Big milestone for CP80 but still many detractors

It was a big week for CP80, the anti-pornography group led by Ralph Yarro. The Utah legislature unanimously passed, and Governor Huntsman signed, a non-binding resolution calling on the U.S. government to do something about Internet pornography. The resolution calls on the federal government to “take action to help stop children and employees from accessing Internet pornography.” Mr. Yarro called it a “shot heard ’round the world.”

Slashdot.org picked up the story yesterday — meaning the issue is now in the tech mainstream — but coverage wasn’t positive. Most Slashdot readers carry both an ultra-liberal interpretation of free speech and a disdain for SCO for its junk law suits against IBM, making a story about Ralph Yarro a double negative. (Ralph Yarro is the chairman of the SCO group.)

Like his Slashdot ideologues, Utah ex-senatorial candidate Pete Ashdown criticized CP80 as technologically difficult, expensive, and an inappropriate intrusion by government — three hard-to-believe arguments coming from a techie and left-leaning Democrat. I’ve met Pete and heard him speak several times, and while I believe he’s a family man and a loyal Utahn, I think he’s missing the point here.

Pornography costs business its dollars and our society its morality. An unbridled interpretation of free speech is no excuse, the difficulty of the task is no excuse, and concern about the “image of Utah” is no excuse. Sure, there are technical details to work out, but let’s start somewhere. Even if CP80 isn’t the solution, there’s definitely a problem to solve and Ralph Yarro’s effort is commendable.

17 replies on “Big milestone for CP80 but still many detractors”

  1. Richard,

    Thanks again for your reply. Feel free to email me anytime for lunch. I’m certain that we would enjoy a spirited discussion.

    Interestingly, your post seems to parallel recent discussions that I’ve had with Pete. He’s interested in a meta-ranking system for filtering that would be driven by communities of concerned parents. Though Pete and I respectfully disagree on the potential of such a plan, it does go to show that there are at least ideas out there being discussed which could go a long way in improving existing filtering options in the market. If you’d like to provide venture capital for Pete to start a company like that, I’m sure he’d be interested in talking to you :]

    To return to the debate: wrt the assertion that CP80 would provide for the prosecution of innocent individuals, you may have heard the recent broadcast on RadioWest where Mr. Yarro advocated criminal prosecution of those running open wireless access points. I believe that this contsitutes the prosecution of innocent individuals. I’d be surprised if you didn’t agree, but I’m interested to hear your thoughts.

    Really though, it illustrates a fundamental problem with CP80. In order to be effective, they must continually outlaw circumvention measures. If they don’t, then CP80 won’t achieve its proposed goal. Many of those measures are used for legitimate privacy needs. Anonymous proxies are vital tools for political dissidents and innumerable other groups, to whom Internet privacy is critical.

    Regarding point #5, ICANN does not *enforce* US law. They’ve instituted the UDNRP, which closely mirrors the law and makes use of the law, but they are not acting as an enforcement agency under the control of the US government.

    Futhermore, ICANN has worried about moves by the US government to get it to act in an enforcement role and its members are so averse to doing so that they’re discussing a move out of the US, to Sweden.

    Regarding #6, I acknowledge that I was fairly unclear. By “underperform” I mean that I don’t believe that CP80, through government enforcement can achieve a higher rate of blocked sites than existing filters do. This is certainly an unsubstantiated claim since no test cases exist, but I really don’t see how the DOJ is going to actively prosecute greater than 99.9% of page owners successfully. Filtering companies can work faster and more effectively than the US Judicial system.

    Finally, I agree that H2M and CP80 are fairly similar. I don’t love H2M, but it’s a step up from what CP80 is proposing, in my opinion.

  2. Michael,

    You’ve been nothing less than respectful, so I likewise appreciate discussing the topic with you. Maybe we can meet for lunch in Salt Lake sometime to discuss in person.

    If pornography isn’t addressed legislatively, I believe the market will demand a private solution. Maybe that means going from 99% to 99.99%, or maybe some would argue we’re not even at 99% yet. Whatever the case, Mr. Lessig argues, and I agree, that private solutions don’t allow for due process. If your website is blocked by a private filter, you may have no recourse. That’s non-negotiable censorship.

    Your points #1 and #2 seem quite alarmist. I’m not sure how CP80 would hurt privacy on the Internet or imprison innocent people. I don’t think CP80 is even arguing WHERE the line should be drawn between innocent and pornographer, but just that a line SHOULD be drawn and “here is the combination of technology and law that can enforce it.” I’m not seeing #3 either.

    On #4, I don’t believe CP80 would strip ISPs of common-carrier status. My understanding is that *publishers* would be required to publish on specific ports, but the ISPs would be neutral to the content. In free market fashion, ISPs could choose how to package and sell the “community port”, the “free-for-all” port, or both, just like Xmission offers the optional filter to its customers.

