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Monday, 23 June 2003
Today’s Supreme Court decision upholding the Children’s Internet Protection Act is a travesty for many reasons, but above all it demonstrates the bind that we netizens will remain in until all our leaders understand and use the Internet.

In case you’re late to the ballgame, CIPA says that any library that receive federal money must install and use blocking software on all public Internet terminals. (Never mind the fact that none of this blocking software is worth a damn, and that it very likely would, for instance, block a young, troubled, confused teen from accessing web sites with concrete information about, say, homosexuality.) Chief Justice Rehnquist, a buffoon who designed his own judicial robes based on ones he saw in a Gilbert and Sullivan show, writes:
The decisions by most libraries to exclude pornography from their print collections are not subjected to heightened scrutiny; it would make little sense to treat libraries’ judgments to block online pornography any differently.
On the other hand, Justice Souter, an avowed Luddite who lives in a cabin, responds in his dissent:
Whereas traditional scarcity of money and space require a library to make choices about what to acquire, and the choice to be made is whether or not to spend the money to acquire something, blocking is the subject of a choice made after the money for Internet access has been spent or committed. Since it makes no difference to the cost of Internet access whether an adult calls up material harmful for children or the Articles of Confederation, blocking (on facts like these) is not necessitated by scarcity of either money or space. In the instance of the Internet, what the library acquires is electronic access, and the choice to block is a choice to limit access that has already been acquired. Thus, deciding against buying a book means there is no book (unless a loan can be obtained), but blocking the Internet is merely blocking access purchased in its entirety and subject to unblocking if the librarian agrees. The proper analogy therefore is not to passing up a book that might have been bought; it is either to buying a book and then keeping it from adults lacking an acceptable purpose, or to buying an encyclopedia and then cutting out pages with anything thought to be unsuitable for all adults.
So, Souter “gets” the Internet, while Rehnquist clearly does not. It’s so, so simple, people. It’s one of Newton’s Laws: The Internet Changes Everything. Everything. Someday we will have a government that understands that.
posted to /news at 9:23pm :: 4 responses

dave had this to say (06/23/2003 15:54:49):
I have been in libraries where every internet terminal in use was being used to look at porn by grody greasy scary people. Now, I'm in the business of being on the side of the marginalized, but I really wonder if this is in the public interest.

I think this is a reasonable decision, although I would be more supportive if filtering software were better. But look: if you go into a library that carries "Playboy" or what have you, many of them will have a sign saying "this title available by request at the periodicals desk." An internet filter which can be turned off by request is no different. Furthermore, most internet porn is NOT NEARLY as tame as Playboy.

I cannot imagine being a woman and being comfortable with the kind of internet use that is going on in many libraries, where it is a serious problem. And I cannot imagine being comfortable with my kids around it either.
/\/\/\/ had this to say (06/23/2003 17:02:48):
A "filter which can be turned off by request" is very different if it filters more than porn -- as all current filters do. By their very nature, they suck. Without artificial intelligence, a porn filter that works properly will remain, like artificial intelligence itself, a pipe dream. So the real question to ask is, "Is there a difference between having to ask for a copy of Playboy and having to ask for access to Planned Parenthood's web site [which is blocked by some filters]?" And I think there is, especially in a small town where a young woman might know the librarian, and the librarian might know the young woman's parents.
dave had this to say (06/24/2003 04:46:15):
Hrmm, somewhere I remember reading about some thingy that could detect naked puerile flesh in a picture somehow, which I guess doesn't solve the problem either, but they've gotta have some decent way of dealing. Isn't there a system which works by having a crew of people continuously surfing looking for porn sites to block by address??

Also, have you *been* in any small-town libraries? Lost of them would never stock PP stuff in the first place!! I know, separate issue.

Here's the thing: I'm sick and tired of the old "The Internet changes *everything*" line. It does not change everything. It changes a lot of things. It does not change that kids have no business looking at smut even accidentally, and it DOES change that it's a hell of a lot easier for that to happen now.

But repeating it over and over isn't a useful argument for much of anything. Also, it really smacks too much of WIRED magazine in 1998.
/\/\/\/ had this to say (06/24/2003 14:12:31):
That last bit is a cheap shot, I think, but I won't take it personally because Wired is so frequently right about how far-reaching technological change is. . . . That the Internet Changes Everything shall remain one of Newton's Laws, because only with a phrase that makes people stop and go, "Really?" can you actually convey the enormity of what the Internet is, means, and is doing to our world. . . . Besides, it's mostly true. Ask the music industry. Ask Jack Valenti. Ask newspapers. Ask book publishers. Ask any member of Congress. Ask a bank. Ask an auto dealer. Ask teachers in the classroom. Ask the DMV. Ask your favorite grocery chain. Ask concert promoters. Ask activist coordinators. Ask anyone in the circulation department of any major magazine. Ask doctors. Lawyers. Hell, ask men of the cloth. Compare teenagers of today with teenagers of ten years ago. The Internet changes how we learn about our world; it presents new ways for us to connect to other people anywhere in our world (even in our own backyard); it is the first invention in history that provides an individual with a way to push information to the entire world. . . . The Web specifically, many would (and do) argue, is the single-most world-rocking invention since the printing press. I think that goes too far -- the airplane is a pretty damned world-rocking invention -- but I think the Internet's effects on our world will be every bit as far-reaching as the printing press. And it has only just begun. . . . Granted, the Internet does not change how the sun goes down at the end of the day, but it does mean that at any moment, I can very very quickly find out what time the sun goes down tonight so that I can head out to Ocean Beach and be there to witness it.

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