... there's fire, and where there's politicians, sooner or later, there's intrusion into your life "for the children".
The latest development out of Congress is likely to be no different. Under the excuse of controlling kiddie porn, AG Alberto Gonzales and Rep. James Sensenbrenner (R., Wisconsin) are in lockstep on proposals that ISPs be required to gather and maintain logs of everything every American does online, "so that police can more easily conduct criminal investigations."
Speaking to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children last month, Gonzales warned of the dangers of pedophiles using the Internet anonymously and called for new laws from Congress. "At the most basic level, the Internet is used as a tool for sending and receiving large amounts of child pornography on a relatively anonymous basis," Gonzales said.
Back before the Internet hit public consciousness, the Great Evil Distribution Route for kiddie porn was the US Mail. The US Postmaster General put extensive resources and effort into tracking down purveyors of kiddie porn. So much, in fact, that the United States' largest purveyor of kiddie porn was ... the US Government. It was estimated by several reasonably reliable sources that as much as 98% of kiddie porn circulating through the US postal system was actually put there by the Postmaster General as part of sting operations that went something like this:
- Someone, somewhere, decides that you might maybe have some involvement with kiddie porn, or maybe you have the same name as someone who might, or once had the same phone number, or maybe it's just your lucky day. "Wojkowicz. Sounds like a pervert name to me."
- The Postmaster General mails you a package containing kiddie porn in a plain brown wrapper.
- Federal agents stake out your house and wait for you to check your mailbox.
- You get the mail, get three steps inside your door, and the agents knock on your door.
- The agents take the unopened package out of your hands and open it, already knowing what it contains.
- Bam! You're under arrest for possession of child pornography. If you had a career, kiss it goodbye. If you're lucky, you won't spend more than two years in a Federal penitentiary.
They couldn't do that on the Internet though, right...?
Sensenbrenner's legislation--expected to be announced as early as this week--also would create a federal felony targeted at bloggers, search engines, e-mail service providers and many other Web sites. It's aimed at any site that might have "reason to believe" it facilitates access to child pornography--through hyperlinks or a discussion forum, for instance.
So, you have a blog. Maybe you said something on it the government doesn't like, or maybe it's just your lucky day. "Wojkowicz. Sounds like a pervert name to me." Some FBI shill posts a comment on your blog which contains a link to a site on which, buried somewhere obscure, is kiddie porn.
Bam, you're now an Internet child pornographer. Welcome to Federal stir.
Sensenbrenner's proposal is likely to be controversial. It would substantially alter U.S. laws dealing with privacy protection of Americans' Web surfing habits and is sure to alarm Internet businesses that could be at risk for linking to illicit Web sites.
This affects more than just Internet businesses -- and more than just businesses, Internet or otherwise. If the US government's past record in the War on Drugs and the War on Kiddie Porn is anything to go by, this should alarm everyone. Even banks could be threatened: a provision of Sensenbrenner's draft would make it a crime for a bank to process a credit card payment that, unknown to them, is for the purchase of what some FBI administrator decides is underage porn.
There are already Federal laws requiring ISPs to report kiddie porn. We don't need more, especially one as broad and vague as this one looks like it's going to be.
Good intentions will always be pleaded for every assumption of authority. It is hardly too strong to say that the Constitution was made to guard the people against the dangers of good intentions. There are men in all ages who mean to govern well, but they mean to govern. They promise to be good masters, but they mean to be masters.
-- Daniel Webster
Necessity is the plea for every infringement of human freedom. It is the argument of tyrants; it is the creed of slaves.
-- William Pitt