Monday, December 26, 2011

Could Facebook "whitelist" philosophy have affected COPA?

I’ve wondered if, in theory, the possibility of limiting the audience of a posting – usually on social networking sites like Facebook (and Google+) but possible in blogs – could have any effect on the logic used to strike down COPA.  If a Facebook user can whitelist a posting to a known list of visitors (and has a reasonable basis for estimating age as >18), could this possibility be used to say that posters could try to screen visitors, since the social networking environment now places so much emphasis on the idea of separate “lists” of people. Really, the same questions could have been asked about listservers in the past.

Thursday, December 01, 2011

"Anonynous" (Assange) goes vigilante against c.p, sites overseas

Today, Webroot tweeted a story about  a UN security breach, which led to another link about "hacktivists", possibly associated with Assange or with "Anonymous", targeting child pornography sites overseas, story in BBC news site here.

The group, acting in vigilante mode, also published the names of at least 1500 users of the sites. 

Police and security experts say the hack attack could put an ongoing police or Interpol investigation at risk.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Reaction to Penn State: Don't gut due process in the name of "protecting children"

I won’t belabor the lurid stories about what happened at Penn State.

Of course, police should have been called shortly after the problems became known to the University. But should it be the legal requirement of the first observing witness to call police without going through a chain of command when he witnesses at work?  Is it his responsibility or his employer’s?  Does the issue of “protecting children” change our respect for due process?

Certainly, it there is an emergency, an observing witness should call 911 if police could stop an incident by coming immediately. University police could have been called immediately, too.  And in a world of “see something, say something”, I understand the idea that the witness has a responsibility to report an incident immediately. 

The proper way to handle this in a university, school system, or any employer where children might be present on the premises some time, is to have a chain of command, and a legal officer (attorney) whose duties include calling authorities when circumstances warrant.  A chain of command at Penn State should have existed then, with the result of a call to police by the university quickly, but not necessarily first from the observing witness or even by the head coach, Paterno.  It should have come from the university legal department. 

I think state legislatures should require universities and school systems have in place mechanisms to contact authorities when there is reasonable suspicion of child abuse on the premises.  But there should not be a separate requirement of the immediate witness. 

I think due process is necessary, because in some other situations there could be more ambiguity. Suppose someone finds a web or Facebook posting which he or she interprets as a possible “propensity” on the part of another employee to have inappropriate contact with minors, but no actual evidence of contact.  What should his responsibility (to deal with “pre-crime”, as in “Minority Report”) when the fact pattern is ambiguous and open to interpretation?  You need due process. 

ABC News has an interesting story by Colleen Curry, to the effect that Paterno is was disgracefully fired, whereas two other university employees being investigated for perjury and legal failure to report remain on the payroll, link.

Sunday, Republican governor Tom Corbett of Pennsylvania said he supported a change in law, to pass this year; but that the head coach had followed all legal requirements at the time, according to his attorney general, Detroit Free Press story

Picture: Penn State, personal visit, September, 2010.

Update: Nov. 18

Check the editorial and opposing view on "Reporting Requirements" in the USA Today, p. 12A, Nov. 18. USA Today supports reporting requirements on everyone and considers the practical risk of false reports or abuse low.  There seems to exist an emerging viewpoint that institutions (since they circle the wagons) and professionals alone can't protect the vulnerable; only individual citizens can.

The debate reminds me that "failure to report" is usually a violation of school Honor Codes. 

Wednesday, November 09, 2011

Nightline segment relates how risque photos in a private cloud account were hacked; another wrinkle for safety of minors online

ABC Nightline tonight (Nov. 9) reported on a young woman affected by having provocative photos taken of herself (whether by a cell phone  with sexting or for a conventional laptop or desktop computer).  This time the complication came from storing the photos on photobucket, with the account then hacked. The photos went viral. But apparently the photos had been stored in an account that the teenager believed was private (she didn't even post them on Facebook).  

The complete story of Angie Varona’s ordeal was told tonight on the late night show on ABC.

Earlier this week, I discussed the advantages of “two-step signin verification” to prevent hacking, as well as the dangers of using the same password on multiple sites, on my Internet Safety blog, embedded in a larger discussion of the safety of depending on the "cloud" for online storage of potentially compromising content.

Cell phone photography and Photobucket of course have many legitimate uses. The problem is that misuse, in combination now with security problems, can lead to enormous consequences. 

