We need to calm down over the SAFE act

Summary:Updated 12/8/2007 - Slashdot had this eye-popping headliner "House Bill Could Criminalize Free Wi-Fi Operators" which linked to Declan McCullagh's story "House vote on illegal images sweeps in Wi-Fi, Web sites".  The bill in question H.

Updated 12/8/2007 - Slashdot had this eye-popping headliner "House Bill Could Criminalize Free Wi-Fi Operators" which linked to Declan McCullagh's story "House vote on illegal images sweeps in Wi-Fi, Web sites".  The bill in question H.R.876 would enact huge fines for any wired or wireless ISP including home users with open Access Points who fails to report child pornography users.

I must admit after reading that story I was pretty furious and about to write a blog blasting the bill and Congress, but now I'm not so sure.  Reader "faboidea" wrote this very intelligent rebuttal to McCullagh's story which forced me to go and read the text of the bill.  The following is an excerpt from the bill.

H.R.876 section 2258A

(f) Protection of Privacy- Nothing in this section shall be construed to require an electronic communication service provider or a remote computing service provider to--
  1. monitor any user, subscriber, or customer of that provider;
  2. monitor the content of any communication of any person described in paragraph (1); or
  3. affirmatively seek facts or circumstances described in subsection (a)(2).

So as you can see, no one is going to be required to monitor their infrastructure.  You simply need to report any incidents of child pornography if you happen to come across it.  So they only controversial part of the bill that I can see is that it has some retention rules that forces the private sector to retain child pornography images even after they've turned over the obscene material.  These provisions probably need to be reexamined but we all need to calm down and read the bill before we freak out.

Update 12/8/2007 - The blogosphere seems to have gotten up in arms over this post in favor of the bill and against the bill.  I want to clarify that I am not necessarily for this bill since I think a lot of the rules are already covered by other laws and there are clearly some places that this bill steps on some really shaky ground.  It also adds tons of bureaucracy we don't need and the retention rules being foisted upon the ISPs seem to go over board.

The rules which criminalize images of fully clothed children, depictions, and cartoons/animes can in some cases have merit but can also be easily abused since the line between legal and illegal is extremely difficult to define.  For example, I remember reading about a controversial movie many years ago depicting an adult male doing it to a minor although nothing was shown explicitly.  Does anyone who owns this DVD now become a child pornographer?  Heck I even remember a TV movie set in WWII where the 12 year old character Ricky Schroder plays was raped by an adult in prison.  Does that also qualify as an illegal depiction?  On the other hand, it is possible to draw people so real that you can circumvent the laws if there are no rules against depictions so this isn't an easy subject to tackle.

In any case, the only reason I wanted to post this note is because I wanted us to have a reasonable debate on this issue.  I don't know if this bill is right or necessary though clearly it's one of those things that few politicians want to oppose since it's "for the children".

Topics: Hardware, Legal, Wi-Fi

About

George Ou, a former ZDNet blogger, is an IT consultant specializing in Servers, Microsoft, Cisco, Switches, Routers, Firewalls, IDS, VPN, Wireless LAN, Security, and IT infrastructure and architecture.

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