Posts Tagged ‘censorship

18
Mar
13

Feminism or Fascism: Iceland’s Stunning Ban on Pornography May Be Spreading

Iceland recently made headlines with the latest project on its allegedly progressive agenda: a nation-wide ban on pornography.  No stranger to proscribing activities related to commercializing sex, Iceland has already passed laws banning printed pornography, prostitution and stripping, and has done so all in the name of feminism.  Rattling off the standard laundry list of the evils of porn, the Icelandic Parliament noticeably lingered on the “damaging effects” adult material has on the children who view it and the women who participate in it.  Iceland’s Office of the Interior Minister defended the ban by stating that Icelandic citizens deserve to live and develop in a non-violent environment, therefore, the resulting law is “not anti-sex, but anti-violence.”  What’s potentially more concerning is that this feminist backlash against commercial sexualization is gaining serious momentum throughout Europe, as evidenced by the European Union’s recent parliamentary vote on a blanket pornography ban.  Taking a page from the Nordic view on feminism, the EU claims the ban will foster gender equality and combat sexual stereotypes by sanctioning individuals and businesses “promoting the sexualization of girls.”  With Parliament disclosing very little about the potential ban, most Europeans are looking to the recent path blazed by Iceland for some guidance on what’s to come.*  So what is the likelihood of Iceland being the first democratic state to successfully ban pornography?  The answer to that question probably depends on your definition of success…

Given that Iceland is expected to implement similar blocking filters to those used in China and Iran, it stands to reason that Iceland would enjoy comparable success in restricting online content.  However, the environmental and temporal differences between Iceland’s efforts and that of middle and far east authoritarian regimes, shouldn’t be so easily dismissed.  Countries like China and North Korea limited citizens’ access to online content, but such restrictions have been in effect practically since the Internet’s inception.  Any armchair psychologist will tell you – and any parent of a toddler will confirm – it’s human nature to want what you can’t have.  And if whatever you can’t have, is something that was in your possession but was taken from you, well that ups the ante even more.  Like most citizens across the globe, Iceland’s people have had unfettered access to online adult material.  To put it bluntly, it doesn’t matter how inherently progressive a country is, when you confiscate a piece of personal autonomy, there’s bound to be consequences.

Even if the Icelandic government seamlessly weathers whatever discontent that’s thrown its way, there’s still the matter of enforcement.  Logistically speaking, Iceland will employ filters barring citizens from accessing flagged websites, and fire walls prohibiting Icelandic credit cards from purchasing adult content.  But what about the tangible transport of digital pornography?  Streaming, downloading and cloud access aren’t the only ways to retrieve digital content.  What’s stopping someone located in another jurisdiction from entering Iceland’s borders with a pornographic DVD?  With so many vehicles capable of transporting digital content, common sense says that it would be impossible to inspect each and every tablet, flash drive, laptop, and Smartphone that crosses Iceland’s borders.  As long as there’s been contraband, people have been smuggling contraband – the digitization of such contraband has only made it that much easier.

The ability to control infiltration of the banned content leads directly to the next hurdle – the black market.  We live in the Internet Age; every technological restriction is met with a response circumventing that restriction.  Whether it’s a scrubbing tool used to mask IP address identification or software that scrambles collected geo-location location, there are countless techniques enabling the average Internet user to evade government-imposed limitations.

Without getting too high up on the First Amendment soap-box, this type of regulation tends to invoke the constitutional scholar in all of us.  If Iceland wants to completely ban pornography, exactly what kind of material is considered “pornography”?  Without careful and meticulous drafting, any such law will inevitably encompass content as innocuous as the mere display of genitals.  Some reports say that the ban would only include “violent or degrading content.”  As admirable as that is, we’re still left with the subjectivity surrounding the definitions of “violent” or “degrading.”  Another variable to throw into the mix in determining what would constitute pornography is the intended purpose of the material in question.  Specifically, was the content created for private consumption or commercial use?  If Iceland’s chief concern is to prevent the commercialized sexualization of women and children, logically, only material disseminated commercially would violate the ban and any application of the law beyond that specific scope would be a flagrant infringement on privacy rights.  Given the widespread creation and sharing of private erotica, a substantial amount of pornographic material would presumably be unaffected by the legislation.

