They had done it before with adult bookstores, strip clubs, and video shops.
But this was the most naked attack on democracy yet-bringing censorship to public libraries. You might as wel melt down the Statue of Liberty and use the metal to fashion jail bars, or chast.i.ty belts for the mind. To these people, Americans don't deserve their basic rights if they use them in the context of s.e.xuality.
But exactly what criteria these filtering systems would use, what they would block, no one knew-no librarian, no senator, no parent. All anyone knew is that these filtering systems promised to protect children and and adults from material unsuitable for minors. In reality, there was no category of non.o.bjec-tionable s.e.xual references. No health, educational, legal, political, historical, or even religious reference to s.e.xuality could get through the electronic censor. adults from material unsuitable for minors. In reality, there was no category of non.o.bjec-tionable s.e.xual references. No health, educational, legal, political, historical, or even religious reference to s.e.xuality could get through the electronic censor.
Filtering products attempt to create an Internet in which s.e.xuality doesn't exist, as if there's no such thing as a legitimate or non-dangerous interest in s.e.xuality. And that was an explicit goal of the War on s.e.x.
Even the court upholding upholding c.i.p.a recognized that "a filter set to block p.o.r.nography may sometimes block other sites that present neither obscene nor p.o.r.nographic material"-in other words, c.i.p.a recognized that "a filter set to block p.o.r.nography may sometimes block other sites that present neither obscene nor p.o.r.nographic material"-in other words, legal legal material.23 The Court just didn't think that adults losing access to legal material (called "censorship" when done 114 material.23 The Court just didn't think that adults losing access to legal material (called "censorship" when done 114 7/24/06 10:57:33 AM.
Battleground: The Internet 115 The Internet 115 in countries we don't like) was as important as "protecting" young people from certain words or pictures.
In dissenting, Justice Stevens took the loss of access to legal material seriously-taking as irrelevant the fact that much of it was about s.e.xuality: "The Children's Internet Protection Act (c.i.p.a) operates as a blunt nationwide restraint on adult access to an enormous amount of valuable information that individual librarians cannot possibly review . . . Most of that information is const.i.tutionally protected speech. Most of that information is const.i.tutionally protected speech. In my view, this restraint is unconst.i.tutional."24 In my view, this restraint is unconst.i.tutional."24 So what do filters filter out? As filtering became more popular, thousands of examples of what filtering actually did quickly acc.u.mulated. Here's a sample of what some popular programs blocked access to: * CyberPatrol blocked the book s.e.x, Laws and Cybers.p.a.ce. s.e.x, Laws and Cybers.p.a.ce.
* CYBERsitter blocked the National Organization for Women's Web site.
* SurfControl blocked the "emotional changes" section of www.kotex.
com.25 * Websense blocked the Web site of A Different Light Bookstore.
* N2H2 blocked the Web site of the Rape Crisis Center of Central Ma.s.sachusetts.26 * Tens of thousands of Web sites with no no s.e.xual content whatsoever were blocked if their URLS happen to share a numerical Internet protocol address with a p.o.r.nography site. s.e.xual content whatsoever were blocked if their URLS happen to share a numerical Internet protocol address with a p.o.r.nography site.
* During the 2000 election, numerous candidates' Web sites were blocked, including Jeffrey Pollack's. Running for Congress in Oregon, his site said, "We should demand that al public schools and libraries instal and configure Internet Filters"-until he discovered he was filtered, and changed his position.27 These are programs being used in public libraries across the United States.
They are ammunition in the War on s.e.x.28 According to their 2003 study, says Will Doherty, Executive Director of the Online Policy Group, "For every web page blocked as advertised, there was collateral damage of at least one other page improperly blocked."29 It is important to understand that this "col ateral damage" is not not an anomaly-it is the way filtering software works. The question is, is this acceptable? Exactly how much is America willing to pay to protect young eyes from something whose damage hasn't really been studied, and has certainly never been proven? What this tool unintentionally deletes isn't p.o.r.n or danger or s.e.x, it's information, and it's the freedom to acquire information. This is what the War on s.e.x is about. an anomaly-it is the way filtering software works. The question is, is this acceptable? Exactly how much is America willing to pay to protect young eyes from something whose damage hasn't really been studied, and has certainly never been proven? What this tool unintentionally deletes isn't p.o.r.n or danger or s.e.x, it's information, and it's the freedom to acquire information. This is what the War on s.e.x is about.