    5. ICANN already enforces US law for trademarks.

    6. If you mean technology performance, a separate port is most certain to outperform a proxy server or client-side filter. If you mean which content gets filtered, I don’t believe CP80 is saying where that line should be drawn.

    Unless I’m misunderstanding, I think H2M and CP80 are more alike than you’re conceding. The technology is different, but the legal aspects are very similar.

  3. Richard,

    Thanks for your thoughtful reply. I hope that I wasn’t too emotionally reactive, but there have been some associated with CP80 who have said nasty things about myself and other CP80 detractors (that’s we’re purveyors of pornography, etc). I admire your more balanced approach.

    I think that you’re fairly right on in your comparison of Lessig’s H2M proposal to CP80. I also believe Lessig when he says that liberals (a group of which I am a proud member) must work hard to disallow children access to obscene material. I’m not sold on H2M for reasons that I describe below, but I can tell you that given a choice between it and CP80, I’d take H2M in a heartbeat.

    I believe that properly implemented filtering along with good parenting can do an adequate job of protecting children. At the very least, I believe filtering along with good parenting can do a job *equal to or better* than what CP80 proposes.

    I just have a hard time believing that we’re going to sue/arrest/fine/frighten the problem away through regulation, especially at a rate greater than the 99.x% job already achieved by existing technology. I continue to be interested in options that do not:

    1) Significantly harm privacy on the Internet
    2) Arrest/fine innocent people
    3) Require a stream of continued legislation and prosecutions to regulate technology in order to maintain the effectiveness of the original proposal.
    4) Strip elements of common-carrier status from ISPs.
    5) Require ICANN to be an enforcer of US law
    6) Underperform when compared to existing technical solutions

    I don’t believe CP80 meets any of my requirements. Lessig meets a few. However, I’d like to explore options that meet all of them. That’s possible and while I’m pleased people are working on a solution, I’m not satisfied that they’ve developed the right one.

  4. Michael, my apologies if I’ve misjudged you. No pornography solution will be a replacement for good parenting (as you’ve implied) but the right combination of policy and technology could make it easier to be a good parent.

    Time will tell if the solution is CP80 or something else, but I can only commend the folks at CP80 for fighting the good fight. Alternative voices like yours will help refine their ideas.

    By the way, I found Lessig’s H2M proposal to be quite similar to CP80: 1. a law which 2. codifies a technology which 3. allows parents to choose.

  5. Richard,

    If you’re implying that I have some personal financial interest in the outcome of CP80, I can assure you that isn’t the case. I’ve done plenty to reduce exposure to pornography by minors, including working on the technical team that originally put filters into Utah schools.

    I don’t publish or distribute pornography on the web and I don’t have any association with those who do so. My prevailing interest comes from my belief that CP80 is a poorly designed proposal that’s likely to cost taxpayers money and do serious damage to important ideals such as privacy and personal freedom.

    Here’s the DOJ quote you asked for. It does come from the most recent decision by Judge Reed:

    “The Department’s enforcement of [COPA] could require an undesirable diversion of critical investigative and prosecutorial resources that the Department currently invests in combating traffickers in hard-core child pornography, in thwarting child predators, and in prosecuting large-scale and multi-district commercial distributors of obscene materials.

    We do not believe that it would be wise to divert the resources that are used for important initiatives.”

    Richard, I’m afraid that you’re twisting my words somewhat. I don’t have a “hesitation to find a solution” nor do I have a belief that we shouldn’t “explore options” but I do I have what I believe are a series of legitimate objections to the proposal made by CP80.

    The fact that I object to CP80 does not somehow require me to support a bad solution to the problem. We can certainly “explore options”, but that’s a far cry from garnering my support which CP80 in its current form, will not get.

    I’m currently interested in Lawrence Lessig’s proposal, (though I’m still mulling it over). More info on his ideas are posted at his website. There are plenty of proposals like his that are out there. To write that I “hesitate” to find a solution is really unfair.

    Frankly, there are simply too many holes in CP80’s proposal for it to be described as an effective solution, or even to pass judicial review. This morning I came across a quote by an executive at AOL, made a number of years ago. To paraphrase, she said, “AOL’s community is 2.5 million” (like I said, this was years ago), “You wouldn’t let your child play alone in a city of 2.5 million people, would you?”

    Let’s say, just for the sake of argument (and this is _very_ generous to CP80’s idea) that CP80 worked perfectly and all pornography was eliminated from port 80 and from other well-known ports. Do you believe that would make the Internet safe for children? Would you allow your child to surf the web unsupervised, even if pornographic images weren’t there?

