27, 2010

ICANN will set up adult-only TLD

The Internet Corporation for Assigned Numbers and Names, ICANN, has agreed to create a new TLD suffix, “xxx”, for “adult entertainment Web sites” (and that’s a euphemism), according to a story Saturday June 26 in the Business Day section of the New York Times, by Miguel Helft, “For X-rated, a domain of their own”, link here.

The religious right fears that the measure will make Internet pornography more acceptable, whereas legitimate web operators fear that it could lead to more censorship and push legitimate but adult-leading content into the XXX category.

Proponents of the measure believe that the measure will, in practice, make it easier to keep commercial pornography away from minors, an original aim of COPA.

Friday, June 11, 2010

Facebook's approach to protecting minors: limit the access of search engines

Facebook does have a stance on protecting minors, as it says on its Privacy Control page that it will not allow search engines to index the information of minors until their 18th birthday, even if they’ve deliberately chosen “everyone” options. However Facebook says that “name, profile picture, gender and networks” can be indexed (the no-search “does not apply” to these three items) so their existence (by name) is available search engines. It’s conceivable that such exceptions could present issues for some families.

It’s an interesting concept in the “protection” of minors on the Internet – trying to limit what people can find out about them, as opposed to limiting what minors can view. I don’t recall that this view of things came up during the COPA trial.

In the early days of the Web, people used meta tags with keywords to get their pages indexed, but quickly that became rather unnecessary.

Coordinated post: BillBoushka blog, June 5.

Friday, June 04, 2010

An argument against filters? Just that times change?

Here is an interesting blog entry by Ben Black of “Systems Xpert” on “Ben Eficium” from May 12, 2010, “Why I am against the Internet filter”, link here.

The piece is not organized exactly as a first college freshman English theme. But he does list some points, and argue them. Filters affect Internet performance, he says. True, but so do many things (like P2P). But his main point seems to be that proxies and tunneling services bypass filters so easily that they are ineffective. Governments will censor anyway, he says, and governments are behind the times. A libertarian position; not quite, because filters are supposed to put some controls in private hands.

There was a lot of testimony at the COPA trial in Philadelphia about filters in the fall of 2006 (I was there in person for one day of it). It’s probably becoming less relevant with time.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Supreme Court says that federal prison system can hold dangerous people after sentence is completed

I’ve put some of the materials about “disturbing behavior” on this blog (sometimes to isolate it). Fred Barnes has a major story on p A6 of The Washington Post to the effect that the government can detail certain s.o.’s even after their prison terms have been completed, with link here.


“"The federal government is the custodian of its prisoners," Justice Stephen G. Breyer wrote for the majority. "As federal custodian, it has the constitutional power to act in order to protect nearby (and other) communities from the danger federal prisoners may pose”.

Breyer found justification for the government’s powers with indirect arguments, and confounded libertarian notions that the federal government should stay within powers explicitly stated in the Constitution.

The case is “United States v. Comstock” and the text of the Opinion is on this PDF here.

Of course, many people see this as a "double jeopardy" issue, of punishing a person more than once for the same offense.

Note: The URL for the Supreme Court has changed, and the “us” at the end of the domain name was removed. Other links to opinions on these blogs may take you to the new home page for the Supreme Court. In time, I’ll try to find them and supply updated URL’s. But the new site is pretty easy to navigate.

Thursday, May 06, 2010

Some companies "promote" safer cell phone service for minors

I followed up on the visitor’s comment yesterday, and here is the link to the blog on cell phone safety for kids, here.  Note the postings on April 30 and April 2. He mentions a cell phone service for kids here called Kajeet, link.  It says you can decide when the phone can and can’t be used.

It seems as though you would want a phone without a camera.

It seems that my 8800 Blackberry has no camera (and I have some months yet until I can update for reasonable price). Reiters camera phone report writes “RIM says no camera in BlackBerry 8800 is a feature for corporations”. I suspect it would be a good feature for parents. Does President Obama’s Blackberry have a camera, or did the Secret Service opt out on the camera?  (RIN stands for "Research in Motion").

Monday, May 03, 2010

MD county considers how to regulate teen cell phone, Internet behavior even off campus

While politicians reconsider the appropriate penalties for “sexting” among teens, police and administrators keep investigating, as in a case in a Montgomery County, MD middle school where supposedly some students tried to “charge” to let others see “illegal” images.

There was a major story Friday April 16 in the Washington Post by Michael Birnbaum, link here .

