Department of mixed feelings


Warning: politics ahead, and a touchy subject.

So, this news story. Major ISPs agree to block access to USENET groups and websites that carry child porn.

On the one hand, yay for protecting the children. Child porn boo.

On the other hand, is it really a good idea to give ISPs (or, more accurately, the NCMEC) carte blanche to censor the internet?

On the other other hand, the censorship won’t work anyway, since most of the stuff is on newsgroups, which can be accessed through third-party providers who won’t be following this blacklist. And even if you eliminated newsgroups altogether, there are a zillion other ways to pass around data in ways that can’t easily be tracked from outside. Yay for the internet, routing around censorship like always.

On the other other other hand, this agreement reinforces the idea that ISPs aren’t common carriers, so are allowed to control what you do on their wires. And therefore things like tiered access are acceptable; goodbye net neutrality. Which strikes me as a very good reason why the ISPs would have agreed to this deal (and even to pay for it), because they’d like that sort of control very much, and that battle is going to be played out, one way or the other, within the next couple of years at most: everyone’s just waiting to see who jumps first.

And on the other other other other hand, this time around they censor child porn. Who gets to control what sites go on that blacklist next year? Where’s the oversight? Will it be like those antiterrorism laws which oh of course will never be applied to anyone who isn’t a terrorist, except a couple years later when it turns out well, actually, they have been and still are?

So. That.

I hope nobody reads this as me approving of child pornography. I don’t, of course. It just seems like an awfully convenient bogeyman, is all.


Apparently Verizon’s first step as part of this agreement was to stop hosting the entire alt.* section of USENET, and Time Warner is dropping their news server altogether.

USENET is different from the web. A website sits on one machine, anybody who wants to look at it is reading the file from that machine. USENET newsgroups are copied to every news provider, so everyone who carries a particular newsgroup is hosting a copy of all the files from that newsgroup on their server. Because of this, there’s a long tradition of providers selectively hosting some parts of USENET and not others, so the news that Verizon and TW are doing so is far less a big deal than the website blocking. But the fact that it’s tied to this agreement, and that Verizon is dumping 100,000 newsgroups because of the 88 of them that contained child porn gives a taste of how subtle that website blocking might turn out to be as well.

Update 2

Turns out this was a big bowl of nothing. Dropping the newsgroup feeds is real: that must be disappointing for any Verizon or TW customers who were using those feeds, but it’s not the End Of The Internet. But the “blocking of websites” is not real: Time Warner Cable’s director of digital communications just posted on Metafilter to clarify that it’s not the scary IP blacklist the Times makes it sound like; it’s just the individual companies removing child porn websites which are hosted on their own servers (which they have every right to do, as those sites are presumably in violation of the ISPs’ terms of service). So, again, not the End Of the Internet, just business as usual.

Oh well. At least I learned that TWC’s director of communications wastes time on MetaFilter, just like me.