"I'm going to try to regulate [insert concept or technology here] because I really have no idea how it works," said no politician ever. "Bad things are happening and we're going to do something about it!" said too many government officials to count.
UK Prime Minister David Cameron is at it again, fretting about child porn and saying grumbly things about holding search engines responsible for the actions of others. This is one of Cameron's favorite hobby horses: porn on the internet, both legal and otherwise. He's pushed for mandatory porn filtering on every new computer and insisted any business offering open wi-fi block access to the nasty stuff.
Child porn is the new focus, thanks to the recent high profile trial (and conviction) of Mark Bridger for the kidnapping and killing of a 5-year-old girl. Bridger's computer showed he had viewed pictures of child sexual abuse shortly before the kidnapping.
Despite the efforts already being made by search engines and ISPs (including Google's new child porn database that it's sharing with competitors and law enforcement), Cameron is insisting these just don't go far enough.
David Cameron will tell internet companies including Google they have a "moral duty" to do more to tackle child abuse images found by using their websites.
In a major speech on Monday he will call for search engines to block any results being displayed for a blacklist of terms compiled by the Child Exploitation and Online Protection Centre (Ceop).
Strange. I would have thought the "moral duty" lay with those creating and viewing the exploitative material, not the inadvertent go-between whose job it is to index web content. Complying with a blacklist seems
like a good idea, but there are two problems with that idea: determined people will get around the blacklist and blacklists tend to inadvertently block legitimate searches.
Why these search engines need to comply with the blacklist in Britain is a mystery, considering every major UK ISP already
filters the web using this list, according to the head of the CEOP
Jim Gamble, chief executive of the Child Exploitation and Online Protection Centre (CEOP), said the blacklist currently used to filter the vast majority of UK internet connections had been a "fabulous success".
At that point (2009), only small "boutique" ISPs had yet to adopt CEOP's filtering and the Home Office estimated roughly 95% of internet users were covered. But Cameron insists that more
needs to be done, even as ISPs voluntarily comply with most government recommendations -- like "splash pages" that warn users they are attempting to view illegal material.
[T]he prime minister will call on firms to go further, with splash screens warning of consequences "such as losing their job, their family, even access to their children" as a result of viewing the content.
Everything already in place just isn't good enough. Apparently, it all needs to be bigger and bolder and subject to brand new laws created in the climate of panic and paranoia that usually follows high profile criminal activity. Cameron won't be satisfied until he tames the Wild West
"I'm concerned as a politician and as a parent about this issue, and I think all of us have been a bit guilty of saying: well it's the internet, it's lawless, there's nothing you can do about it.
"And that's wrong. I mean just because it's the internet doesn't mean there shouldn't be laws and rules, and also responsible behaviour."
But, when Cameron says "responsibility," he means it in the governmental sense, which has nothing to do with personal responsibility and everything to do with the government acting as a national conscience and finding someone
responsible for the child porn problem. It won't be child pornographers or their audience, however.
"There is this problem ... that some people are putting simply appalling terms into the internet in order to find illegal images of child abuse.
[W]e need to have very, very strong conversations with those companies about saying no, you shouldn't provide results for some terms that are so depraved and disgusting...and that, I think, there's going to be a big argument there, and if we don't get what we need we'll have to look at legislation."
Do it or we'll make you do it.
"So it's about companies wanting to act responsibly. If you think about it, there's really a triangle here. There are the people uploading the images. We've got to go after them. There are the people looking at the images. We've got to go after them. But there is also in this triangle the companies that are enabling it to happen, and they do need to do more to help us with this."
Hi, I'm a seach engine. I index the web and bring you the results you ask for. I don't create child porn, nor do I consume child porn, but please, hold me responsible for the actions of others. The legal team at Google, Bing or any other search engine is always easier to locate than a child pornographer. It's the path of least resistance and taking on "tech giants" on "behalf" of the people makes government officials feel big. Win-win.
Cameron wants the search engines to return no results in response to CEOP's blacklisted terms. It seems like such a little thing to ask, and Cameron is certainly pitching it that way. They just need to "do more to help us." But what happens when law enforcement, intelligence agencies or the government itself decides other
search terms are a problem, perhaps coming from an angle of "combating terrorism" or "preventing hate crime?" Almost everyone agrees those are "bad," but do they really want their search results censored and filtered and sorted according to secret blacklists? Probably not, but it likely won't matter. Agreeing to this allows the government to get a foot in the door.
On top of the collateral damage, there's the fact that filtering search engine results is going to make a lot of headlines but do very little to curb the trafficking of child pornography. Jim Gamble of CEOP feels we've already maxed out the effectiveness of web and search filters -- something he pointed out back in 2009.
At the frontline, web filtering is now viewed as a peripheral issue. Gamble agreed with the charities that filtering is useful, but added it was ineffective against "hardcore predators" who swap material over peer to peer networks and for whom "the internet has moved on".
"I believe filtering is good to avoid inadvertent access that will disturb or damage a young person, or deliberate novice access," Gamble said.
The pros don't bother with public web sites and search engines. They go P2P and circumvent every filter put into place by government intervention. Gamble realizes this and has already shifted the agency's focus to peer-to-peer networks. Unlike
Cameron, Gamble doesn't waste time constructing stupid "triangles of responsibility" in order to pin the blame on the biggest, easiest target.
Gamble, a former intelligence chief in the Police Service of Northern Ireland, was however keen to head off accusations of an attack on peer to peer technology itself. "We can't blame technology - it's people," he said.
"Peer to peer is a valuable resource for the online community. Our focus is on child protection."
Maybe Cameron should spend a little time actually
discussing his plans with CEOP before using the agency's name in vain in order to attack search engines for being search engines. CEOP seems to have a handle on the problem -- the real
problem. It's too bad Cameron's more interested in publicly displaying how deeply concerned he is than making actual progress against child pornographers.