“It makes us look bad, of course it’s child porn”

Recently grist.org profiled the story of Marie Gunnoe and her environmental activism about a cause which affects her directly: the coal mining industry in West Virginia, and its pollution of the water supply in the area where she lived. The grist.org story also links to Aaron Bady’s article in The New Inquiry which coves Marie’s ordeal in a bit more detail.

Marie planned to present some very powerful evidence, as the article states:

Gunnoe’s planned testimony included this photo of a child bathing in water that is the color of a pumpkin, offset at the far end of the tub by a cluster of bath-fun bubbles. Gunnoe wanted to show the committee this photo, but the presiding politicians decided it was inappropriate. (The child was, as bathing children generally are, unclothed.) So the activist presented other evidence instead: ruined streams, stories of people with polluted water and air.

Then, when she was done and preparing to leave, the Capitol Police pulled her aside. Republican members of the panel had suggested that she be questioned about child pornography.

The story goes on to opine that the water is this horrible color is what should be considered obscene, not the unclothed child. Aaron was a bit more direct in his article:

…if you dare to take a picture of child’s exposure to that poison, if you have the nerve to walk into the halls of Congress and show them the obscenity that is a child that must wash herself with poison every day, they will call you a child pornographer. They will call the police.

Not surprisingly, I concur, and I see this for what it is, a pathetic attempt by the coal industry to squash opposition by any means necessary. And they should be ashamed of themselves for it, not only for this egregious attempt at censorship, but for “crying wolf” about child pornography in the process.

It’s a rather flaccid smoke-screen for a number of things that are truly obscene. First, that the coal industry is doing this and has not been sanctioned. Second, that they think they have the right to get away with pollution which ruins the water supply for entire communities. Third, that if the coal industry wanted to use a naked child’s picture when they were lobbying, they certainly wouldn’t think twice about it, and the same (Republican) Congressmen who had the Capitol Police on speed dial wouldn’t reach for their phones at all. Yes, a double standard.

Is it really a sign of the times that a photojournalist in Vietnam had no trouble getting what is now an iconic photo published even though it contained full nudity of a nine-year-old girl?

There’s a huge difference between child pornography, and documentary photography which shows naked children. The coal industry wants to blur the lines between the two, all in the name of profit. Someone has to hold them accountable.

The slippery slope of censorship: the copyright lobby and child porn

The title of the MAFIAAFire forum post “The Copyright Lobby Absolutely Loves Child Pornography” is intentionally controversial and eye-grabbing, but when you look at the actual content of the post all of a sudden the politics and chess game of censorship as played by the copyright lobby makes all kinds of sense.

From the article, quoting Johan Schlüter, head of the Danish Anti-Piracy Group (Antipiratgruppen) from 2007 May 27:

Politicians do not understand file sharing, but they understand child pornography, and they want to filter that to score points with the public. Once we get them to filter child pornography, we can get them to extend the block to file sharing.

And later in the article (this time, quoting the original poster in the present day):

The reasoning is simple and straightforward. Once you have established that someone who is in a position to censor other people’s communication has a responsibility to do so, the floodgates open and those middlemen can be politically charged with filtering anything that somebody objects to being distributed.

This is a perfect example of the “slippery slope” problem. With apologies to Procter and Gamble, a slightly modified version of the old Pringles slogan applies here: Once they drop (censor something), they can’t stop.

I detest child pornography as much as any other law-abiding citizen. However, a far worse problem than child porn is censorship of otherwise legitimate speech because of suspected copyright infringement. In the past, the NFL has censored obvious fair use of football telecasts (the only example I know of), mainly because YouTube made it so easy and few people bothered to contest the DMCA notices. I can only imagine what it will be like to try to use the net when someone suspects something is child pornography, when it clearly is not, and the request just gets intercepted. This is further complicated by the fact that even “virtual” child pornography has been outlawed.

The ends do not justify the means. We need to stop blatant censorship dead in its tracks now, or we will certainly regret the end result and wish we had acted sooner in a few years. I support in principle the work of the German group Mogis (), which is against the censorship of the Internet.