Experts in online reputation defense will certain weigh in on this incident. It would be interesting to wonder where any legal liabilities lie. 

Sunday, November 06, 2011

Some more remarks on "implicit content"; is the idea of "null hypothesis" useful in the law?

At times, on both this blog and my main blog, I’ve discussed the subtle issue of “implicit content”, which imputes a “purpose” or legal “intent” behind self-distribution of writings or content without obvious conventional commercial gain. It came up in 2006 during the COPA trial.

In my case, I was thought to have suggested that I was capable of committing a particular crime, with respect to a fictitious screenplay I had posted and that was later discovered by school system officials (in 2005) while I was substitute teaching.

But in the screenplay, there was an introductory circumstance (a heart cardiac arrest and subsequent defibrillation by a student) that was totally fictitious, and moreover, improbable on its face.  (On the other hand, that could be one reason people write and publish fiction, to show what “could” happen.) However, the mere improbability of the chain of events in the screenplay would seem to mean it couldn’t have been my “purpose” in writing and self-publishing the work, to induce someone else to assist me to commit illegal behavior later occurring in the screenplay.

A “null hypothesis” in this sort of situation would be that promotion of illegal behavior in others was not likely to occur because of the publication of the screenplay.  Analysis of the fact pattern would not lead to rejection of the null hypothesis.  It seems to me that this sort of analysis could occur in cases where prosecution wants to prove “intent” or “purpose.” 

The "null hypothesis" concept and its use in investigation appears in the recent indie film "The Double" (reviewed on the movies blog Nov. 5). 

Monday, October 17, 2011

Mobile apps raise COPA-like questions on suitability for minors

On Saturday, Cecilia Kang ran an story on the lack of ratings for mobile apps. It’s called “Mobile apps lack rating standards; parents frustrated by mature content marketed to children”, front page of the Washington Post Oct. 15. Online the article is called “inappropriate content making its way to mobile apps”, with link here

Again, technology has end-arounded the ability of the law to regulate it; and once the law tries, as we found with COPA, all sorts of unintended consequences may follow.  Financial and practical pressures may fall on developers, who are often young adults some of whom have plenty of debt.  And risqué apps will make more money.

An earlier story by Kang last February noted that kids had run up parents’ mobile bills by excessive use of tempting and resource-consuming apps.

Again, technology has end-arounded the ability of the law to regulate it; and once the law tries, as we found with COPA, all sorts of unintended consequences may follow.  Financial and practical pressures may fall on developers, who are often young adults some of whom have plenty of debt.  And risqué apps will make more money.

An earlier story by Kang last February noted that kids had run up parents’ mobile bills by excessive use of tempting and resource-consuming apps.

Friday, October 14, 2011

Married couple makes a living by streaming its own relationship

Thursday night, Lisa Lane on ABC Nightline reported on a married couple that makes porn videos – of its own relationship – to make ends meet, link  (17 minutes) here

In fact, ABC News provided a “Sodahead” poll on the matter, did the couple go too far?, link

Perhaps this episode comes from “The Song of Solomon”.  But in 1999, a nurse who did this with her husband was fired from a Scottsdale AZ hospital, according to an old 20-20 report.

The couple only keeps 20% of the $8 a minute fee to watch the material.  Yet, it’s enough to make a living.
It’s pretty easy to envision the COPA questions that would have come up, had the law been upheld.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Be careful about forwarding or even receiving (and opening with html) "illegal" emails

Today, on the books blog, I reviewed Helen Schulman’s “This Beautiful Life”. I was struck by the enormous problems, including legal ones, for forwarding one email with “illegal images” that a minor (in the fictitious setting) had made about herself.

The problem in the novel occurs with forwarding from a laptop rather than a cell phone, but the legal implications could be similar.

If one receives an illegal image by email, it could be illegal to “possess” it.  One can reduce the risk by not viewing mail that seems to be spam, or by not viewing questionable emails with html enabled or links enabled, and certainly not opening suspicious attachments.  If one believes he or she has an illegal image in the browser, the cache should be deleted.  If one deletes a file known to be “illegal”, one must also empty a recycle bin. Still, forensics may find the image.