Administrators ponder the fact that most activity took place off campus but certain has an effect on school grounds. They are starting to hear suggestions, as by a New Jersey principal Kenneth Orsini (my “BillBoushka” blog, April 29) that middle school kids are too young to be allowed to have social networking sites or own cell phones on their own at all.

Parents do have control of what happens physically in their homes; web publishers and game manufacturers, as we know from COPA, do not. But it seems as though parents don’t have time to take control.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

California video game case mirrors COPA, to some extent (what about state HTM laws?)

The Supreme Court, in considering a ruling from the Ninth Circuit to overturn a California law that prohibits the sale or rental of violent video games to minors, is bringing back some of the concepts familiar from the COPA trial. That is, whether the content of the games has legitimate social or scientific value with respect to minors. It's the same formulation of the "harmful to minors" concept.


The case is enriched by the economic importance of video games, which has grown in relation to movies (which also have a partially successful rating system), with a typical story in the Norwalk Reflector here.  The video game business has become an increasingly visible portion of movie studio business financially.

The case goes before the Supremes at a time when movie studios are facing criticism because it is so easy for minors to see R-rated movies online or see unrated versions of trailers, often embedded in blogs. That observation could recall some of the questions that came up with COPA.

But another component of the video game case is whether the First Amendment allows exceptions for extreme violence in a manner similar to obscenity. The case is Schwarzenegger vs. Video Software Dealers Association.

There has been little written in recent years about state clones of COPA (such as that in Virginia) which would probably become unconstitutional according to the same rationale as was used for COPA.

Friday, April 23, 2010

MPAA cogitates over movie trailers; should users be screened for age to view them?

The Business Day section of the New York Times today Friday April 23 has an article about Marilyn Gordon, the MPAA (Motion Picture Association of America) advertising standards guru. The story by Brooks Barnes is titled “Deciding what is suitable in movie ads”, link (web url) here.


While some of the material would apply to bricks and mortar issues like billboards, her biggest issues is regulation of the content of trailers for R-rated (and NC-17) movies.

Many trailers can be viewed on multiple websites, and are often embedded in blogs, including mine. Should trailers with “R” content require adult verification? (The Times article mentions the idea.) That would mean that blogs embedding them would require the verification unless they were blocked automatically within the blog by some kind of labeling or metatag process. That issue has already been visited with the COPA trial.

A related issue is the ease with which kids could play R-rated movies over the Internet, even when paying for them legally by subscription, at free sites, or by P2P.

Thursday, April 01, 2010

Courts, legislators look at "cell phone" problems and teens, may moderate the law

A federal appeals court has ruled that prosecutors in Pennsylvania cannot require minors who took “illegal pictures” of themselves on cell phones to write essays or engage in “compulsory speech” to avoid felony prosecution, according to a story March 17 in the Huffington Post, here here.

Kyra Phillips on CNN interviews a 20 year old, Phillip, in Florida, who has been labeled for life as a “sext offender” for, in a fit of anger, transferring an inappropriate picture of a 16 year old girl friend who had broken up with him.

Kyra also talks about efforts to change the laws, so that these will not be prosecuted as felonies and people will not be registered as s.o.’s. She talked to a Connecticut legislator.

Friday, March 05, 2010

Filtering, corruption of sites by hackers an issue in Australia


In Australia, there is a fight going on now over a “blacklist” of websites that contain c.p. or certain other “objectionable” material. There was a case of a dentist in Queensland whose site was overlaid with c.p. by Russian hackers and who was blacklisted (in some countries he could have been prosecuted unless he showed that he was hacked, and then there remains a question, how much responsibility does a webmaster or its ISP have for the security of his own site?) The idea that something like this can happen can be a serious issue for all webmasters.

The story by Stephen Johnson appears on Newscom in Australia, (link url) here.

Apparently it’s against the law in Australia to leak the “black list” in advance.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Chatroulette raises concerns for parents -- if their kids have webcams!


On Tuesday morning, ABC Good Morning America covered the new website “Chatroulette”, as written up by Brain Braiker here. The website allows someone with a webcam to be connected to random strangers for chat. The site is here.

It goes with saying that this sounds like “Russian Roulette” beyond speed dating (the kind in the movie “The Deer Hunter” maybe). But parents would be particularly concerned if minor kids did it, especially in the privacy of their rooms (if each kid has his or her own computer for homework). Just think about the recent Dateline series with Chris Hansen.