This would be bad enough if that were the extent of it. But it isn't. For starters, you can't know something is filtered out if you don't look for it. You may not realize there's another side to a medical or political story.
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And there are a lot of sites that get filtered out for purely political reasons: sites of gay sports clubs, for example, which don't discuss h.o.m.os.e.xuality; sites involving nuclear disarmament. When filtering company CyberPatrol was confronted with why right-wing hate sites weren't listed as such, they had no good answer. When Peacefire publicized this, CyberPatrol went after them. them. In fact, when Peacefire started posting essays on its Web site critical of filtering software, some software companies such as CYBERsitter reacted by blocking Peacefire's Web site-which clearly posed no threat to minors. And when In fact, when Peacefire started posting essays on its Web site critical of filtering software, some software companies such as CYBERsitter reacted by blocking Peacefire's Web site-which clearly posed no threat to minors. And when Time Time magazine criticized CYBERsitter for blocking its critics' sites, CYBERsitter blocked magazine criticized CYBERsitter for blocking its critics' sites, CYBERsitter blocked Time Time's site . . There has always been a political agenda with blocking software.30 There has always been a political agenda with blocking software.30 If these private companies are living off the quasi-public teat, this is unacceptable. Inserting themselves into the War on s.e.x because of a profit motive rather than an ideological or psychological one is equally wrong.
Perhaps worst of all is when computer users buy filters unwillingly, or even unknowingly.
One common way this happens is when blocking software is placed on the computer you use by the person or inst.i.tution that controls it. This can be your employer, city council, hospital, school, or whomever sets policy where you use it. Sites may not come up when you search a topic, or, more general y, they come up but you can't access them. Similarly, if you type in a URL that's blocked by a decision beyond your control, you get an error message, or are told the site is unavailable, when it actual y is available-just not to you.
In late 2005, I discovered that both my Web sites (www.s.e.xualIntelligence.
org, www.s.e.xEd.org) were blocked on the computers customers rent at Kinko's.
I only found this out when I tried to access them there while my own computer was being repaired. Kinko's has 1,200 locations. How many tens of thousands of people across the United States (and world) had searched for words or ideas they could have found on one of my sites-if they hadn't been blocked?
When I inquired about this, I was directed to the company Kinko's had hired to do the blocking. They were very nice, and offered to review my sites.
They eventually said my sites had been blocked by "an oversight"-the same thing all producers of non-p.o.r.n sites are told when they discover their work has been blocked. The vaunted technical capacity and "human review" of filtering products simply cannot do what the companies promise. And since their financial incentive is to overblock rather than underblock, this fundamental inadequacy will not change.
You're probably also a consumer of blocking software through your ISP.
AOL, Yahoo, and most others have "user guidelines" or "user agreements" (you did read the miles of fine print, right?) that basically say they'll filter out anything they don't like, and that they're not obligated to tell you what, why, or when. And so AOL has booted the Triangle News Triangle News gay newspaper site. Yahoo 116 gay newspaper site. Yahoo 116 7/24/06 10:57:35 AM.
Battleground: The Internet 117 The Internet 117 closed a variety of s.e.xuality and gender support groups, such as SF Queer Longhairs.31 Similarly, MSN s.p.a.ces, Microsoft's new blogging tool, censors certain words you might try to include in a blog t.i.tle or URL. In Xeni Jardin's 2004 experiment, blog t.i.tles refused include "Corporate Wh.o.r.e," "p.o.r.nography & the Law,"
and most anything with the traditional "seven dirty words" the Federal Communications Commission won't let you say on network TV.32 On the other hand, the software al owed "World of p.o.o.p" and "b.u.t.t s.e.x is Awesome." It didn't al ow "a.n.a.l Health for People who Think b.u.t.ts.e.x is Awesome," however. Al of which shows that filtering software doesn't make kids safer, it just gives them more reasons to disrespect efforts to censor what they read. Which is, ultimately, the effect of al censorship. And as America learned during the drug wars of the 1960s, any government policy whose main effect is creating disrespect for the government is a bad policy.
