Wednesday, February 07, 2007

The Pornography Problem

Today in Data Communications our professor, Craig Lindstrom, decided to take a break from setting up VLANs and change topics to a conversation that has gained a lot of steam on our email list entitled, "Sensitive subject,but it's a real problem we as IT people can't avoid." That subject has to deal with objective content that finds its way UNINVITED into our homes, particularly pornography. (I hope this blog doesn't get flagged just because I use the word.)

We started off trying to define it, and we ended up back at a well known court decision defining obscenity. "In 1964, Justice Potter Stewart tried to explain 'hard-core' pornography, or what is obscene, by saying, 'I shall not today attempt further to define the kinds of material I understand to be embraced . . . [b]ut I know it when I see it . . . '" ( Jacobellis v. Ohio, 378 U.S. 184, 197 (1964)) To some extent this is true. To some people what is arousing or sexually stimulating is not to another person. Granted there is quite a bit of material that requires no weighing of the facts and is outright pornography, end of story (e.g., Playboy).

What about "art?" Is the Venus de Milo considered pornography? Rodin's, Michaelangelo's, or any other renowned artist that saw the human body as one of the most beautiful of God's creation? You could go into the argument that maybe it has to do with the intent of the author, or creator. Did they intend for their creation to be sexually stimulating? Obviously we cannot ask the Rodin's and Michaelangelo's this question. To some this material is offensive, and they choose not to view it. To others it enriches their life and appreciation for God's creations.

What then can we do to make sure that the material that we find offensive remains out of our homes and off of our computers? Currently this is virtually impossible. I think we could well say, however, that the accidental encounters with such obscene material has lessened over the years, thanks to pop-up and java script blockers. There is an initiative being started referred to as CP80 (Clean Port 80). You can check out the full description of the initiative on their website. Basically it is trying to get legislation to pass that will force all websites to be associated with a specific channels, similar to cable television. If you want HBO, or some other channel with adult content, you can pay for it and get access to it. If you don't want, you don't have to pay for it, and you shouldn't have to worry about it. This solution still provides freedom of speech to those who wish to enshroud their lives with such filth.

A slightly different solution was discussed in our email list regarding instituting an internet rating system similar to the one used by the MPAA, or on local television networks. If the content was rated, you could choose to be connected to the 'G' and 'PG' ports, and not to the others. This brought up the issue that some material on the internet cannot be categorized like that (e.g., medical information).

Another issue that was brought up was the fact that many times people, especially kids, accidentally run into obscene material. This happens when they innocently misspell something in the URL disney.go.com/playhouse/today/index.html. If browsers had specific login accounts for different users, they could create a plug-in that would check the spelling of the url typed, and if it wasn't spelled correctly offer a list of possibilities with a description of the content on the pages found. That way small children aren't accidentally stumbling upon objectionable material

Class was just about over and our professor decided to give us his idea of what could be done. He suggested to stick with the rating idea, but in a more objective way. Ratings would describe the type of data contained on the page: violent, erotic, medical, educational, entertainment, etc. That way all data could be categorized, and you could choose the type of data you would allow on your computer.

Well, this is all for now, I could probably go off for a while on this, let me know your thoughts on it, I'd love to hear what other people think.

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