Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Just to get this blog outlawed in Great Britain....

... I'm going to run the photo of the old Scorpions album Virgin Killer [h/t From the Barrel of a Gun] that got Wikipedia censored by the European Union's Internet Watch Foundation.

Here's JD at Disloyal Opposition:

If you're British and having a bit of trouble accessing Wikipedia today, you can thank the censors for your research roadblocks. The Internet Watch Foundation, a regulatory organization that calls itself "an independent self-regulatory body, funded by the EU and the wider online industry," added a Wikipedia page to its almost universally used (in the UK) "notice and take-down" service, essentially putting the page on the forbidden list for British Internet users. That's all the more reason to get acquainted with technologies specifically designed to defeat censorship.

The forbidden Wikipedia article is devoted to the Virgin Killer album by the German heavy metal band, The Scorpions. The naked prepubescent girl on the cover was controversial in 1976, when the album was originally released, and sufficiently more so now that an image of the cover is enough to get an entire country cut off from access to an encyclopedia article.

According to the IWF:

A Wikipedia web page, was reported through the IWF’s online reporting mechanism in December 2008. As with all child sexual abuse reports received by our Hotline analysts, the image was assessed according to the UK Sentencing Guidelines Council (page 109). The content was considered to be a potentially illegal indecent image of a child under the age of 18, but hosted outside the UK. The IWF does not issue takedown notices to ISPs or hosting companies outside the UK, but we did advise one of our partner Hotlines abroad and our law enforcement partner agency of our assessment. The specific URL (individual webpage) was then added to the list provided to ISPs and other companies in the online sector to protect their customers from inadvertent exposure to a potentially illegal indecent image of a child.

Savor that last line. The IWF doesn't even assert that the image in question is in fact illegal, only that it needed to be censored to protect their customers from inadvertent exposure to the potentially illegal indecent image...

Put that together with the story I posted yesterday, where an Australian judge found a man guilty of possession of child pornography because he had Simpsons cartoon images of Bart and Lisa on his home computer, and we've come a major step closer to the full-scale introduction of thought crimes in the industrialized, socialized world.

Here's the problem that only Libertarians seem to see: the only entity in any nation powerful enough to enforce censorhip of images or ideas is the State. The concept of censorship for any reason short of direct danger to a specific individual or legitimate national security concerns (and we need to have a looooong discussion of what qualifies there) is, or should be, always problematic. The default position should always be freedom of information, with the burden of proof (set to a very high standard with due process protections) must be placed on the governmental organization proposing the censorship.

The protection of freedom of expression is one of the strongest limitations that must be placed on the power of the State.

Here's the part that really blows my mind: you've been able to buy that particular Scorpions album in Great Britain since 1976, but now you apparently cannot look at it online.


Delaware Watch said...

"The default position should always be freedom of information, with the burden of proof (set to a very high standard with due process protections) must be placed on the governmental organization proposing the censorship."

I'm sure that the image is only considered "potentially" illegal because of the blurry line between legitimate artistic expression and pornography. But I'm not sure that the default should be protecting freedom of expression when what's at stake is something that is part of the very reason for state authority: viz., protecting people who cannot protect themselves.

Part of the reason for enforcing laws against child pornography is to discourage other people from exploiting children for these purposes. The image on the album arguably encourages using children for those purposes. Censoring the page is another way to discourage the practice.

When it comes to protecting children exploitation I operate w/ a different default than freedom of expression. I'm for protecting the children first.

Steven H. Newton said...

Interesting point, but who are we protecting here? The young lady in question, assuming she was about 10 at the time of the photo, is now at least 42 years old.

Likewise, who are we protecting from cartoon images of the Simpsons?

I am all for making the sexual exploitation of children illegal, but here's the problem: is it the image of the exploitation you want to stop?

If I create a cartoon or a computer graphic that suggests child pornography, without ever involving a real, living child, what crime have I committed?