I concur with one of the conclusions of this post:

The conclusion is as unpleasant as it is inevitable. The copyright industry lobby is actively trying to hide egregious crimes against children, obviously not because they care about the children, but because the resulting censorship mechanism can be a benefit to their business if they manage to broaden the censorship in the next stage. All this in defense of their lucrative monopoly that starves the public of culture.

If you are disgusted after reading this, you’re not alone. I think the copyright lobby has honestly reached a new low. I hope you, my readers, can see through this pathetic ruse; if you can avoid purchasing the products of the copyright lobby, please do so. I realize some people just can’t, and that’s fine. But the only way we will be able to speak the language of the large corporations is by hitting them in the pocketbook.

Update 2011-12-05: The above-linked post may bring up a “403 Forbidden” server error due to a misconfiguration on the destination server. If this happens, please copy and paste the link target into a new tab and it should load.

Just because it’s tasteless doesn’t make it child porn

This is one of those stories. The kind that gets my blood boiling. The kind where I read it, take a step back from the computer, pour myself another glass of my beverage of the evening (tonight, it happens to be iced tea), shake my head, and say “Wow.”

Dr. Marty Klein’s blog Sexual Intelligence features this story of Evan Emory. Evan did something that, in all honesty, is patently devoid of anything resembling good taste or decency. Frankly, typical college fraternity exploits are in better taste than this.

From Dr. Marty’s article (by the way, in keeping with my convention of referring to the “good guys” by first names, I hope nobody minds if I call him that):

Last month, Evan received permission to play a song for a first-grade class. Under the watchful eye of their teacher, Evan sang “Lunch Lady Land” and, with school permission, videotaped the event. So far, everyone wins.

This stupid jackass goes home, edits the video, and splices in shots of himself singing sexually explicit lyrics, so it looks like he’s singing that to the kiddies. The lyrics, by the way, are not about them. He apparently thinks it’s hilarious–sophomoric humor on steroids. Three days ago he puts it up on YouTube with the disclaimer that “no actual children have been exposed” to the song.

The blog post goes on to state that Evan has been charged with, in essence, making kiddie porn, and is facing 20 years in prison. And this is the part I take exception to. As tasteless as this as, I don’t think he should be subject to criminal sanctions. Has he entered the “I deserve to have the pants sued off of me by angry parents” zone? Most definitely. Does his reputation deserve to be tarnished for a good long while? Damn right.

Does Evan deserve to be tagged “child pornographer” and get stuck checking the “yes” box next to “have you been convicted or pled guilty or no contest to a felony?” on job applications for the rest of his life? No way.

I’ll relay the best personal anecdote I have here. My late grandfather (he passed away in 2002) was an avid photographer. We had a trailer out in the country where we’d go on some weekends, which was a good three-hour drive from Houston. (We were able to receive Austin and San Antonio TV stations, if that helps give you an idea of about where it was.)

Anyway, one of the aftermarket modifications to this semi-permanently-parked trailer was a porch built around two sides. We’ll call them the north and east sides, with the front door on the north side. On the east side, there was a water spigot that extended some couple of feet above the porch. Just the perfect height.

So my grandfather got the idea to do some trick photography. He had me pose in front of the spigot and cup my hand about crotch-high, with my pants still on and zipped up. With the spigot turned on, a picture taken from the right angle would look like I was urinating, with the spigot and pipe leading to it nowhere in sight. (And, I might add, with an unrealistic stream for someone my age.)

I’m not sure what became of the picture, and yes, I will admit it was in pretty poor taste. But I thought it was hilarious, and I’m assuming my grandfather did too. The drug store photo clerk probably got a chuckle or three as well. (This is back when we still had Eckerd drugstores, which incidentally is quite probably where he took this roll to be developed.) I don’t consider myself abused from this incident. Not in the least. We made a picture together that was as funny as hell, even if my grandmother and whatever other relatives that saw it disapproved.

The only reason I can tell this story today is because my grandfather can’t possibly face any legal action for it, having passed away some eight years and change ago. And I think that’s sad. But to answer the question I know some of you are asking, no, I don’t think he would have posted it to Flickr, at least not as publicly viewable.

