ISPs: The new police on the virtual streets…

Some time ago, I wrote about the “Geek Squad” from Best Buy acting as agents for law enforcement and monitoring the data on customers’ computers when they brought their machines in for servicing. (See “Geek Squad” has whole new meaning… from October 4, 2007).

I am all for protecting children and the prosecution of those who knowingly and/or intentionally seek, view, display, disseminate or create materials that sexually exploit children. The issue I had there was with theBest Buy Geek Squad searching a man’s computer and the deputization of local computer repair guys as government agents to search through people’s files and ultimately turning them into government actors, especially if they are working in coordination with local and national law enforcement as informants and butchering the United States Constitution.

And now, it has gone one more step further.

According to MSNBC, “new technologies and changes in U.S. law are adding to pressures to turn Internet service providers into cops examining all Internet traffic for child pornography.” (Source) The story states that

One new tool, being marketed in the U.S. by an Australian company, offers to check every file passing through an Internet provider’s network — every image, every movie, every document attached to an e-mail or found in a Web search — to see if it matches a list of illegal images.

Clearly, privacy advocates are in an uproar about the program.  According to MSNBC

Privacy advocates are raising objections to such tools, saying that monitoring all traffic would be an unconstitutional invasion. They say companies can’t start watching every customer’s activity, and blocking files thought to be illegal, even when the goal is as noble as protecting children.

The law requiring ISPs to monitor such files easily passed Congress and was signed into law by President Bush last week,

Read the full story here.

Comments:

  1. I understand the concern to protect our children against pornography and the sick individuals that exploit children. The Best Buy Geek squad is scary. My experience is that many of these IT “professionals” work with computers because they have little to no social skills and can be, at times, creepy. Some cross the creepy line into bizarre. OK so now Best Buy is letting the inmates run the prison. Having worked in the IT profession for many years, I really doubt that a tool has the ability to check each file’s content and appropriately block illegal images. Who defines illegal images? Who gives a private company the authority to search computers? Where is the law supporting freedom of speech?

    Filtering tools have a pretty high rate of false positives (stopping valid traffic from being sent) and requires fine tuning almost daily. Who has the right to make the judgment and stop consenting adults from receiving images? Technology cannot stop this problem. Protecting our children becomes the responsibility of all parents and the community. Big business has no place crossing the line and becoming “Big Brother”. Or maybe we need to turn the tables and scan the computer’s of all the techno-geek’s working for Best Buy. That would change their perspective. Let’s monitor and limit our children’s use of computers. Get them outside and playing like kids. Just what we need, children becoming 55 year old couch potatoes. Obesity and illness due to inactivity may be a greater threat to a larger number of kids and is a lot easier to fix than the ill-thought out “Big Brother” attach via IPs and businesses.

    Comment by Ann Auerbach on October 22, 2008 at 1:12 pm

  2. Not sure if i totally understand the language of this, but from what i read it seems like the software is only looking for certain words that it thinks a person is using to look for kiddie porn. Sounds well and all, and probably would be a good deterent for weeding out some of the pervs. But i belive the kiddie porn was around before the internet, and will be around after it also. I am scared that government or business world will use this software to find anything it wants on peoples searches. I seriously doubt that something this powerful will only be used for its intended purpose, which is why it is not good. The kiddie porn is a disgusting facet of our world, but to release a monitoring search tool like this could have other, bigger ramifications.

    Comment by Kyle Hudson on October 22, 2008 at 3:37 pm

  3. […] I’m pretty certain this is what Ben Franklin was referring to when he wrote, “[T]hose who would give up Essential Liberty […]

    Pingback by The Blog Loot! « The Legal Satyricon on October 30, 2008 at 6:42 pm

  4. Great article. The ISP’s are caught between ethical and legal responsibilities while trying to manage a profitable business. The ISP’s are a necessary and critical partner in the battle to stop child pornography. Before this article, I had not read about this topic in such depth. It is evident to me, that regulating ISP’s (and similar resource networks) will be necessity to reduce, and hopefully eradicate, the number of persons, businesses, and websites involved in child pornography. Regulating ISP’s will present a struggle for balance, however, between the ISP’s rights and the much-needed government regulations. This arena of law is obviously very complex and will likely become more complex, defined, and litigious with time. I support the government’s efforts to involve the ISP’s. However, I’m glad I don’t have to promulgate, negotiate, or campaign for such legislation.

    Comment by Cynthia Braun on November 5, 2008 at 3:27 pm

  5. After reading this article I honestly felt scared. What are parents doing these days that is distracting them from taking care of their own children? Do we really want to give up our legal rights to privacy over paying attention to our children? I know I don’t. I believe this could be a good idea if fully developed. To start parents need to make the internet a safe place for children. Second, maybe if a person is rightfully suspected of child pornography the “Geek Squad” can do their thing. I don’t believe that anyone and everyone should be considered a suspect. My theory is this is half a conspiracy by the government to gain another step closer to controlling our freedom, our lives… but that’s just me. Plus if “Filtering tools have a pretty high rate of false positives (stopping valid traffic from being sent) and requires fine tuning almost daily. (Ann Auerbach) how cant I trust there’s a filter at all? And that the “filter” isn’t a cop. I believe the cause is just,(because if it was my child as the victim, I’d be in prison for manslaughter)but I enjoy the comfort of my rights.

    Comment by Bridget Beckett on November 6, 2008 at 10:25 pm

  6. I think one of the real questions is whether the deputizing of the Geek Squad is a violation of my civil rights. First, the idea of child pornography is disgusting and against all decency. But the Geek Squad is a group of computer literate individuals working for “private industry” under employment contracts, have not gone through the screening process(mental)for security clerances, are not employed to serve the “general welfare of the public at large”, and live next door to you and me. Do the words “Big Brother” and “vigilante” sound familar? Each of us know that everytime we answer or send an email, we are placing our name out there to be attacked by multiple internet scams and preditors. Answer one of those and all of the sudden you have an email address on your computer that could be a red flag. Because remember there is no such thing as deleting everything from your hard drive. I don’t have the answer for eliminating child pornography but I don’t endorse giving my neightbor or anyone the right to view everything on my computer. There’s got to be another way to protect the innocent and ensure my civil rights.

    Comment by Sherry Conca on November 7, 2008 at 12:39 pm

  7. I am glad that Congress signed this into law and is finally addressing an issue that is so pervasive within this society. I would hope that the founding fathers and authors of the constitution would have thrown a bit about children not being forced or coerced to perform sexual acts with anyone, or anything into the constitution had they known how pervasive a problem it would one day be in our society. (That is assuming that they themselves were not molesting and raping children themselves, or condoning such behavior). Just because that inalienable right was not thrown into the constitution doesn’t mean it is not an inalienable right just like the right to privacy. I would further argue that right is even more important than the right to privacy. Because you are essentially weighing which right is more important, and I am glad that for once that Congress and George W. Bush and I agree.

    Comment by Justine Stevenson on November 11, 2008 at 7:11 pm

  8. The amount of information collected when we use our computers is staggering. ISPs, browsers, operating systems, and event he websites we visit can build a very detailed picture.

    It scares me to think of what Google really knows (as they don’t fully disclose their technology in efforts to keep the IP protected).

    Imagine Google being the “Thought Police” of the future..could it happen?

    Comment by Bobby Mucic on January 3, 2009 at 4:05 pm

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