I suppose you could trot out the objectification idea, that just having these images out there puts more children at risk, except.... There's no good evidence that such is the case.

Moreover, the courts have repeatedly held that you cannot make narrative child pornography illegal, primarily because there is no victim.

Meanwhile, I would argue that this is a misleading discussion if your primary objective is to stop the sexual exploitation of children. Taken a look lately at the clothing line-up at Abercrombie & Fitch or any other store lines that carry heavily sexualized togs for tweens? Which do you think has more of an overall negative influence on society, relentless media advertising sexualizing pre-teens or a few, primarily middle-aged men furtively hoarding some images on their computers?

Nor is there any evidence that real pedophiles--the ones who go out and kidnap, rape, and murder children--are major consumers of kiddie porn.

Sorry, my friend, but blanket censorship of a 30-year-old commerically produced rock album image is absurd and dangerous.

Steven H. Newton said...

That should have read "is it the image OR the exploitation that you want to stop"

Delaware Watch said...

I give you the point on the cartoon image since there we are talking about imaginary images.

I was not talking about the girl in the many-year old image. Nor was I talking about the habits of pedophiles. I was talking about would-be merchants of photographic images of children who are sexually exploited...about DETERRING them by providing no venue for acceptability.

Surely it is a legitimate function of government to deter crime.

You raise a series of marginal cases and effectively ask where do we draw the line. I suppose one could raise the same question about photographs of children engaged in sexual acts among themselves that are artistically rendered in some ways (lighting, setting, etc.)

While I in no way doubt your sincerity about opposing the sexual exploitation of children, what remains of that stance once admit the qualification of many marginal cases or even the one that I now posed? Does your stance against the exploitation of children die the death of many qualifications?

In my example, I would ask shouldn't we draw the line at protecting children even granting the undeniable artistic elements of the photograph? Shouldn't the default be protecting children, its effect on artistic expression notwithstanding?

Just as I don't expect to have the right to yell fire in a crowded theater, I also don't expect to posses the right as a theater owner to place on my marquee "Film of multiple children nude."

Steven H. Newton said...

Surely it is a legitimate function of government to deter crime.

Depends on the crime and on the method of deterrence. I tend to think, however, that it is a function of the government to prosecute criminal acts, and that the deterrent function of the fact that the government will prosecute such acts is a potential epiphenomenal benefit rather than an intention.

(I have never accepted the argument that the death penalty is legitimized by its deterrent function, even though there is pretty sound research to suggest it does deter crime.)

I was talking about would-be merchants of photographic images of children who are sexually exploited...about DETERRING them by providing no venue for acceptability.

Let's make a separation here: between the physical act of exploiting the children and the act of merchandising existing images. The act of sexual exploitation of children is illegal in all civilized societies--at least as far as blatant cases like intercourse (real or simulated).

The issue of the images is something different albeit related (here I am assuming the merchant did not create or commission the images). I happen to think that nearly naked pictures of 15 year-old Miley Cyrus in suggestive poses are sexually exploitive, but they are not treated as such. Why? Because she is not completely naked or actually engaging in sexual intercourse? Yet these images are completely legal.

What about paparazzi clips of partially nude stars like Hillary Duff (when she was 17)? Do these qualify?

What about photographic images that are old enough (and they are out there) that we have good assurance that neither the photographer nor the child being photographed are still alive. Exactly who are we protecting then?

I can already go to a movie theater, Dana, and watch nearly nude images of prepubescent and tween actors and actresses, in story lines that have them engaging in sexual activity.

I am suggesting that the last clause of your sentence--"providing no venue for acceptability" is beyond the limits of what government CAN do without repression of all sorts of thought and expression, even forgetting the question of what government SHOULD do.

There are thousands of web sites out there that specialize in finding models who are over 18 but look much younger to engage in sexual activities. Pretty awful and completely legal.

We will not change what is acceptable by legislation. We will change it by how we live our lives, what we tolerate in the media and advertising (by how we spend our dollars) and what we teach our children.