  6. Michael,

    The AOL filter is a free download for PC’s only, not a server-side filter like your own Squidguard. I think there’s still room for you in the market.

    Are you referring to the recent decision by Judge Reed to strike down the COPA act, or a separate statement by the DOJ about it? I’d be interested in your source. If “everyday” pornography consumption leads some people to baser, illegal pornography consumption, then it makes sense for the DOJ to be concerned about both.

    Most importantly, if you agree that “holding pornographers accountable” is laudable, I don’t understand your hesitation to find a solution. You’re saying that because it didn’t work with spammers or because the DOJ already has too much to do, we shouldn’t explore the options. If the folks at CP80 were presented with a better plan that would work, I believe they’d happily switch. In the meantime, they’re hashing out all the technical and legal details on their own.

    It’s easy to be a critic but hard to be a contributor. Are you only concerned about the means (as you imply) or more about the end? Is there something you’d lose if this worked?

  7. Richard,

    AOL’s filter is really the product to beat these days, and they are already offering it to the world for free. So, it’s fairly hard to compete with that :] However, we’re constantly evaluating new products, and better filtering is certainly a part of that discussion.

    Regarding the idea that we should “hold pornographers” accountable, I agree in principle. However, the same idea was applied to spammers, with little to no perceptible results. Why would the prosecution of pornographers produce different results?

    In the recent COPA decision, the DOJ said, essentially, that they have better things to do than to spend time and money chasing down every last pornographer. They cited their limited resources and their preference for prosecuting child pornography cases and more series sexual crimes. The DOJ argued that holding everyday pornographers responsible would undermine their efforts to prosecute those types of cases.

    Certainly we can both agree that these more serious cases deserve as much attention as we can give them. To move resources away from those cases and instead apply them to a futile attempt to regulate pornographic content through endless lawsuits sounds, to me, like the real loosing battle.

  8. Michael, thanks for your comment. If XMission’s filter is that good, I think you ought to commercialize it more widely! Seriously, if you could offer it as a proxy server to non-XMission customers (for example, outside the state) I think you’d have plenty of interest.

    I suspect most filter providers have the difficult task of managing an ever-changing list of blacklisted URLs, words, and IP addresses, with no way to hold deceptive pornographers responsible. Sounds like a losing battle.

  9. Richard,

    Thanks for the reply.

    I have yet to see a substantiated case made that filters aren’t working. At XMission, we’ve been offering the Dans Guardian filter software to our customers, free of charge for over a decade. In all that time, we haven’t received a single complaint of the filter underblocking.

    Additionally, AOL offers a free filtering service that 85% of its users rate as “highly satisfactory”. The re-subscription rate for for Surfwatch — another content-filtering product — is 80%.

    With numbers like those, I just can’t see how Mr. Yarrow can argue that filters, along with careful parenting, are not a reasonable solution to the problem.

  10. @Michael
    Thanks for your comment. I don’t think Ralph would bother with CP80 if filters were enough. Filters require a massive, always changing white list or black list and put the responsibility in the hands of filterer. Legislation like CP80 would put responsibility in the hands of the content providers to self filter. Then any computer science student could create filtering software: allow traffic from port 80, block traffic on the porn port.
  11. Richard, it’s misleading to say that we “have to start somewhere” when so many other methods to filter pornography are already available. As of yet, nobody has made a convincing case to me that CP80 can do a better job than existing content-based filters. If legislation can do such a fine job of sorting Internet content, why aren’t spam and spyware history?
  12. This is a horrible URL, but… http://hosted.ap.org/dynamic/stories/I/INTERNET_BLOCKING?SITE=MOCOD&SECTION=BUSINESS&TEMPLATE=DEFAULT&CTIME=2007-03-22-18-21-14

    Richard, what do you think of the credit-card-as-barrier approach? (As a part-solution, not whole).

    I think that “a solution” or “the solution” will not come until people from both sides of the issue can come together to accurately define what is wrong to each, & what is acceptable as a solution to both.

    I don’t believe it’s a matter of priorities, as Pete mentioned, because there are more than enough people pitching in on all of those mentioned causes, as well as on the pornography problem, and the people with the passion for each cause will take steps to solve the issues.

    It’s a classic black and white argument that is fuzzying the route to a solution. Anti-porn advocates argue their side, and free-speechers, theirs. And where exactly is that getting anyone?

    It’s not going to be solved for a long while because it either hasn’t made the right people hurt yet (those who have the power, money, ability, and energy to lead and make the big changes) and because the problem hasn’t been defined enough to both sides’ liking.

    It would be a more productive step to work together to hash out the particulars to come up with an appropriate measure, or several appropriate measures, rather than run in the same circles of debate, over and over again.

    Anti-porn advocates want an immediate solution as comprehensive as possible, and free-speechers can’t get over their anxiety that if you set any kind of parameters at all, there goes the farm.