THE GOVERNMENT'S ATTEMPTS TO CONTROL YOUR ACCESS TO THE NET.
From the moment the Internet became a popular medium, local and federal government attempted to limit Americans' access to it-and they've kept at it to this very day. The three most popular charges have been "child p.o.r.nography" (the definition of which keeps expanding), "obscenity" (a subjective category that can only be defined by a jury which determines the "community standards" allegedly violated), and "harmful to minors" (a completely arbitrary category that has never actually been defined).
Alternately pressured and purchased by conservative, religious, and feminist groups, the government has continuously a.s.sumed there is harm posed by the Internet, and has consistently attempted to limit this alleged harm by limiting both adults' and childrens' access to it. Not only has the alleged harm never been proven, the effectiveness of censoring the Internet in limiting this alleged harm has never been demonstrated. Instead, the "common sense" of one part of the community has subst.i.tuted for the science they don't have and the calmness they don't have or want.
Here are some of the ways government, backed by selected civic groups, has used ma.s.sive resources in attempting to limit the way Americans can use the Internet to enhance their s.e.xual expression, education, or health: * 1993: Government entraps Californians Robert and Carleen Thomas, operators of a bulletin board and p.o.r.n distribution company. Postal Inspector David Dirmeyer orders adult material from a Memphis, Tennessee address, then has them arrested for distribution of obscene material on the Internet. The Court of Appeals, 6th circuit, upholds this in 1996.33 117 7/24/06 10:57:35 AM.
* 1995: Congress proposes (but doesn't pa.s.s) S.892, "Protection of Children from Computer p.o.r.nography Act."
* 1996: Congress pa.s.ses Communications Decency Act (CDA), criminalizing sending anything "harmful to minors" over the Internet (overturned in 1997).
* 1996: Senators Hatch and Feinstein cosponsor a law criminalizing the use of "morphing" technology (as opposed to actual children) to create computer images that imitate child p.o.r.n.
* 1998: Congress pa.s.ses Child Online Protection Act. This establishes the Commission on Online Child Protection, and requires all all commercial distributors of "material harmful to minors" to prevent minors from accessing their Web sites. "Material harmful to minors" is a much lower standard than "obscenity," and includes female b.r.e.a.s.t.s. commercial distributors of "material harmful to minors" to prevent minors from accessing their Web sites. "Material harmful to minors" is a much lower standard than "obscenity," and includes female b.r.e.a.s.t.s.
* 1999: Court of Appeals upholds injunction against enforcing COPA.
The government appeals.
* 2000: Congress pa.s.ses Child Internet Protection Act, after both CDA and COPA are overturned.34 This requires libraries and schools receiving federal funds to install filtering software on their computers.
* 20002005: various state governments pa.s.s "mini-COPAs," criminalizing the use of the Internet to send anything "harmful to minors."
These laws are generally overturned by the courts.35 * 2000present: Various states establish that those repairing others'
computers, whether employed in the same company or in business as repair shops, are mandated reporters of suspected child p.o.r.nography- without any training in evaluating this material or protection for those inappropriately reported.
* 2002: Attorney General Ashcroft announces a new "war on p.o.r.n."
* 2003: Supreme Court upholds c.i.p.a, establishing the const.i.tutional-ity of requiring mandatory filtering of legal material.
* 2003: Court of Appeals again rules COPA unconst.i.tutional. Government appeals again.
* 2004: Supreme Court upholds block on enforcement of COPA. Government continues looking for ways to enforce it.
* 2005: Department of Justice (DOJ) changes the definition of the "2257"36 regulations, creating extraordinary record-keeping requirements on all Web sites showing any s.e.xual content, even non-p.o.r.n content. The requirements are retroactive, punitive, clearly not aimed to accomplish their alleged intention (to prevent minors from performing in adult films, and to give government redundant power to punish child p.o.r.nography). The law is pa.s.sed despite clear evidence that minors are not performing in contemporary adult films.
