McCain’s Insane New Regulatory Burden On Internet Service Providers

If you see a crime occur in the street right outside your house, you’re not required to call the police. If you’re walking past someone who happens to be drowning in the ocean, you’re not required to throw them a life preserver. If someone asks you to be a part of a community watch, you are allowed to decline.

But, if John McCain has his way, “ISPs and perhaps some Web sites” would have “to alert the government of any illegal images of real or ‘cartoon’ minors” or face draconian penalties:

“The proposal, which Sen. John McCain is planning to introduce on Wednesday, also would require ISPs and perhaps some Web sites to alert the government of any illegal images of real or “cartoon” minors. Failure to do would be punished by criminal penalties including fines of up to $300,000.

The Arizona Republican claims that his proposal, a draft of which was obtained by CNET News.com, will aid in investigations of child pornographers. It will “enhance the current system for Internet service providers to report online child pornography on their systems, making the failure to report child pornography a federal crime,” a statement from his office said.

…Civil libertarians worry that the proposed legislation goes too far and could impose unreasonable burdens on anyone subject to the new regulations. And Internet companies worry about the compliance costs and argue that an existing law that requires reporting of illicit images is sufficient.

The Securing Adolescents from Exploitation-Online Act (PDF) states ISPs that obtain “actual knowledge” of illegal images must make an exhaustive report including the date, time, offending content, any personal information about the user, and his Internet Protocol address. That report is sent to local or federal police by way of the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children. The center received $32.6 million in tax dollars in 2005, according to its financial disclosure documents.

…Details on how the system would work are missing from McCain’s legislation and are left to the center and ISPs. But one method would include ISPs automatically scanning e-mail and instant messaging attachments and flagging any matches.

…The list of offenses that must be reported includes child exploitation, selling a minor for sexual purposes and using “misleading” domain names to trick someone into viewing illegal material. It also covers obscene images of minors including ones in a “drawing, cartoon, sculpture, or painting.” (The language warns that it is not necessary “that the minor depicted actually exist.”)

ISPs are already required under federal law to report child pornography sightings. Current law includes fines of up to $300,000 but no criminal liability. “

This proposal would put an enormous regulatory burden on ISPs, it would also require them to unnecessarily snoop through their customer’s files, and yet, they still could never be sure that they wouldn’t be prosecuted because the law is so fuzzy.

Keep in mind we’re not talking about policemen or FBI agents here, we’re talking about techies. If, let’s say, they run across pics of a child performing in one of those Jon Benet Ramsey style beauty pageants, pictures of a two year in a bathtub, or porn featuring a teenaged girl of indeterminate age in a school girl’s uniform, the McCain bill would demand that they decide whether the pics constitute a prosecutable offense and send it in to the government or receive a $300,000 fine.

Child porn is disgusting and pedophiles deserve the death penalty, but going after ISPs not for refusing to cooperate with government agencies fighting porn, but because they don’t want to do the job of those government agencies for them is the wrong way to deal with the problem.

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