I suppose a parent could just block the site with a filter.

Kurt Eichenwald, a reporter with the New York Times, has argued that there is no legitimate reason for a kid to have a webcam at all, at least in his room (although many laptops come with them, as does mine – sorry, it’s not on right now, so you can’t see me!) His news story from Dec. 19, 2005 about Justin Berry is still worth studying, link here.

Monday, February 08, 2010

Can government control the way some employees self-publish? Where CIA and previous COPA trial make dots to connect!


This posting may be a little strange: what could a CIA Publications Review Board possibly have to do with COPA? If anything, this argument folds on itself, showing how everything connects to everything else, and how difficult it is to make rules to protect public interests narrowly enough.

Remember that in 2004, the Supreme Court, in its most recent ruling on COPA (before the 2006 trial in Philadelphia) had written (Cornell law link here):
“When plaintiffs challenge a content-based speech restriction, the Government has the burden to prove that the proposed alternatives will not be as effective as the challenged statute.”

Judge Reed echoed that in paragraph 46 of his COPA ruling (see March 22, 2007 on this blog).

What seems less clear is whether government would run into constitutional issues if it restricted a class of people (for example employees of a particular agency) from using some specific form of self-publication at all, across the board, as an additional layer of security or protection of confidentiality or of classified materials. The “free entry” model for Internet self-publishing and blogging could be the most vulnerable, not for the content it publishes, but for the unsupervised and unbounded nature of the risk of the method of distribution. On its face, this does not sound like a “content-based” restriction because no particular content would be removed; instead no content at all could be self-published without supervision on the web. Perhaps a rule like this would have specific fine points: material could be published if it had pre-approval, if it was limited to a private friends’ list and not available to robots (as if government could count on Facebook or social media companies to help make confidentiality policy indirectly), or if the writer had been able to procure media perils insurance, or some combination of these. Or possibly the writer would pass a test showing understanding of confidentiality or have all of his writing debriefed in one session.

There is something like this in existence now, the CIA Publications Review Board. The CIA discusses how it works at this link. The piece is called “Reviewing the Work of CIA Authors: Secrets, Free Speech, and Fig Leaves”, by John Hollister Hedley. He opens in a naïve tone, “Business is brisk, as a growing number of former CIA employees seek to become published authors”.

The focus of the article is on books and articles published in a conventional manner through major publishers, not self-publishing. However, at first, the implication would be that a CIA employee or even former employee could not publish anything at all, not even on a personal blog, without preapproval of every posting, an impractical burden. However, in the middle of the article, Hedley writes:

“CIA regulations explain that the review requirement applies to "all writings and scripts or outlines of oral presentations intended for nonofficial publication, including works of fiction, which contain any mention of the CIA, intelligence data or intelligence activities, or material on any subject about which the author has had access to classified information in the course of his or her employment.”

The implication is that a blog posting that is totally unrelated to the CIA employee’s work would not require review. As a matter of epistemology, however, it would be hard for an employee to know for sure that there is no possible connection to his work, given the possibility of steganography, and the pervasive meaning of “connect the dots”. Presumably other security and defense related agencies (NSA, military service branches, etc) would have similar rules, and they could apply in civilian non-defense agencies where confidentiality is an unusually sensitive matter (as with Census).

If an agency told “individual contributor” employees that they could not post at all, that could cripple their speech opportunities during employment and later in life. Courts might find that this amounted to an eventual implicit content-based restriction on free speech, even though it starts out as a restriction on distribution (use of free entry). Agencies could try other means, such as debriefing employees or interviewing them to make sure they understand confidentiality requirements and oaths and possible penalties in depth.

When COPA was tried, social media were relatively new, and there has been little said as to whether it could have been applied to Myspace or Facebook. But social media place some emphasis on meeting people for networking purposes, and “publishing” within a somewhat private list, with privacy standards in flux and determined by the companies, not government. It’s possible to disclose confidential information within this environment, and it’s possible to pass on HTM material also, even though that environment was not a primary concern of COPA. Government employees haven’t, as far as I know, been asked to submit their personal emails or chats for review (what about tweets?), so there seems to be some level of common sense in prospective review of anything an employee in a sensitive position could “publish”.


