Suggested modification in your approach


Chris Thorman

An open letter to Bob Anderson / Oklahomans for Children And Families (OCAF)

Dear Mr. Anderson and members of OCAF,

Last week your group announced its "campaign to eliminate 
pornography from the Internet.  OCAF has identified the local 
Internet Service Provider (ISP) as the party primarily responsible for
the distribution of the majority of illegal pornography on
the Internet.

"According to Bruce Taylor, Chief Legal Counsel for the
National Law Center for Children and Families, criminal
liability is clearly appropriate for this intentional
conduct in distributing illegal obscenity and child
pornography, just as for any other wholesale or retail
merchant of illegal pornography."

I hope that your group can achieve its goal of fighting child pornography while 
reconsidering its approach in light the damaging implications that approach will
have on the future of the Internet and its ability to provide valuable 
information of all kinds to everyone.

It has been known for years that the US Mail system can be used to distribute 
pornography -- and worse, even truly dangerous things like bombs.  Did we 
respond by shutting down the mail system?  Of course not: that would be cutting 
off our nose to spite our face.  

But your group hopes to shut down the Internet because you don't like what some 
people use it for.  This idea is just as silly as shutting down the US Postal 
service because the Unabomber sent a package bomb by US Mail.  Or perhaps a more
telling comparison would be prosecuting the letter carrier for murder because, 
after all, he delivered a lethal bomb to the poor victim.

A similar analogy could be made with the telephone system: You might use it to 
organize a church group meeting.  Someone else might use it for phone sex.  Just
because you don't like the phone sex users doesn't mean you should eliminate the
system for all of the other users.  The idea wouldn't even occur to you, 
because, of course, you understand and are comfortable with telephone 
technology; you use and need it for your everyday life.

Your group must be fairly ignorant about internet technology to think that 
attacking access providers is a reasonable solution to the problem of porn on 
the Internet.  ISPs are merely a common carrier -- like the phone system or the 
US Mail, they take information that people ask for and move it to a computer 
where they ask for it to be placed.  They are not equivalent to broadcasters who
must select and approve material to be broadcast over a limited, publicly-owned 
medium.  ISPs have NO IDEA what the information they convey is about -- nor 
should they.  It must be possible for people to communicate privately over the 
internet just as it must be by phone and by US mail.  

However, your group's goal is clear: by attacking ISPs you intend to cripple the
Internet iself, a prospect as damaging as shutting down the Postal Service or 
the national telephone network would be.

Your group's understandable worries about child pornography and reasonable fear 
that children will be exposed to inappropriate material on the Internet has 
combined with reactionary political attitudes and a basic misunderstanding 
(perhaps mistrust?) of technology to create the erroneous conclusion that it is 
the medium itself that must be attacked.

Perhaps your group's energies could be better directed toward developing and 
promoting mechanisms to allow people desiring censorship to censor themselves, 
while allowing those not desiring censorship to share information in any way 
they see fit. 

Self-censorship is the natural solution to avoiding material you don't want to 
consume.  There is an ever-expanding array of software tools and options for 
individuals and parents who wish to self-censor (or "filter") inappropriate 

Maybe your group could dedicate itself to creating a family-oriented "sub-net" 
within the internet, where all material can be editorially pre-approved for 
consumption by anyone of any age -- those who sign up to participate would agree
not to link to sites outside the approved system.  

You could lobby developers of browser software to create versions of their 
browsers that would respect this "closed" net-within-a-net by disallowing links 
outside of the approved network.  This is just one idea that comes to mind.  
There are many clever people working on this problem.  They need the support of 
groups like yours.  By focusing your energy in the wrong place, you are only 
increasing the difficulty of the work of the people who are really trying to 
solve the problem.

Please redirect your group's focus to a *constructive* approach to solving these
problems, and abandon the litigious, contentious, unconsititutional, and, 
ultimately, damaging approach you have currently advocated.


Chris Thorman