The problem comes up in the context of increasing debate over warrantless examination of Internet activity, which could cause police to get a warrant to actually search a particular computer.  While generally the concerns over privacy and the 4th Amendment are well founded, sometimes investigations of unusual crimes or terror threats could lead into this area, and sometimes unusual audit trails (involving spam blogs with illegal images) are found. This may be the case with a couple of  (still unsolved) major crimes that occurred in the Maryland suburbs of Washington DC in late 2008, for example. 

Monday, September 12, 2011

Northwestern University has a history of CDA, COPA

I found a white paper from Northwestern University dated 2005 (before the COPA trial in 2006) that surveyed the history of the problems of trying to regulate potentially HTM materials on the Internet, from the CDA through COPA, by Steven E. Merlis, linkb (website url) here

The two broad areas of solutions he discusses are filtering, and zoning – the latter would mean setting up tld’s where adult content is encouraged (“.xxx”) or not allowed.  But publishers would not have very good incentives to restrict their tld use according to these guidelines, because of stigma.

He doesn’t discuss the existential “implicit content” problem that has developed along with online reputation issues.

And he doesn’t cover the idea of voluntary content labeling, although the ICRA, probably the most comprehensive system, folded.  

Tuesday, August 09, 2011

A retrospect: for the COPA litigation, I stayed "in" to the end, when I did face challenges

As I look back over my experience with the COPA litigation, I realize it ran a long time, from 1998-2006 (when I attended the trial for one day in Philadelphia).

I do recall some people with whom I had corresponded by email or phone in 1999 who had dropped out as plaintiffs or sub-plaintiffs (under Electronic Frontier Foundation) by 2004 or 2005. 

From a practical viewpoint, it was probably important that as many plaintiffs remain active as possible, in order to get the final "victory" as already documented here.

Had my life taken a different course around, say, 2003, I might have had to drop out. For example, in the days before social media were well established, I had advocated a principle by which those who have other people report to them in the workplace, or who make decisions about customers or students, generally should not self-publish their views or even literary works on the Web.  Had  I become a fully licensed math teacher with the intention of working several years with the authority to grade students, I would have had to remove everything from the Web for that period and withdraw from the litigation.  (There is some discussion of this matter and “conflict of interest” on the “BillBoushka” blog Sept. 27, 2010.)  That could tie into the idea of “implicit content” which was mentioned the day that I was there. 

Sunday, July 03, 2011

Some email subject headers mean you must not open the email (from a legal viewpoint)

Tonight I marked as spam (without opening) an AOL email whose subject header boldly said it was c.p.  I suppose it would be illegal to open it, since that would cause possession on your computer (even after deletion).   (I'll say this: the word "hardcore" appeared in the subject, as did some other things.)  My email does block automatic opening of embedded html images, so maybe it could have been “safely” opened from a legal viewpoint.  It’s likely that the sender name was spoofed, and I would be concerned about what the potential legal consequences could be for anyone.   I don’t think this has happened before, or maybe it did once about ten years ago when I was in MN.  My email provider is AOL, since I’ve used it since 1994 with the same email address.  But I guess there are risks in using a findable email address without changing it for years.  

This incident makes me think of another issue: rapidly opening many emails to get through them, especially when the email server is slow and can't keep up. Legally dangerous, maybe?

Monday, June 27, 2011

Supreme Court says states can't easily ban violent video game sales to minors

The Supreme Court has ruled early Monday, June 27, that California cannot regulate the sale of violent video games to children or minors, saying that states may not, according to the First Amendment, “restrict the ideas to which children may be exposed”, even when there is gratuitous violence.  The AP story by Jesse J. Holland is here.

Even socially conservative Scalia pointed out that the difference between common violence in popular video games and hidden violence in children's literature and in public school curricula is based on "ideas" which government cannot regulate.  

The case is “Brown, Governor of California v. Entertainment Merchants Association”, with slip opinion link here.

Friday, June 10, 2011

Fed, state lawmakes press social networking companies harder on use by minos

COPA-like thinking is definitely back. Ceclia King has a Washington Post story Friday, “Lawmakers, advocates push social networks for more protection of youngest users”, link here

Even though Facebook’s policy says that minimum age for use is 13, there are about 7.5 million users under 13, and Facebook, as well as other companies, say there is little that can be done to screen them out reliably without severely affecting adults.  And, as we saw with the COPA litigation, many parents are, in practice, unable to supervise what their kids do on the web, although many technologies have been presented on this blog that could help them do so.  One place this debate could go is the existential one: how much “currency” should people have before “choosing” to have kids in the first place?  That takes us back to “demographic winter” territory.