* 2005: Free Speech Coalition sues the DOJ to enjoin the 2257 regulations until they can be challenged in whole in court.
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Battleground: The Internet 119 The Internet 119 * 2005: Utah is the latest of 15 states pa.s.sing Internet censorship laws.37 * 2005: Attorney General Gonzales announces a war on obscenity, and creates a p.o.r.n task force in the Federal Bureau of Investigations.
* 2005: The owners of Web sites (e.g., www.RedRose.com, www.
ShadesBeyondGray.com) with s.e.xually explicit words, rather than pictures, are arrested, their Web sites shut down as "obscene." Many well-known fetish Web site publishers self-censor or shut down completely to avoid prosecution (e.g., www.BeautyBound.com, www.
* 2006: The DOJ subpoenas Google, Yahoo, and MSN to obtain one million random Web addresses and records of all searches for a week as part of trying to get COPA upheld on appeal. DOJ allegedly does this to prove that blocking and filtering technology doesn't effectively stop children from reaching p.o.r.nographic Web sites.
Rather than deal with their fear, rather than recognize the radical potential of the Internet to help fulfill the American promise, those who fear s.e.x have gone the other way-demonizing the Internet, attempting to limit its growth and availability. And they have done this even as they use that same Internet as a tool to undermine the American promises of fact-based public policy, free access to information, and the cherished right to be left alone.
The world is watching. Other countries, such as China, Iran, and North Korea, routinely censor the Internet of political content. Through Voice of America, the United States is helping these countries' dissidents access the Internet-but only after censoring s.e.xually oriented sections of it.
Is our government terrified of s.e.x the way China is of the Falun Gong, or Iran is of moderate Islam? Why? What does this say about our government?
Considering the number of Americans who have been jailed, had their businesses seized, or had their children taken from them, is our War on s.e.x any less gruesome or barbaric than China's war on the Falun Gong?
The sad thing is that Americans today must look to the courts to decide that such restrictions are unconst.i.tutional, rather than expecting our elected representatives to say, "No, revoking Americans' freedoms for any any reason is just not a wise idea-and it is simply not acceptable." reason is just not a wise idea-and it is simply not acceptable."
Because the Internet is pure information, it confronts us with a choice that has become far too common, and is even more stark than usual: which is more dangerous-information, or the consequences of restricting it?
Online predators do pose a threat to a very small number of minors. But revoking even a part of the freedoms of hundreds of millions of Americans, 119 7/24/06 10:57:37 AM.
young and old, is a tangible, meaningful threat that should be preceded by a serious, complex social dialogue. That dialogue must must include the voices of scientists, s.e.xologists, and those who realize that protecting every single child from every potential harm is simply impossible. And it must respect the stub-born, experienced voices of those who know that without real freedom, safety is an illusion. include the voices of scientists, s.e.xologists, and those who realize that protecting every single child from every potential harm is simply impossible. And it must respect the stub-born, experienced voices of those who know that without real freedom, safety is an illusion.
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America Does Not Guarantee Your Right to Be Comfortable: The Lowest Common Erotic Denominator Project Across America, pictures are coming down and sculpture is being covered; workplaces are being sanitized, as bulletin boards and screen savers are cleared, and e-mail blocking is ever-stricter. College campuses are in the grip of speech codes, as professors are being disciplined for discussing the realities of historical or contemporary gender, intimacy, and, most of all, s.e.xuality.
Now that American culture has decided that s.e.x is the source of virtually all its problems, removing it from the public arena as much as possible is seen as the solution.
The War on s.e.x is committed to eliminating any public experience that causes anyone anyone discomfort around s.e.xuality. This is the Lowest Common Erotic Denominator project. It's stripping us of meaningful art, diminishing our creativity at work, interfering with normal adult relationships, and constraining academic and media discussions of philosophy, social science, the humanities, and politics. But many people apparently feel this is a small price to pay for making sure no one is offended or uncomfortable about s.e.x. discomfort around s.e.xuality. This is the Lowest Common Erotic Denominator project. It's stripping us of meaningful art, diminishing our creativity at work, interfering with normal adult relationships, and constraining academic and media discussions of philosophy, social science, the humanities, and politics. But many people apparently feel this is a small price to pay for making sure no one is offended or uncomfortable about s.e.x.