In a very short time, Iceland will undoubtedly find itself at the age-old prohibition impasse, asking which holds more clout: a government imposed ban or the tenacity of those looking to circumvent that ban?  As shown with most government-sanctioned goods or services, a black market develops; those participating eventually monopolize the marketplace; a consistent profit is generated; and ultimately standard supply and demand principles are used to exploit and perpetuate a marketplace devoid of legislative supervision.  Government-imposed prohibitions might change behavior, but a behavioral change does not prove that the problem was solved; only that it has been forced underground.  On that note, one must question whether the “problem” existed in the first place.  One person’s degrading porn, is another’s…you know the rest.  Ultimately, Iceland is unlikely to become a porn free zone irrespective of the pending legislation.  If history has taught us anything, it’s if there’s a will, there’s a way.

 

*As this post went to press, the EU Parliament voted against the anti-porn proposal due to censorship concerns: “Language that would ban online pornography has been dropped from a report approved by the European Parliament.”

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02
Jan
13

2012 in Review: Internet Censorship & the Acronyms We Love to Hate

With the new year upon us, two things become painfully apparent in concluding 2012 sans post-apocalyptic bedlam: 1) the Mayans seem to have preferred tequila breaks over finishing their calendaring duties, and 2) there are no more excuses justifying willful blindness to any of the damage done during the last twelve months.  No, we’re not talking about the 10 lbs. you packed on since Thanksgiving, but more along the lines of extremist legislative proposals by lawmakers across the globe, particularly in the area of Internet regulation.

Recently, the United Nations’ International Telecommunications Union (“ITU”) culminated its World Conference on International Telecommunications (“WCIT”) in Dubai.  The WCIT, comprised of almost 200 nations, was called for sole purpose of ratifying the ITU’s Telecommunications Regulations, which were drafted in 1988 to address interconnection between international telephone/telegraph networks.  This year’s update, however, went off the rails a bit when some world leaders viewed the conference as an opportunity to gain government control over Internet operations.  Countries like China, Russia and Middle Eastern nations lobbied for proposals that would allow member countries to regulate a broad range of Internet governance options that are currently under the authority of international third party NGO’s.  One proposal went so far as to call for all signatory governments to have “equal rights to manage the Internet,” ranging from technical operations to actual content review.  The U.S., along with Canada and the U.K., argued that greater government involvement in overseeing the Web would inevitably act as a gateway for countries already censoring the Internet within their respective borders to justify even more restrictions and invasive monitoring.  Standing firm against the WCIT’s potential chilling effect on the world’s largest communication medium, the U.S. and its backers staged a walkout during the final vote on the WCIT’s revised Internet treaty.

Almost 90 countries signed the newly ratified regulation which, among other things, gives participants the unilateral and unrestrained ability to access private telecommunications services and block allegedly harmful commercial communication transmissions.  Those countries that refused to sign the revised treaty are under no obligation to abide by it, and will only be bound by the language of the original 1988 agreement.  As you can see, the situation still fosters a global epidemic of confusion, as about half the countries involved in the summit are now playing by an entirely new set of self-serving regulations with a colossal potential for abuse.

Whether or not we have a digital Cold War ahead of us remains to be seen.  That said, before we start congratulating each other on the staunch free speech principles of our esteemed U.S. ambassadors in Dubai, we might want to make sure those ideologies still hold true in our own backyards.  The U.S.’s rejection of the ITU telecom proposal was a critical step in the right direction.  However, that effort doesn’t negate, or even lessen, the blow felt from similar regulations proposed by U.S. lawmakers just a few short months ago.

