NY Pressures ISPs Into Blocking Child Porn Websites, News Groups

from the good-goal,-bad-approach dept

New York’s Attorney General, Andrew Cuomo, has a history of using his position to threaten big companies into agreeing to take responsibility for something that isn’t their responsibility. He did it when he got advertisers to pay fines because their ads showed up in adware — without ever explaining what was actually illegal. And, now he’s done it again in getting a bunch of ISPs (Verizon, Sprint and Time Warner) to agree to block a list of websites and newsgroups that are listed as being purveyors of child porn. The ISPs are also giving Cuomo’s office over a million dollars, ostensibly to help wipe child porn off the internet. If that’s Cuomo’s goal, this isn’t the best way to do it — though, it will get him plenty of press coverage for bullying companies into doing something they aren’t required to do under law.

In fact, the state of Pennsylvania tried to do pretty much the same thing, back in 2002, but focused on actually passing a law (unlike Cuomo, who just bullied the companies into “agreeing.”) And, of course, a federal court tossed out the law as unconstitutional. The goal is certainly noble. Getting rid of child porn would be great — but having ISPs block access to an assigned list isn’t going to do a damn thing towards that goal. The blocked sites will reappear elsewhere. Those who want access, even to the blocked sites, will simply find encrypted tunnels to hide their paths. Basically, this won’t do much of anything, other than increase costs for ISPs.

Even worse, it runs a huge risk of starting ISPs down a very slippery slope of being willing to ban access to online content. No one’s against that when it’s child porn, but who’s reviewing the list to make sure it’s really child porn? How hard is it to slip a site that someone just doesn’t like into the list? Furthermore, once these ISPs have shown that they’re willing to block certain sites, then politicians will quickly look to increase that list beyond just child porn to other types of sites that they find objectionable. It sets a dangerous precedent.

Putting the responsibility on the ISPs is the wrong solution (and, honestly, the folks who are pro-net neutrality should be seriously worried about this — as it’s a clear violation of what they say net neutrality is all about). If the content itself is illegal, go after those actually responsible for the content. Not the service providers. Sure they make for easy targets and big headlines (backed up with that hefty cash “settlement” right to Cuomo’s office), but they’re not the ones responsible.

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Companies: sprint, time warner, verizon

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Comments on “NY Pressures ISPs Into Blocking Child Porn Websites, News Groups”

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31 Comments
Fisheye says:

Sets a dangerous precedent?

If no law was passed then no precedent has been set, unless you’re meaning in some non-legal sense. ISPs have never, as far as I know, been legally required to allow access to all websites… This is an example of companies opting (even through coercive individuals) to provide a certain quality of service and it’s the economic angle, not the legal one, that drives the issue. Who do you want providing you access to the internet–a company with a track-record of blocking websites, or a company that understands Safe Harbor and won’t compromise?

Chronno S. Trigger says:

Re: Sets a dangerous precedent?

And the net neutrality issue comes into play. If they can block one site just because they want to (or they are strong armed into it) what about the next? Where douse it end?

Plus the fact that this isn’t solving any problems. Let’s stop the illegal stuff by going after the people doing it. If he continues this way, it’s going to be vary hard to find these people when this idiot (Andrew Cuomo) actually decides to go after the source of the problem.

Alimas says:

Re: Sets a dangerous precedent?

ISPs provide access to the internet.
They do not provide its content and should not be made to restrict it in any manner for any reason.
This does not provide a higher quality of service, it just threatens to dramatically lower the quality of service in the future when other large groups start trying to force ISPs to block something they think is offensive.
It will start with the stuff almost everyone finds offensive, then the stuff most find offensive, then just some, then just a few, etc..
Its a very bad precedent and those ISPs should be lambasted for it.

For once, I feel a little glad I have ComCast.

Matt says:

Re: Re: don't hold your breath

I’m sure comcast is one of the first to want to do this when it comes down to it.