California now considers a state law that gives parents the right to demand that social networking sites delete kids’ personal information (sounds reasonable).

Markey (D-MA) and Barton (R-TX), in may, had proposed a variation of “do not track” for youth, which would sound hard to implement in a way separate from adults, where browser vendors (at least Microsoft IE and Firefox) are rushing to enrich anti-tracking options for everyone. In fact, Microsoft has been pushing complicated automatic updates to Windows Vista and 7 customers to get them on to IE9, partly to answer the political concerns over tracking.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Fibbies misidentify sites connected to one ISP as producing c.p.

Torrent Freak reports that back in February the US Department of Justice had shut down over 84000 sites hosted by a “free IP” because of supposed connection to counterfeit goods and child pornography.   This was a result of “Operation Save our Children” ICE Cyber Crimes Center belonging to DOJ and Homeland Security. 

The story is here.

Site were redirected to an incriminating banner shown in the article. It seems as though 84000 web operators were shamed or libeled by the process.  HS has not yet taken responsibility for this, according to the story.

Related post on "Bill Boushka" blog May 17. 

Monday, May 09, 2011

Protection of older minors is more about privacy now than content -- and implicates whole family

Cecilia Kang has an important front page story in The Washington Post on May 9, “With quick click, teens online part with privacy; some experts say adolescents’ information needs special protection”, link (website url) here

The article reflects a shift in emphasis from protecting tweens and even older minors (sometimes) from inappropriate content, to protecting privacy.  Teens often give away family information when signing up for mobile aps as well as well-known social networking sites.  In some families’ circumstances, telling a family phone number or address or even personal whereabouts could put other family members in jeopardy. There is also a shift in emphasis from protecting the privacy of the youngest minors to that of teens, which has a bigger potential impact on a whole family.

The article also says that most people do not have fully developed reasoning abilities – to see around corners and anticipate long term consequences of actions – until their thirties, not even the mid twenties.  Given the success of some people well before 30, that’s hard to see.

The other big concern of consequences is “online reputation” – that employers could look at Tweets, blog posts, Facebook profiles, or even Mobile behavior – of young adults as applicants and employees – in an era when the ethical aspects of doing so have not yet been worked out. 

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

On the road: MD elementary school offers parents classes in internet safety for kids

Today, as I drove “accidentally” (after missing a turn, having visited the train exhibits in Ellicott City) through Catonsville, MD (south of Baltimore, which is not “missing”), I noticed a sign “Internet Safety Forum 4 Parents” (“4” = “for”), at an elementary school.  Unfortunately, my camera didn’t snap until a van blocked it, but the sign was there.

My point is that school systems ought to be proactive in educating both parents and students on internet safety and online reputation issues. 

Here is a video on the topic from the University of Michigan (Matthew Davis, Ford School of Public Policy).

Sunday, March 27, 2011

New York Times has huge story on sexting problem: case history in Washington State

The New York Times has a feature front page story on an incident in Washington state on how a innocent instance of “sexting” suddenly went viral and resulted in a number of 14 and 15 year old kids threatened with big time prosecution, in what seems like a travesty.  The story link is here. 

The New York Times starts its “paywall” tomorrow so soon these articles cannot be read for free (more than a limited number a month) without subscription. The Times offers several links and discussions today on the Washington state incident.  

The story does show how teens are unaware of the long term consequences of what adults seem to encourage them to do.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Social networking encryption, and legal technicalities make it easier for real criminals against children to hide; "members only" clubs encourage more crime

The Washington Post ran a disturbing story on p. A3 Thursday, March 24, about the use of “members only” rings by purveyors of c.p., and their use of encryption of major social networking sites to hide from authorities.  People have to send samples to join, encouraging family abuse. Authorities may not legally set up stings with illegal material, because that would break the law itself. (This is different from setting up stings as on NBC’s notorious series with Chris Hansen.)

The story is authored by Shankar Vedantam, with link here

The details are difficult to describe in space like this, but the story is significant. 

Monday, March 21, 2011

Parents know how to restrict kids' Internet access

Someone emailed me a link to an “Internet Provider” article, “10 Reasons Parents Take the Internet Away from Kids”, link here. I thought that, beyond the “obvious” concerns about child safety , a few of them were interesting: financial hardship (the Internet and especially broadband viewed as a luxury), and learning about “sacrifice” (the last point).   In any case, parents are more capable than what the government took them for when Congress passed COPA back in 1998. Enjoy the reading. 