Under the guises of such noble causes as consumer protection, reducing unemployment and even battling terrorism, the U.S. government allowed censorship to rear its ugly head in 2012 with the likes of SOPA, PIPA, CISPA, and ACTASOPA, the bill thought to have had the most momentum out of the lot, would have given the U.S. government almost total control in blocking access to foreign websites – sans due process – exhibiting the slightest hint of infringing activity.  Fortunately, the public fought back with a world-wide Internet blackout campaign, wherein hundreds of service providers – ranging from Google to Wikipedia – went dark or posted “CENSORED” messages on their sites.  After January’s historic public backlash, SOPA (and its sister bill, PIPA) were removed from the House and Senate calendars indefinitely, but hopefully for good.  This prior attempt at overzealous domestic regulation doesn’t quite resolve with the U.S.’s current position as the WCIT’s problem child.  Such contradictory actions beg the question: How is the U.S. government any different from the countries it chastised at the WCIT?  And even more so: How can we as Americans look at Chinese officials with disgust or Russian citizens with pity, when the U.S. Legislature ambushed its people with similar Draconian directives on domestic soil?

So often we hear the war-cry of grass roots movements, reminding us that all citizens have a voice; activism starts at home.  The unfortunate reality is that although it’s true that activism starts at home, so does sanctimonious complacency.  Given the series of disturbing events in the U.S. over the last few months, we’re seeing the relatively ‘kumbaya’ American disposition that often appears in the wake of national tragedies and natural disasters.  As important as solidarity is in times of tribulation, it’s easy to forget that the legislative machine doesn’t stop rolling.  If anything, such devastating events act as the shiny objects diverting citizens from yesterday’s cause.  In today’s over-stimulated Information Age, the inadvertent label of ‘old news’ would be the kiss of death for any anti-censorship movement.  If the ‘out of sight, out of mind’ adage has proven true with anything, it’s with the American people and the activity of their lawmakers.  Legislative Internet censorship is a very real concept; a concept, that if dismissed by citizens, will undoubtedly find itself buried within the folds of yet another massive bill aimed at pulling on heart strings – whether in the form of protecting children, or giving hope to the unemployed via economically-friendly rhetoric.

Earlier this year anti-censorship activists rallied in an exhibition of civil unrest, the likes of which never seen by the so called “Internet Generation.”  One would think that with the U.S. drawing a line in the sand on a global scale, additional censorship regulations disguised by muddying acronyms in the coming year would be highly unlikely.  One would think…  That said, the WCIT is just one battle in the constant war between government regulation and the free exchange of ideas.  The U.S. has taken a significant global position on Internet freedom, but before our free speech piety gets the best of us, let’s make sure our government maintains that position in leading its own people first.

