America's War On Sex

Marty Klein

Part 10

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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.

115 7/24/06 10:57:34 AM.

116.

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.

118.

* 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.

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* 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.

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