Thursday, March 16, 2006

Bush, Google and online porn

p2p news view / p2pnet.net:

In my mind the most amusing aspect of the Bush administration's attempt to grab users' search information from Google is the reason they actually want the info in the first place.

The Bush administration claims it's trying to prove how easy it is for minors to come across pornographic content. They tried using the Internet Archive, but didn't get much. (So, in case anyone wanted to know whether archive.org is a kid-friendly, the US government says "yes!").

The really funny thing is that making the net safer for children could have been partially achieved by the creation of a .xxx Top Level Domain. Unfortunately, Bush's own Department of Commerce helped kill the idea - apparently, acknowledging the existence of pornography somehow legitimises it, perhaps in the same way that acknowledging the existence of HIV/AIDS means that risky sexual practices are suddenly okay. I don't know - false logic and backward thinking seems to be the hallmark of a functioning government these days.

As far as the Bush White House is concerned, forcing Google to hand over search data serves two functions:

1) They don't have to dip into the Republican war chest by doing the research themselves; and,

2) They get to establish a precendent that kills the 4th Amendment, in case they want to sponge info from other companies in the future.

US District Judge James Ware said he was reluctant to give the Justice Department everything it wanted because of the "perception by the public that this is subject to government scrutiny". Weeell, so long as the US government isn't getting everything it wanted, that's fine. If they're only handing over a little bit of private information, it'll be okay. Provided they're not violating the Constitution much, I'm sure the public will feel reassured.

Sarcasm aside for a minute, I wasn't aware you could do some thing that's "partially" unconstitutional. I always thought is was one of those binary states: constitutional or unconstitutional. Alive or dead. Pregnant or not pregnant. That was one of the things that made me feel really uncomfortable when I heard about it - so long as you compromise, you can can ask for the most ridiculous things. People will ignore the outlandish request and focus on how "reasonable" you can be in reaching a compromise:

Crazed Dictator: I want a hundred nuclear bombs! Muhahaha!

United Nations: No way! No nuclear bombs!

Crazed Dictator: Okay, ten bombs then!

US Court: We'd like to thank you for being so reasonable. Request for ten nuclear weapons granted.

In case you're still not convinced that this is simply the big government trying to beat big tech companies into submission, you might like to consider the fact that AOL, Yahoo and MSN have aready handed over their search data, exactly like the Department of Justice wanted in the first place.

In terms of raw data, any statistician would tell you they have more than enough to work out how much smut there is on the net. The only possible thing Google could help them with is determining whether it's a lot, or a hell of a lot.

To take this case as far as they have can only mean the Bush administration is more interested in proving they can get the data than doing anything useful with it...which they could have done to some extent by letting people put .xxx after the name of their raunchy web site anyway.

Alex H, p2pnet - Sydney, Australia


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