26
Sep
11

United We Stand; Divided We Fall – If Only It Were That Simple

Liberal or conservative? Mac or PC? Romney or Rick? Exacerbated by politics, economic theories, technological preferences and even something as trivial as your reality TV show of choice – these days, it always seems like we’re always picking a side in one way or another. Given that we’re so quick to draw that proverbial line in the sand, one can’t help but wonder how any groups rally together for a common purpose anymore. In this respect, the adult industry is the same as any run-of-the-mill church organization, PTA, or even the federal government – there’s infighting. Representative of, arguably, the strongest motivator of human nature, the adult entertainment industry has the unique task of justly operating within its own sociosphere , all while conveying a somewhat united front to the outside world. But between high-profile obscenity prosecutions, piracy problems, the economy, and DOTXXX, the pressure on those in the industry hasn’t made it easy to sit around singing Kumbaya at the latest industry gathering.
In all fairness, dissension, disagreement, and the dialogue the two create – that’s the kind of stuff we thrive on. When I say ‘we,’ I mean those of us involved in the adult entertainment industry – in one way or another. I understand that we all got involved in the industry for different reasons, intended or not, but we all have that little bit of rebellion deep down inside – if we didn’t, we wouldn’t still be here. This begs the question: Is that drive to question the status quo so innate within us that we simply cannot recognize when it benefits the greater good of the industry to offer support based less upon conditions and more upon the recognition that we’re all supposed to be fighting the same fight?
Despite its substantial contribution to everything from technological development to global charity, the adult industry is not necessarily held in the highest regard in mainstream society. Because of this ‘outsider’ perception, conveying a united front on headline-grabbing issues is all the more important. It seems that the higher-profile the issue, the more cavernous the division is within the industry; especially with matters having a direct impact on the mainstream. Unfortunately for us, those issues that reach the ‘outside’ world, so to speak, are the ones that warrant the most serious attempt at forming a unified front.
As we’ve seen in the past, this industry has actually turned on its own a time or two – a regrettable circumstance that does nothing but harm the industry as a whole. The Extreme Associates and Max Hardcore cases are two perfect examples of situations where the industry severely lacked in supporting its own. Arguably, one of the most significant legal attacks against the adult industry, US v. Extreme Associates, was the federal government’s first major obscenity prosecution since the early 1990’s; a grim reminder that political rants on “moral values” aren’t always just empty threats. For those who don’t remember, in 2003, husband and wife business partners, Rob Black and Lizzy Borden were indicted on various conspiracy and obscenity charges based on the “extreme” hardcore nature of adult content produced by their corporate entity, Extreme Associates. The case was dismissed by the district court in January 2005, which ruled that the federal obscenity statutes were unconstitutional because they violated an individual’s right to privacy. The DOJ appealed and found success in a Third Circuit decision overturning the District Court’s ruling, which eventually lead to the couple pleading guilty on obscenity charges and their subsequent imprisonment. Similarly, in 2008, Paul Little (a.k.a. Max Hardcore) was convicted of ten counts of distributing obscene materials, stemming from adult films produced by his company, Max World Entertainment. He was ultimately sentenced to a 46 month prison term. The lack of support – both, financial and moral – offered to these individuals illustrates exactly how the adult industry should not respond to government attacks against a fellow industry associate. Black and Little were essentially on their own, as other content producers tried to distance themselves from the type of content subject to prosecution. Sadly, it became alarmingly easy to distinguish one’s self and/or business practices from “those people” who were targeted in the DOJ’s latest witch hunt du jour.
If we’re being frank here, it was the extreme nature of Black’s and Little’s content that likely had industry players running to their lawyers asking whether their content was ‘safer’ than the material subject to prosecution. Those same lawyers may well have cringed at the thought of advising any public support or association with defendants under federal indictment. But support for the most extreme end of the industry ironically helps keep all others safer. Bottom line: The members of the adult entertainment industry should not only have rallied behind Paul Little and Rob Black, but should thank them for being willing to take a bullet for the same people that averted eye contact for years instead of readily opening their wallets as a gesture of unwavering solidarity. The federal government (and more than a few right-wing political groups, for that matter) would love nothing more than for the industry to cannibalize itself – and with Extreme Associates and Max Hardcore, that’s what happened. Even more industry division has resulted from the DotXXX battle, which has left close friends no longer speaking with each other. It is time to rise above.
Despite its wavering past, hope springs eternal. In 2008, when producer John Stagliano was indicted on seven counts of violating federal obscenity laws stemming from the sale and distribution of adult films by his company, Evil Angel, the industry galvanized solidly behind John. Even though he was financially able to defend himself from the governmental onslaught, most industry stakeholders provided much-needed moral and public support for his cause. Approximately two years later a federal district court judge dismissed the case finding that the evidence provided was insufficient for a jury to find guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. The Stagliano case is a prime example of the adult entertainment industry pulling together to present a united front. Recognizing the fluidity of obscenity prosecutions and the particular content targeted in them, Stagliano’s legal team addressed the industry, specifically requesting that it not make the same mistakes seen in the Max Hardcore case. Calling on each content producer to be a ”foot solder” in the battle against unwarranted prosecution, Stagliano’s attorneys encouraged industry players to preserve current business relationships, donate to the cause and maintain unconditional assistance despite fear of prosecution. John Stagliano chose to fight the good fight and luckily the industry as a whole remained a foundation for that fight.
Remaining optimistic thanks to the Stagliano case, I have also had the pleasure of seeing first-hand the industry unite on a much smaller, but equally as important, scale in opposing the current prosecution of Theresa Taylor (a.k.a. Kimberly Kupps). Involving the all-too-familiar venue of Polk County, Florida, Ms. Taylor is facing felony state obscenity charges based on the content of her website KimberlyKupps.com. The content targeted in this case is well within the mainstream of modern erotic fare, and has thus far not resulted in the distancing and finger pointing that occurred during the Extreme Associates and Max Hardcore cases. This Kupps prosecution epitomizes the slippery slope that occurs when law enforcement agents deem themselves the judge, jury, and executioner in enforcing overly subjective legal standards to adult content. Having already received dozens of donations to help fight the censorship machine that reared its ugly head once again in Polk County, I remain extremely encouraged and pleased to see the adult industry supporting the cause – even for a state level prosecution such as this.
The spirit of this post is a call to action for the adult entertainment industry, not to dwell on missteps of the past. Heck, even the industry lawyers have their own share of in-fighting. But in order to know where we are going, we must know where we’ve been, and in turn recognize the mistakes that were made on the way. I am proud, and always humbled, to have the opportunity to fight for the First Amendment rights of the adult industry, and represent those victimized by sex hysteria. But in order to make progress and deter the government from committing future Free Speech violations, the members of the adult industry must stand in solidarity with each other, regardless of petty intra-industry disputes, issues with competition, disagreements over content, or fear of becoming the next target. Aptly referenced by our colleague, H. Louis Sirkin, Esq., in discussing the importance of unconditional industry support of its own members, I leave you with this famous quote: “First they came for the communists, and I didn’t speak out because I wasn’t a communist. Then they came for the trade unionists, and I didn’t speak out because I wasn’t a trade unionist. Then they came for the Jews, and I didn’t speak out because I wasn’t a Jew. Then they came for me and there was no one left to speak out for me.” [Pastor Martin Niemöller]