Update: Feb. 17, 2010

The USDA (Department of Agriculture) has a similar page, called baldly "Pre-Publication Review" here. See the text in red on the first enclosed link (about indirect targeting). But again, logically, the pre-pub review requirement exists for "any material intended for public release that might be based in any way on information you learned through your access to classified information." Note that the USDA policy has much more discussion about the "dangers" of the Internet per-se from search and aggregation than does the CIA page. The sublink below says this about aggregation:

"DoD guidelines also require that judgments about the sensitivity of information take into account the potential consequences of "aggregation." The term "sensitive by aggregation" refers to the fact that information on one site may seem unimportant, but when combined with information from other web sites it may form a larger and more complete picture that was neither intended nor desired. In other words, the combination of information from multiple web sites may amount to more than the sum of its parts. Similarly, the compilation of a large amount of information together on one site may increase the sensitivity of that information and make it more likely that site will be accessed by those seeking information that can be used against us."

Many other federal government agencies, including NASA, refer to this DoD-related page or a similarly worded page.

The National Security Agency (NSA/CSS) has a similar page here. The policy includes Internet postings. But it also says "Publications about gardening, cooking, sports, crafts, etc. do not need to undergo pre-publication review if the only association with the NSA/CSS is the author's current or former affiliation with the Agency: Reminder: Pre-publication review is a lifetime responsibility. Your responsibility does not end when you end your association with NSA/CSS." The potential problem with the "gardening" clause is the "slippery slope": in the public policy world, things are more connected than we realize!

However, a government agency that designs a pre-pub policy carelessly could (unintentionally, perhaps) lock out employees or contractors, even former and departed, from ever having their own Facebook pages, even with privacy settings.

Wednesday, February 03, 2010

Can possessors of c.p. or other illegal materials be ordered to pay restitution (for mere possession)?


The New York Times has an intriguing story by John Schwartz today (Wednesday, Feb.3) about a new legal initiative: making those who “merely” possess, but did not produce, child pornography, help pay civil financial restitution to victims. The link for the story is (web URL) here.

A victim with surname Amy is suing to demand that everyone who possessed a copy of an illegal image of her pay restitution until a claim of $3.4 million is settled.

George Washington University law professor Jonathan Turley has a blog entry relating the story of a former Pfizer executive to pay $200000 for possessing an image of a woman taken when she was a minor. The blog entry is here.

(I have reviewed books on Internet law, reputation and privacy by another GWU professor, Daniel Solove, on my books blog.)

Turley writes “it stretches personal accountability to a breaking point. …, The extension of the definition of victim could lead to liability without limitation. Presumably, anyone watching porn movies with an underaged character or in possession of a magazine with such a picture could be similarly faced with restitution demands. Prosecutors could threaten targets with financial ruin under such theories — forcing guilty pleas to other offenses. Restitution is generally limited to the direct victims of the defendant’s actions.” He also makes analogies to how this could set a precedent in other areas, such as owners of pawn shops when they receive stolen property (although that was a major concern with a crime spree in Montgomery County MD which was solved in 2008 when an alert pawn shop operator called police).

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Former UN weapons inspector caugth in Internet sting; arrests can happen based on ISP or cell phone records alone, without a trip


According to a news story by Ian Urbina on p A17 of the New York Times on Friday, Jan. 15, 2009, former Iraq weapons inspector Scott Ritter has been charged in an Internet sex sting, of the type discussed here on this blog Nov 11, Dec 1 and Dec. 22. The link is here.

Mr. Ritter is was charged in Pennsylvania in November after, according to police, he had allegedly spoken inappropriately in chat rooms or by cell phone to undercover police officers there from his home in New York State in February. A similar incident had occurred in 2001 with charges dropped.

The story shows that people can be arrested and prosecuted just on the basis of chat room logs or cell phone records and transmissions without an actual visit to meet the supposed underage person. Typically investigations before arrests can take many months and require getting records from ISP’s and cell phone companies.

Scott Ritter made the controversial documentary “In Shifting Sands” about weapons inspection in Iraq, which I saw at the University of Minnesota in 2001, before 9/11. Ritter claims that the government conspired to keep his film from being aired.

Tuesday, January 05, 2010

Can social networking sites use content labeling?


Here’s a speculative question. Can social networking sites (Facebook, Myspace especially) set up content labeling, especially for blogs or walls for each member? Can this be set up as an adjunct to privacy controls? Should a member be able to warn others (especially parents) that some content in his or her profile could be objectionable for minors? Could this be set up as part of the “semantic web”?

Remember, as I understand ICRA before, an entire domain has to be labeled, ever single file, for the site to be certified.