Ugandan Government Obtains Mysterious, South Korean-Built Anti-Porn Machine

from the world-looks-on-in-partially-horrified-bemusement dept

At long last, Uganda's anti-porn "machine" has arrived. As The Next Web notes, the country's government placed an order for a porn-blocking machine last year, following on the heels of yet another anti-porn law. A company in South Korea has helpfully cobbled this together and presumably the Ugandan government will be deploying it shortly.

How does it work? No one knows for sure, possibly not even those in the government who spent $88,000 for it. TechZim has a theory.

The machine will detect pornographic pictures, videos or graphics taken or saved on phones, computers or cameras. Quite the super machine it seems. The minister did not however give details of exactly how the machine works, which makes sense as the machine will probably work better if people do not know exactly how and what it looks for.

How does the pornography detection machine work though? This machine is not the first attempt at detecting porn on devices. There are several products already available, the Paraben Porn Detection Stick being an example. The Stick uses advanced image analysing algorithms to identify facial features, flesh tones and body parts that are potentially pornographic among other things.

The Stick actually works to a certain extent. It errs on the side of over-zealousness as it flags normal photos as pornographic more frequently than the opposite. The Stick however only scans for images and not videos which are harder to scan. Uganda’s machine does both, which it should at $88,000 because the Paraben Porn Detection Stick costs around $129.

Why does it even exist? Well, one reason a porn-detecting machine might be put in place is to generate revenue, turning easy busts of easy bust-oglers into easy cash. Users caught looking at porn face steep fines (up to $3,000) and imprisonment. Another revenue stream would be helpful since the country's government is pretty much insolvent, even before shelling out $88,000 for a machine that might not actually do what the government thinks it will.

But it's not just about the revenue. There are other issues at play. On the surface, making porn illegal makes fiscal sense, thanks to the nation's cellphone users being tied to their SIM cards via government mandate. Other devices will remain relatively unsurveilled, but it's assumed the government's anti-porn committee will be pushing the nation's internet service providers to route their traffic through its anti-porn machine.

Rev. Fr. Simon Rokodo heads the government's ethics committee and has offered up an explanation of sorts for the technology's existence and deployment -- one that sounds like a statement from the Westboro Baptist Church.

We are going to attack and attack. I have fresh tactics. One of them is a censor gadget or machine. We are going to procure this machine and it will detect homos and porn actors, especially those misusing applications like Whatsapp with sex acts. The South Koreans are programming it. And very soon we will ship it into the country and all the evil will be busted.

This is a very cheery prognosis for a machine likely to develop a false positive problem, if it isn't defeated by quick and dirty workarounds immediately after deployment. And try as he might, Rokodo's anti-XXX-box isn't going to stand in the way of encrypted messages. Of course, the endgame might include banning encrypted messaging services and letting some form of deep packet inspection loose citizens' communications under the guise of running a superficially-clean country.

But once the government has become the censorious man-in-the-middle, all sorts of nasty things can happen. Criticism of the government might suddenly vanish along with the critics. Other entertainment sources not directly approved by the Rev might become inaccessible. Dissidents, journalists, and others with prior reason to fear their government might have their communications exposed. This may be the real endgame, with porn being the wedge. iAfrikan notes the machine reportedly traces VPN and Tor connections, which would allow it to block access to those seeking to keep their internet activity out of the government's hands.

Local reactions have ranged from outrage to ridicule with a few puritanical supporters speaking up for the government's plan to intercede on their behalf by making moral judgments calls for the entirety of the nation. Whatever it is Uganda is actually putting in place isn't just about porn. It's about government control of communications and access to information. It may be wearing a borrowed halo at the moment, but it's only a matter of time before mission creep sets in.

Filed Under: internet, porn, south korea, uganda, wtf


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  1. icon
    wshuff (profile), 8 Sep 2017 @ 5:02am

    If only they'd had that evil busting machine when Idi Amin was running things. The Israelis would have never needed to make that trip to Entebbe.

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