And of course, I wouldn’t dare take a similar trick photography picture of my kids today. It is a shame that we as a society have literally gone crazy with the passange and enforcement of sex-related laws. In fact, there are so many silly laws based solely on intent, solely on “he/she thought it was a minor, therefore he/she is guilty.”

It’s a real shame otherwise good people like Evan Emory find themselves facing felony charges, for things that in all honesty shouldn’t be crimes. And again, this shouldn’t be a crime. Ripe fodder for a barrage of civil suits, yes, but not a crime.

Again, Dr. Marty hits it on the head:

Which child was sexually abused? None.

What harm has any child experienced? None.

If any child has been “harmed,” has that child been “sexually abused?” No.

So, two points in conclusion.

Even though he does not deserve a felony conviction for it, and I honestly hope the charges are dropped, shame on Evan Emory.

However, the real villians here are the superintendent, John B. VanLoon; the principal, Lowell Whitaker; and prosecutor, who curiously is not mentioned by name in any of the news stories I was able to dig up. They deserve a much bigger “shame on you.” At least ten times as big, if not a hundred. So, shame on Mr. Whitaker, Mr. VanLoon, and the still-anonymous Muskegon County prosecutor. And shame on everyone who wants to see Evan get a criminal conviction on a charge he does not deserve.

A victim of his own honesty

What could our justice system possibly be thinking when they prosecute cases like this?

A recent Mashable post chronicles the tale of Matthew White of Sacramento, California. Matthew is 22 years old and about a year ago downloaded what was represented as a copy of College Girls Gone Wild. Let's just say it was mislabeled and I don't doubt for a moment Matthew would have not bothered downloading the file were it truthfully labelled; it contained child pornography.

So Matthew deleted it, and thought that was the end of that. About a year later the FBI shows up at his family's house, and his family lets the agents inside and allows them to examine the computer, presumably without a search warrant.

The investigators recover the "deleted" copy of the mislabeled child pornography and now Matthew faces 20 years in prison. The truly sad part of this is that according to the story, Matthew plans to plead guilty and accept a 3.5 year sentence.

Hopefully someone out there knows Matthew and can relay a copy of this post to him. The last thing you want to do is plead guilty (I've already left a comment to this effect on the original Mashable post). Were I in Matthew's situation I like my chances in front of a jury.

Of course, the best way out of this situation is simply to deny the agents entry to the premises or access to the computer without a warrant. At that point their options are either to come back with a warrant or cease pursuing the case.

I don't know what crime Matthew committed that is worth sending him to prison for 3.5 years and branding him a sex offender for life. If the FBI is looking for people to make an example out of, surely they could pick someone who actually intentionally downloaded child pornography and kept the files instead of deleting them? At the least, Matthew should get a pardon. There is no sense in ruining the life of someone that young who acted in good faith and in all likelihood, was ignorant of whatever law he may have technically violated.

Shame on you, FBI agents that worked this case. Here's hoping your time holding the badge is short-lived.

It starts with Usenet: squashing free speech

Zeropaid reports on yet another ISP censoring its Usenet access. AT&T will cease offering access to alt.bin* and alt.bain* newsgroups as part of its package later this week, due to pressure from New York Attorney General Andrew M. Cuomo exerted under the guise of reducing the flow of child pornography.

The sheer idiocy of this logic is demonstrated by the following quote from the AT&T notice:

While we will continue to provide access to newsgroups as part of our Internet Service Offerings, we will no longer include alt.bin* nor alt.bain* hierarchies because of the possibility of child pornography in those particular groups and the difficulty in ensuring that no child porn reappears in them. You can still access newsgroups content through unaffiliated third party providers.

In light of that last sentence, Cuomo is an idiot if he thinks this move will have any real net effect on the child pornography problem. It’s a very thinly veiled attempt at censorship; Cuomo may as well fight to make it illegal to sell Internet access in the state of New York.

I, personally, haven’t been on Usenet in quite a while, and had no need for binaries groups when I did. However, for those who wish to use them, the option should be there. As a common carrier, AT&T–and for that matter, any Internet service provider–should be shielded from liability for what is posted via and to their Usenet servers.

Am I arguing for the right to post child porn? No. But I do believe the action against AT&T is just the top of the slippery slope.