Friday, March 18, 2011

ICANN approves new "adult" top-level domain: significant to COPA-like laws?

ICANN  (Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers) has approved the “.xxx” top-level domain suffix, the Washington Times reports today with a story by Cheryl Wetzstein, link here

The measure has some significance in the ongoing discussion here about filters and labeling. Conceivably, Congress could try to pass a law requiring some kinds of content to appear only in “
xxx” domains, which parents could block. 

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Oprah presents male abuse victims

Oprah Winfrey today rebroadcast a Nov. 2010 show about a particularly sensitive matter, adult men, over 200, publicly “admitting” that they had been abused.  Sometimes the perpetrators were Roman Catholic priests, but others gave stories of abuse from family members, even fathers. The basic link is here.  Among those who spoke out was Tyler Perry.

The details were quite graphic and explicit, and the complete episode may be watched at the link above.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

New service "True Care" also helps monitor kids online

A spokesperson has informed me of another parental screening service, “True Care”, which may help parents shield their children especially from cyberbullying, basic link here.

The press release they sent out by email paid particular heed to harassment due to perceived sexual orientation. 

It also cited GLSEN statistics of high percentages of LGBT teens who report bullying in various forms at school.
The site also offers the ability to parse language and lingo for common slang and abbreviations, as well as phrases associated with intention to do harm. 

Friday, February 18, 2011

Man arrested for fake video based on elementary school performance

CNN reports a case where a first grade class (in Pennsylvania?) teacher invited a singer to make a presentation.  The singer recorded and then edited the presentation and posted a YouTube video to make it look like the kids had listened to porn. The singer was arrested, although it’s not clear that he broke the law in a technical sense. 

On my main “Bill Boushka” blog I’ve covered a number of cases of teachers fired or suspended for blog content or Facebook (including my own back in 2005), but this is the first where there was obviously objectionable content involving children. In the other cases, the speakers had a reasonable moral foundation for their actions.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Despite end of ICRA, there are still some other voluntary content labeling systems (like RTA and Safesurf)

The ending of support for the (UK originated) ICRA content rating system was a bit of a blow to the idea of voluntary content classification by webmasters.  It was a very sophisticated system, with many categories, and made heavy use of the “semantic web”.

There are some other systems that may be simpler. There is RTA, “Restricted to Adults” here.  It can label wordpress pages (although apparently not Blogger pages) with a plugin.    Note their progress report link (dating to November 2010).

RTA apparently offers the ability to label selected pages within a site.  But it helps to know PHP and Apache (Unix) or IIS (Windows) server programming, or, particularly Perl script language, if you really have multiple (dozens) of pages with but don’t want all of them.   The trademark slogan is “Adult Entertainment, Adult Responsibility”.

The facility was launched in 2006 by the Association of Sites Advocating Child Protection (ASACP).

There was a Voluntary Content Rating system with Solid Oak Software, but Wikipedia pages for these facilities have been removed, so they seem to have become extinct as well.

There is also an older system called SafeSurf, link here.  It appears that these tags can apply to individual pages. SafeSurf maintains that search engines can use the metatags for “safe mode” search results. 

It’s interesting that Wikipedia entertained its own internal content rating system, but that was dropped.  

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Overview of parental concerns about child safety on the Internet

I got an email from someone who runs a blog called “Internet Service”, called “10 Reasons why parents need to worry about the Internet”, with the link here.

Okay, it sums up a lot of the dangers we’ve been hearing about for well over a decade; COPA was only a little piece of it. There’s “Chat Roulette”, “digital drugs”, and most of all, the desire for “15 Minutes of Fame” through YouTube, and teens don’t always use good judgment on what they post or on the effect that it has.  I think this could have been a good place to go into the problem of cyberbullying. 

Wednesday, January 05, 2011

MouseMail may help parents filter on "family computers"

USA Today, in a front page story (“MouseMail traps kids’ cyberbullies”) by Mark Snider on Jan. 5, reported on a new product called “MouseMail” which allows parents to intercept messages and emails sent to their kids. The kids’ accounts must be added to a family profile on the MouseMail application. The online link on USA Today is (website url) here

Still, the concept seems to be predicated on the idea that parents will set up “family computers” to be used “as families”, which would discourage the independence older kids need for legitimate school-related computer use.