25
Jun
09

U.S. Representatives Demand Further Action from Craigslist Regarding Adult-Oriented Classified Ads

Members of the House of Representatives who helped push through the Wilberforce Trafficking Victims Protection Act have directed a letter to Craigslist.com, demanding accountability and information relating to the site’s “Adult Services” ads.

http://www.scribd.com/doc/16485198/Craigslist-Letter-06-10-091

Apparently, its decision to delete the entire Erotic Services section in response to pressure from state Attorneys General was not enough for these representatives, who demand to know how the site will be punished if any further ads for illegal services are published. They also demand a ‘sit down’ with Craigslist.com representatives, to hash out their concerns.

All of this demonstrates a fundamental misunderstanding about how federal law protects interactive computer service providers like Craigslist.com. In case anybody forgot, Craigslist.com does not create, review or approve the ads posted to the site. It merely provides an online venue for third party users to post classified ads of their choosing. If service providers like Craigslist.com were held responsible for the content of material posted by third parties, the Internet would cease to function. Hosts could never review and approve every page of every website they host, to ensure that no illegal or inappropriate material appeared thereon. Search engines could not effectively deliver search results if each result needed to be scrubbed for compliance with 50 different states’ laws (and federal law to boot). Recognizing this reality, Congress passed Section 230 to the Communications Decency Act, 47 U.S.C. §230, immunizing online service providers from liability based on the content of user submitted material.

This immunity is seemingly ignored with greater frequency, when it is politically popular to do so. This is a disturbing trend. While Craigslist.com buckled to the pressure from the state AG’s to remove the Erotic Services section, it drew the line with South Carolina’s request to block all pornographic material from the state. The site may have to draw the line again, in the latest Congressional attempt to impose liability for violence against women who post escort ads. While this is certainly a sympathetic, hot-button issue sure to garner votes from constituents, the threat of imposing liability against a service provider like Craigslist.com generates potentially disastrous impacts for online communications. Stand your ground, Craigslist!  The consequences of giving in are too important for the rest of us.




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