However, this is something that would easily be called into court as a first amendment issue….so now we’ll have to wait for verizon, etc to get sued and realize “hey, maybe this isn’t such a good idea” or “hey, we’re losing business”.

PaulT (profile) says:

Re: Sets a dangerous precedent?

I think it’s been said but worth repeating:

“ISPs have never, as far as I know, been legally required to allow access to all websites”

That’s not the point. The issue is that ISPs have “common carrier” status (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Common_carrier). This means that since they treat all access equally, they are not liable for any illegal activity on their network. It’s not the same as “safe harbor” – that was put into place for websites.

Put it this way – at the moment ISPs are like the postal service or the phone company. Just as the postal service aren’t required to open your parcels to check for illegal goods or the phone company to listen to your phone conversations, ISPs are not required to block certain sites.

Once they start to do this, they are no longer common carrier, so future attempts to block sites for other reasons suddenly have weight – if you can block a site containing child porn, why not one referring to terrorists? Why not one criticising the government or exposing corruption? Why not one simply belonging to people that certain politicians don’t like?

Once ISPs accept the responsibility for blocking some data, they gain responsibility for policing it all. This *cannot* be a good thing.

“Who do you want providing you access to the internet–a company with a track-record of blocking websites, or a company that understands Safe Harbor and won’t compromise?”

You assume that you will have the choice. That may not be the case.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Sets a dangerous precedent?

The issue is that ISPs have “common carrier” status (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Common_carrier).

No, they don’t. ISPs are instead protected from the actions of their users by Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act (CDA) of 1996. The CDA is the best of both worlds for ISPs because they are allowed to block whatever they want to and are not liable for what they don’t.

Dan says:

Correct me if I am wrong, but by blocking and actively searching for illegal content, won’t the ISPs be putting themselves at risk of losing their common carrier protections for when illegal material makes it through the filter.

looking through the NY times article, a couple things noteworthy

(quote from NYT article)”“The I.S.P.s’ point had been, ‘We’re not responsible, these are individuals communicating with individuals, we’re not responsible,’ ” he said, referring to Internet service providers. “Our point was that at some point, you do bear responsibility.””

This is clearly untrue when one looks at the law, it is not the ISPs doing anything illegal, and they are under no obligation to do this

The article also mentions that they have 11,000 hash values they will be scanning for, which all this will do is force the creation of new illegal content if the old illegal content is blocked, it is not going to solve any problems.

(another NYT article quote)”“No one is saying you’re supposed to be the policemen on the Internet, but there has to be a paradigm where you cooperate with law enforcement, or if you have notice of a potentially criminal act, we deem you responsible to an extent,” he said. “This literally threatens our children, and there can be no higher priority than keeping our children safe.””

Once again, this is untrue, the people who are doing the illegal activity are the people responsible, not the ISPs.

Trerro says:

Blocking NEWGROUPS? Clearly this guy has never been on Usenet

I noticed newsgroups being mentioned, and that’s a BIG problem. The overwhelming majority of Usenet is totally unmoderated, which means that pretty much anything can and will end up in there. What’s to stop one idiot from crossposting child porn to every binary group in existence? Pretty much nothing.

Hell, the text vs. binary group thing isn’t even actually ENFORCED – some servers will ignore images posted to a text group, but many will not, and since Usenet is completely decentralized, there is no “official” version of what has and hasn’t been posted to a group, there’s only what your server chooses to keep and trash.

What’s next? Are they going to shut down Craigslist for its drug and sex ads (which don’t get removed until users flag them?)

How long before the only forums that can survive are ones where a moderator has to read and manually approve your message – and are afraid to allow anything remotely controversial because not they’re responsible since they gave it the ok?

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Blocking NEWGROUPS? Clearly this guy has never been on Usenet

I noticed newsgroups being mentioned, and that’s a BIG problem. The overwhelming majority of Usenet is totally unmoderated, which means that pretty much anything can and will end up in there. What’s to stop one idiot from crossposting child porn to every binary group in existence? Pretty much nothing.