    By churning over that combo repeatedly, it’s not attacking the problem-at-hand, which is not pornography at all:

    It’s that two very different belief systems can’t seem to get on the same page and work together on an issue. Why can’t we seem to confront that as an issue and perhaps in doing so unlock the first roadblock to an eventual solution?

  13. The idea that CP80 wouldn’t remove pornography is a red-herring, categorization is equally as difficult.

    As far as societal standards, which society? Should women be allowed bathing suits or only burkas? Is an image of Mohammed something that can travel over CP80? How about a “suggestive” O’Keefe flower or a Mapplethorpe photo with no nudity? Are Renaissance nudes and Greek statues OK? Most of all, who decides?

    You can’t just say, “Fix it!” and expect a solution. I’d rank hunger, health, and ignorance much higher on my priority list than categorizing pornography on the Internet. Lets solve those first before we demand everyone on the planet follows a flawed standard.

  14. Pete, this doesn’t feel like the China issue to me. Instead of censoring porn, CP80 would simply bring accountability to it. Those who want porn could get it, and those who don’t could avoid it. If a pornographic popup appears to a child on what is supposed to be a “clean port,” there’ll be a way to hold someone responsible. (I.e. Was porn served from a non-complying server? Did the ISP let it through? Was it the browser?)

    I think it’s commendable that your ISP offers a free filter. That’s a great reason for local businesses and families to choose Xmission. (As a side note, I was an Xmission customer when I had DSL and was quite pleased.)

    I do agree that government expansion is bad. But if there’s some combination of technical and legislative measures that can help this cause — the simplest thing that could possibly work — then it’s worth exploring. I wouldn’t call you or Slashdot readers left-wing ideologues for criticizing the technical merits of CP80, only for not seeing a problem and being interested in working together on a solution. (Many Slashdot readers seem to believe in an anything-goes interpretation of “free speech” and any talk of limiting porn is immediately mocked and disregarded.) Pornography is a societal vice that hurts all of us, and any solution needs strong minds like yours.

    The legal system IS the codification of moral beliefs. Murder is illegal because society thinks it’s morally wrong, no doubt passed down from the Judeo-Christian tradition. If we can likewise recognize the societal dangers of pornography, we have a duty to protect ourselves. But CP80 wouldn’t remove pornography anyway.

  15. Richard, how well have attempts to regulate Internet content worked in China? If you wish to control content on the Internet, you need to shut it down completely.

    If by some miracle CP80 was implemented in a most perfect fashion, I could bypass it in a matter of minutes. That is not what I call a successful filter. As I pointed out in my blog post, I have been giving my customers a “free of charge” filter that has been doing the job just fine for over a decade. I didn’t need a proclamation from the governor to do it either.

    Any government effort to control or categorize the Internet is an exercise in futility, and I’d rather we spent our tax dollars on tasks that have concrete results. I don’t see why that is such a “hard to believe” proposal or why you have to categorize people pointing out technical deficiencies of CP80 as left-wing “ideologues”. There are still people remaining on the right who are against the expansion of the nanny-state.

    Isn’t the imposition of one’s own moral beliefs or doctrine upon others without their consent the basis of an “ideologues” focus?

  16. @Hans

    Like I said, the enormity of the problem is no excuse not to try. As with spam, the problem isn’t a technical one, but a legislative/bureaucratic/societal one. (For example, there are technical alternatives to anonymous SMTP, but such spam-stopping measures haven’t been implemented.)

    We already regulate the Internet for trademarks, copyrights, and child pornography. We regulate TV and radio for [adult] pornography. Why shouldn’t we regulate pornography on the Internet?

    I agree that personal righteousness is the most powerful personal solution. The problem is that this addictive vice grabs hold of people who didn’t initially seek it out. How can you say “no” to it when it pours in through the broadband pipe?

    The correlations between pornography consumption and sex crimes make this a societal problem worth fighting, as we would any plague or disease.

  17. Pornography is a terrible plague from which nothing good can come. Fighting pornography is a commendable sentiment, but the way people are going about it is completely ridiculous.

    You can not fight this by putting your finger in the dam. There is no technological solution based on categorizing or limiting the internet that is at all feasible, and even if it were it would be a very bad idea – as bad for society as pornography itself.

    Everyone, absolutely everyone, believes spam is undesirable. How much luck have we had in stopping that? Very much fewer people believe porn is bad, and in fact a large number actively seek it out. You’re dreaming if you think there’s a technological solution.

    The only solution to the porn problem, as with every other sin, is to “teach correct principles and let them govern themselves.” Teach people about the way it destroys lives. Reach out to people struggling with it and help them. Teach your children. These are the ways to make a difference. Nothing else is powerful enough.

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