When new regulations outlawed the creation of a "hostile work environment" in the 1980s, they were intended to prevent racial and gender hara.s.sment that was repeated, pervasive, and so severe as to obstruct individuals from performing their job.
But now even the most indirect reference to s.e.xuality at work or school can be considered the creation of a hostile employment or learning environment. Given the breadth of s.e.xual influences and expression in human life, this means that any individual can exercise a veto over a huge range of workplace or school issues: dress, language, decor, personal memorabilia, charitable policies, even after-hours recreation. "Hostile environment" law has been perverted to create a right not to be offended offended when one leaves one's home. when one leaves one's home.
While everyone deserves a fair chance to succeed, appealing to the most erotophobic sentiment to create a s.e.xless work or university environment is not about fairness-it's about bleaching eroticism out of society. This This is pa-122 is pa-122 tently unfair, and this this is offensive to many. But s.e.x-positive feelings have no legal standing, because people comfortable with s.e.x are not a protected cla.s.s like ethnic minorities or women. When can someone sue because short skirts are banned in a private office? Or because a gold cross around someone's neck is acceptable, but a silver v.u.l.v.a isn't? is offensive to many. But s.e.x-positive feelings have no legal standing, because people comfortable with s.e.x are not a protected cla.s.s like ethnic minorities or women. When can someone sue because short skirts are banned in a private office? Or because a gold cross around someone's neck is acceptable, but a silver v.u.l.v.a isn't?
Patrons of public facilities have also acquired the phony "right" to never be uncomfortable about s.e.xuality, no matter how repressed they are about it.
This is used to justify Internet filtering in libraries. People applying for driver licenses or phone service are complaining if munic.i.p.al clerks show too much cleavage. Art that has civilized, comforted, challenged, and enlightened people for 500 years is being taken down from city halls across America.
So whose standard of discomfort shall we use-the person whose threshold of discomfort is lowest? No one says to an employer or city government, "By the way, I'm cool with the thought-provoking artwork around here." No one says, "By the way, I'm fine that the person at the next desk, or the clerk who processed my forms, wears an open marriage b.u.t.ton on her lapel."
Those not not offended by s.e.xual words or images are a crucial part of the con-tinuum of the public's values. But the standards and feelings of those offended by s.e.xual words or images are a crucial part of the con-tinuum of the public's values. But the standards and feelings of those not not obsessed with s.e.x are never taken seriously in this matter. obsessed with s.e.x are never taken seriously in this matter.
Historical y, democratic countries have focused primarily on control ing behavior, while totalitarian governments have attempted to control speech and thought as wel . American laws of the last 20 years are changing that, however. Public art, company e-mail, and casual speech are increasingly monitored and restricted, as the "feelings" of coworkers, cla.s.smates, customers, and neighbors are seen as sufficient reason for government intervention.
Removing a perfectly legal statue or cla.s.sical play from public view because its s.e.xual aspects make someone uncomfortable is increasingly common. The workplace, col ege campus, and public square are now places where some are ent.i.tled to the comfort of not having their sensibilities chal enged, while the rest of us suffer arbitrary censorship. In such an inhibited, anxious environment, no one grows, and everyone ultimately loses.
We need laws protecting the rights of people offended by the neurotic stripping of human eroticism from workplaces and civic s.p.a.ces across America.
Wrestling with eroticism has been one of humanity's most glorious, productive, albeit troubling, challenges throughout history. Every culture that inter-rupts this adult project pays for it in violence or stagnation; that's the lesson of the Spanish Inquisition, the Salem Witch Trials, the Soviet Union, and "modern" Iran.
It's no coincidence that Attorney General John Ashcroft covered the breast on "The Spirit of Justice" statue before launching a ma.s.sive a.s.sault on Americans' liberty.
