June 10, 2008

Update on ISP Actions Regarding C-Porn and Usenet

Greetings. The related ISPs have been working to clarify aspects of the New York Times story that I discussed yesterday.

The upshot is interesting. In contrast to the implications of the Times piece, it appears that U.S. ISPs (unlike a newly penned deal in France involving French ISPs) will not for the moment be actively blocking any "class" of Web content, but rather will work to remove c-porn sites from their servers (something most people apparently assumed they'd been doing anyway ... ).

So the big to-do from the politicos about this aspect seems to best be filed under grandstanding.

But there is a very disturbing additional element to this story. Time Warner Cable says that they are cutting off subscriber access to all Usenet newsgroups (child porn was found in 88 of the vast number of total newsgroups). Sprint is cutting off 10's of 1000's of alt.* newsgroups (and what a war it was back when those were created long, long ago!) Verizon plans "broad" newsgroup cutoffs.

While Usenet newsgroups are certainly not the draw that they were many years ago, they still have an important role to play in the free exchange of legal information on the Internet today.

Using the presence of illicit materials in some portion of a content stream as an excuse to abolish or decimate the legal content is inexcusable. In fact, that sort of "guilt by association" and "we can get away with this because most people don't know about it" action is the very essence of a particularly insidious form of censorship.

Of course, the ISPs could argue that they're under no legal obligation to carry Usenet newsgroups in any form. This is true. But then, most ISPs aren't under a legal mandate to provide connectivity to any given Web sites, either.

So one might wonder, given these ISPs' eagerness to hoist much or all of the completely legal content of Usenet on the petard of fettering out c-porn, which aspects of the Internet will be next to fall into the line-of-sight of their big red cutoff switch?


Addendum: For those who may be unfamiliar with Usenet, the act of "cutting off access" in this case refers (as far as I know) to the ceasing of server services by the ISPs for providing the newsgroups in question, not to active blocking of the sort that would prevent persons from buying newsgroup access somewhere else -- at least assuming that similar outside pressures don't begin to collapse Usenet newsgroups distribution generally.

Still, as I originally noted, the ISP actions of ceasing to provide vast numbers of unrelated newsgroups because of offenses in other newsgroups qualifies, in my opinion, as an insidious form of censorship, especially in the current political climate. It's another domino falling.


[ Thanks to Declan McCullagh at News.com for digging out some details regarding the sharp ISP blades aimed at Usenet newsgroups. ]

Posted by Lauren at June 10, 2008 04:53 PM | Permalink
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