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Fighting Bad Pornography


Child pornography is bad. Okay. I think it’s safe to say we’re all in agreement on that one, right? (I mean, except for maybe the freaks over at NAMBLA.)

One of the unintended (or intended, maybe, I mean who really knows what was going on in Al Gore’s head when he, ahem, “invented” the Internet) and sick side effects to the explosion of the Internet was the unfathomable proliferation of access to exploitive pornography. (By “exploitive,” I mean that disgusting stuff involving children and animals, none of the good ol’ fashioned, American, consenting adult, guy-on-girl—or, even, for some of us, guy-on-guy and or girl-on-girl—porn.) But that’s not news. We all know well and good what happens when you don’t filter your searches.

But even below the evil that lurks within Google’s image search is a world of horror that newsgroups use to swap back and forth their obscene and exploitive material. And, if something isn’t done soon (I mean, aside from Chris Hanson’s 697-part To Catch a Predator series on Dateline NBC), the inevitable is bound to happen. Amidst the trumpeting “who will save the children” cries, people will get elected to Congress and begin a systematic online content vice-squeeze.

Before you know it, there goes the “good” porn. And maybe a few other things that aren’t even related to passions of the flesh. Your dirty joke website. Maybe legitimate nude forms of art.

Last month, New York State’s Attorney General Andrew Cuomo obtained a commitment from three major Internet Service Providers—Time Warner, Verizon and Sprint—to bring the hammer down on those who provide child porn by blocking access to the usenet and newsgroup sites that exist on their servers for these nefarious doings.

Notably absent on that list is Comcast. No, it’s not because Comcast is a fan of kiddie-porn. Turns out, Cuomo didn’t invite them to the party. “While Comcast was not contacted by the New York State’s Attorney General for this announcement, we work very closely with law enforcement on all matters involving child abuse and the Internet,” says Charlie Douglas, director of corporate communications for the Philadelphia-based cable giant, when I dropped him a line. “We look forward to learning more about the agreement and how it will be implemented.”

Indeed. In a few short words, Douglas sums up a lot about the issues facing the broadband industry in the coming months. Most have made it a policy to police content on their networks as little as possible—for obvious good reasons. Granted, obscene material isn’t constitutionally protected. The problem is, the definition of obscene isn’t exactly clear.

Bottom line: It’s a far better proposition to have the companies police themselves than to leave it in the hands of Congress, and Comcast is the smartest of the bunch,  playing the wait-and-see game. That doesn’t mean that Comcast doesn’t already monitor its network. They do.

But the New York agreement is little more than PR fluff until we see what “extra” actions are taken. Let Time Warner take it on the chin when the Annie Lebowitzes start screaming “Censorship” as it muddles through catching and coding truly obscene material. Meanwhile, Comcast quietly avoids the fracas.

Now, as for my $300 cable bill…

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