Battleground: The War on "p.o.r.nography" The War on "p.o.r.nography"
When Attorney General Alberto Gonzales announced the latest federal war on p.o.r.nography last year, with increased funding and rea.s.signment of eight full-time FBI agents, one law enforcement veteran snidely expressed what a lot of people were thinking: "I guess we've won the war on terror."1 We haven't, of course, so here's a clue to the real payoff: according to the Washington Post, Washington Post, "Christian conservatives, long skeptical of Gonzales, greeted the p.o.r.nography initiative with what the Family Research Council called 'a growing sense of confidence in our new Attorney General.'"2 "Christian conservatives, long skeptical of Gonzales, greeted the p.o.r.nography initiative with what the Family Research Council called 'a growing sense of confidence in our new Attorney General.'"2 Acquiring the support of the Family Research Council in exchange for simply limiting every American's right to private entertainment must seem like a terrific deal to the Bush administration. (You didn't real y think the war on p.o.r.n was about making America's families safer, did you?) But restricting the amount and type of s.e.xually explicit material you're allowed to look at in private (and driving its producers and distributors out of business) is only one part of the battle against p.o.r.nography. The other is a ma.s.sive disinformation campaign-some of it sincere, much of it manipulative, and too much of it outright lies.
We're not talking about p.o.r.n that involves kids, or violent material that glamorizes coercion. Although antip.o.r.n activists focus obsessively on these two exotic genres, they are, fortunately, a tiny minority of what's actually available and consumed; this preference represents a tiny minority of America's 50 million p.o.r.n viewers.
That leaves the rest of p.o.r.n, in which actors portray happy male and female characters doing things they enjoy. Sometimes their fun involves stuff you find pleasurable that someone else might not: oral s.e.x, spanking, a.n.a.l toys, whatever. Occasionally these characters pursue activities you or your mate might not want to do: exhibitionism, playing with urine, group s.e.x, whatever. Either way, the vast majority of p.o.r.n portrays consenting, enthusiastic people doing the vast majority of p.o.r.n portrays consenting, enthusiastic people doing things they enjoy. things they enjoy. These are activities routinely indulged in by tens of millions These are activities routinely indulged in by tens of millions 124 124 of Americans, s.e.xual activities that couples go to marriage counselors to get more s.e.xual activities that couples go to marriage counselors to get more comfortable with. comfortable with.
So when a discussion about p.o.r.n turns to "violent p.o.r.n" or "kiddie p.o.r.n" or "b.e.s.t.i.a.lity," these are not representative of mainstream adult material. Condemning all p.o.r.n because of these exotic subgenres is like eliminating all TV because "The Three Stooges" is stupid or "The Sopranos" is violent. When you hear or partic.i.p.ate in a conversation about p.o.r.nography, see if the other person can talk without referring to p.o.r.n "addiction," child p.o.r.n, brutal p.o.r.n, or ma.s.s murder. If they can't, they're not discussing p.o.r.nography, or even s.e.x; they're discussing violence, power, sadism, and fear.
A WAR ON PEOPLE.
The war on p.o.r.n is a war on people-people who look at p.o.r.n. The government and conservative groups talk about "p.o.r.nographers" and "hard-core s.m.u.t," but rarely about p.o.r.n consumers-which totals a staggering 50 million Americans.
When these consumers are mentioned, they're almost always described as p.o.r.n addicts, psychopaths, and child molesters. But such people const.i.tute only a tiny, tiny fraction of p.o.r.n consumers-just like violent p.o.r.n is a tiny, tiny fraction of all p.o.r.n. That's a common strategy of the antip.o.r.n forces-talk only about the most extreme examples, and talk as if they're typical.
This distortion opens the door for an extraordinarily wide range of attacks on p.o.r.nography. These attacks are in many ways a response to private and sociopolitical issues.
Americans are anxious about their s.e.xual "normality" and competence, and about the impact of modern life on their relationships and their kids. The fact that so many of us are taught to feel guilty about our s.e.xual desires, fantasies, and bodies, and that this shame leads to secrecy, of course, complicates things.
There may be no easy answers, but people still want their anxiety and isolation to go away.