That’s why this is just the first step in entirely banning Usenet (i.e. newsgroups).

Fisheye says:

Well that’s the point, there is no legal basis for the list, so it’s entirely up to the ISP to build and enforce it, taking suggestions of course from anyone who pays or strong-arms them. And until this becomes a matter of legality (either they can’t restrict any websites, or they have to restrict a particular list of them) it’s purely a business decision by a company selling a product.

dea says:

I suspect Comcast will quickly announce that bit torrent is being used to spread CP and hire a public relations firm to tell the world how hard they are fighting CP by blocking all torrent transfers.

Seriously, this is an end run around net neutrality with the blessing of government. It cleverly avoids court review by making it a voluntary censorship program by non-government third parties. Since CP is so evil, anyone who complains about collateral damage will be seen as in favor of exploitation of children.

sonofdot says:

But I don't live in New York

What if I don’t live in New York? How is it that someone who is neither an elected nor duly appointed representative of the federal government, or the state in which I reside, has the authority to determine what I can and cannot do with my internet connection? Let’s see, he’s not a Cabinet member, he doesn’t run a federal agency charged with regulating anything, he’s not a federal judge. In short, he has absolutely no right to determine what I can or can’t do in my home state. This clearly oversteps the bounds of state’s rights, and should fail to pass muster in any court. Not that I want to view child porn, but what’s next? Any porn? Maybe block EFF or ACLU, so that I can’t easily find a sympathetic ear to complain to? Maybe someone in New York doesn’t like my local TV station website — can this jackhole block that too?

Melvillain says:

Slippery slope

“If the content itself is illegal, go after those actually responsible for the content. Not the service providers.”

It has to start somewhere and the news is getting more disturbing everyday that goes by. We’ve started down the slippery slope of regulation. I don’t mean to be an alarmist, but it has to start somewhere. It starts with child pornography, then regular pornography, and then movies, and then music, and then Youtube, and then dissent…It’s like slowly boiling a frog. Pretty soon your free speech is only free when they deem it to be. Obviously child pornography is a horrible atrocity, but you’re dealing with the bottom of the food chain, and Cuomo knows it. He just wanted a headline, but he’s also eroding our rights in the process.

ROCHEFORD T. GARDINER says:

FIRST, RICH COUNTRIES MUST TACKLE POVERTY IN DEVELOPING COUNTRIES

It is rather unfortunate that rich and powerful countries like the USA and Britain could remain blind to the mess they’ve created in the developing world, especially Africa,where I live. They’ve made the world so hard, that people are quite willing to give their children up for little or nothing to criminals and child traffickers who promise a paradise on earth for the innocent children. Please tackle the grave hardships that we face here and this sickening thing is going to be curtailed.

Disputo says:

recheck NYT link

You folks need to recheck the NYT article.

They made a mistake in reporting. At the bottom of the article they explain that the agreement between the AG and ISPs does *not* require that the ISP block access to kiddie porn websites, but instead that they remove such websites that they are hosting. That is a *huge* distinction — the latter does *not* have common-carrier ramifications.

MB says:

Blocking NEWGROUPS? Clearly this guy has never been on Usenet

> What’s to stop one idiot from crossposting child porn
> to every binary group in existence? Pretty much nothing.

I believe that was exactly what caused the 80+ newsgroups to be flagged in the first place. There was off-topic stuff posted in newsgroups which was found and the newsgroups were deemed as being bad.

What’s sad about this is that it solves absolutely nothing since you can easily pay a 3rd party for Usenet access, including ALL newsgroups.

unknow says:

how tha hell

how in the hell r we suppose to protect our children if we cant even stop the child porn…why tha hell would u want to do that to a child i hope u nasty perverts burn in hell or should i say yall r going to burn in hell when the day of our christ comes u will pay…. even here on earth cause u kids will be cursed just think what if this was ur child…how can we protect our children in this world….

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