We need to calm down over the SAFE act

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.

TOPICS: Hardware, Legal, Wi-Fi

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

Kick off your day with ZDNet's daily email newsletter. It's the freshest tech news and opinion, served hot. Get it.


Log in or register to join the discussion
  • George is probably correct on this...but still

    George is probably correct that we don't have to worry much about this bill. First, it's an old bill. It was originally introduced on Feb 7, 2007 and has gone nowhere since then - no debate has been scheduled. A number of other bills containing similar language have all died, usually without debate even occurring.

    There are literally thousands of laws (state and federal) on the books making child pornography illegal. Law enforcement has been armed with all the tools required to investigate and arrest offenders.

    Still, Americans now live under the largest, most expensive and most intrusive federal government in the history of the republic. When residents can be picked up off the street and imprisoned indefinitely without trial or even a hearing - some folks can get a little paranoid, regardless how rarely such events occur. We know that our email and phone calls are routinely monitored by our government, so when the SAFE act states:
    >>>>(e) Failure to Report- An electronic communication service provider or remote computing service provider that knowingly and willfully fails to make a report required under subsection (a)(1) shall be fined--
    `(1) in the case of an initial knowing and willful failure to make a report, not more than $150,000; and
    `(2) in the case of any second or subsequent knowing and willful failure to make a report, not more than $300,000.<<<<
    it gets some folks worried.

    It's likely that this bill will never become law *especially* since it would be most burdensome to the telecommunication industry -- they have an army of lobbyists who carry briefcases full of campaign money to make sure SAFE never happens.
    • Why is this language so frightening?

      All it says is, if you know someone is in possession of child porn and fail to report it, you could also be liable. Is this any different from current law? If you know that someone committed a murder and didn't report it, isn't that aiding and abetting?
      • Reporting requirement

        Murder is simple. You've got a dead person and you may be able to identify the killer. Child porn is different because it could be more difficult to determine if a crime has taken place. For example, if you were to see pictures of participant that is 17 years and 11 months old - you've got a crime. If the pictures are of an 18 year old, no crime.
        Law enforcement has the tools to make those decisions and can interview suspects, demand proof, WiFi providers do not.
        I'm just pointing out that this can be a tough call and if you were to see evidence of pornography (and you were providing WiFi to the public) you better be sure the ages of the people in the pictures or you too may just be a criminal, according to this bill.

        On the other hand, if you go out of your way to not monitor anyone using your coffee shop's Wifi, you're in the clear. Better look the other way, just to be safe?
      • Simply put?

        Yes, the same rules apply. If you know someone has committed a crime, it is your responsibility to report it. If you don't, you are guilty of a crime as well.
    • Updated - HR-3791 has passed

      An amended version of the SAFE act passed less than a day ago.
      I had not read the text of this bill as it was not made available to the public until today.
      It appears to substantially the same as the earlier bill in requirements of reporting suspected criminal activity with penalty of $150,000 fine for not doing so.

      By some accounts, the bill was rushed through to a vote in the House. I must admit that I am surprised at this bill's passage by the House. I'm wondering if the Senate will pass similar legislation.
  • RE: We need to calm down over the SAFE act

    Let's hope it doesn't become law. American culture is now so fixated on child porn that pictures of your own children might get you arrested. This kind of legislation is of the "rat on your neighbor" variety - maybe the pictures of the marching band include too many cheerleaders - so let's call the feds and lock down his computer and those of his communications company. Should phone providers record all calls? No! Should net providers save all transmissions? No! We don't need data farms the size of Texas to save all of what we thought were our private communications.
  • Burden of Proof

    It all comes down to where they lay the burden of proof. The proof that is you did know about the porn. How could it be proven that you the provider did not know about the porn? ...it's just your word against theirs. The concern does apply to the intent of the legislators ??? but it applies to how the law is enforced. If the language of the bill is too obscure, then the law can be applied maliciously...no matter the intent of legislators. I have not had time to read this bill yet, but if it is anything like HR 1955...everyone should be concerned, including those who leave thier home wireless unsecure.
    • Insecure home wireless

      [B]including those who leave thier home wireless unsecure.[/B]

      The vast vast majority of home users that have their AP wide open do not know they are insecure. They plugged the router in, "hey I'm on the internet" and blindly and beyond insecurely start surfing the web. If this Bill does nothing but educate home users that this thing called wireless security exists, it is better than nothing.

      You can't blame the home user, the last Windows install of an AP, the wizard never once asked, informed or offered to help secure the AP. The only thing it did do was ask if you wanted to change the router password but the default selection on this question as "no change". So, to your comment, if this helps the home user "get concerned" about security, I'm for it.

    • Burdon of proof?

      Burdon of proof comes when the FBI has suspected you, take the computers, and all media from your house and search them.
      If something is found, poor you. Kinda hard to claim ignorance of what you posess.

      I am sure that unsecured wireless systems are taken into account, and if nothing is found they really can't make a case.

      The job of the ISP, or in this case, the wireless provider is only to report suspected illegal activities for the authorities for review.
  • Who is "we"?

    ZDnet readers? The public at large? Who is not calm?
  • Safe act is nothing new

    Look, the ISPs have already been required to turn any suspected illegal use into the authorities. It has been a law for some time.
    This bill, just like past bills is not giving anyone the expressed permission to spy on what users do online. However, they have required the ISPs to report on any illegal actions they have seen.
    Short and sweet:
    If you have a website and subscribe to web space, the owner of that webspace reserves the right to check and report any illegal images (or suspected illegal images), however, the space owner does not make the call on whether it is illegal or not. That is for the authorities.
    I imagine the same thing works with WIFI carriers.
    They may not monitor every move one makes, but I am sure they have a list of things that bring up alerts.
    If this is actually a worry for you, you may want to re-think what you are doing.