Does Child Porn Fight Threaten Privacy?

New York State has had a history of attorneys general who like to make headlines, preferably at the national level. Former New York Attorney General Eliot Spitzer targeted illegal prostitution and Wall Street corruption, and used the boost from those efforts as the foundation for his successful campaign for governor.

Now his successor, Attorney General Andrew Cuomo, has found a new evil to fight in order to make a name for himself: child pornography. If we are to believe the headlines, child pornography is the most prevalent crime committed online, and it seems Cuomo believes selling, trading, or downloading child pornography online is one of the biggest problems online. He has focused his attention on curtailing Internet users' access to newsgroups and pushing ISPs to take more responsibility for users' illegal activities.

Cuomo's "successes" in this battle already include forcing many ISPs to shut down access to USENET forums, as well as contribute US$1.125 million to a New York State fund dedicated to fighting child pornography. Cuomo's latest move has privacy advocates up in arms: In conjunction with the CEO of the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, Cuomo has "passed on" a slide deck from a company called Brilliant Digital Entertainment to AOL. Brilliant produces a product called CopyRouter, which uses deep packet inspection to allow ISPs to analyze every packet of information sent through their networks. CopyRouter compares the data it scans against lists of known illegal files, including child pornography.

While Cuomo claims that he isn't endorsing the software, why else would a person forward that on? In his zeal to make headlines with his fight against child pornography, he's threatening the privacy of every Internet user, and his actions have implications beyond the New York State borders. Imagine that the U.S. Postal Service was asked to open every envelope looking for child pornography -- the public would raise such a hue and cry that it would never go through. Yet my request for a statement from the Electronic Frontier Foundation revealed that the increasingly intrusive mechanisms being pushed by New York State's actions aren't even being followed by the organization.

Virtually everyone agrees that child pornography is a problem, but in attempting to stop it at the consumer level rather than the producer level, all Cuomo is doing is pushing the producers further underground and compromising countless users' privacy in the process.

recommended for you

Usenet: Not Dead Yet

Read more »

Subscribe to the Today in Tech Newsletter

Comments