Saturday, March 7, 2015

In the War on Child Pornography the Federal Government may criminalize private computer ownership and Internet access

The US Attorney General in connection with the Congressional Research Service has released a report connecting child pornography to private computer ownership and Internet access at home. The viewing of child pornography harms children because it creates a demand for children to be “abducted, exploited, abused, and even killed” said the Attorney General.

Unlike child sex abuse victims whose abuse has not been recorded, child pornography victims “grow up knowing that there are images of [themselves] being sexually abused which are available in perpetuity.”[en1] For this reason, child pornography victims are subject to a greater long-term risk of depression, guilt, poor self-esteem, feelings of inferiority, interpersonal problems, delinquency, substance abuse, suicidal thoughts, and post-traumatic stress disorder than other child sexual assault victims.[en2] This was the rationalization for cracking down on those persons who download and view child pornography in their homes.

A review of over 10,000 prosecutions at the state and federal level of individuals for possession of child pornography revealed an association between computer ownership and the viewing of child pornography. The study found that people who own computers and have internet access in their home have been found to view or have child pornography downloaded on their computers at a rate substantially greater than their peers who only have access at work or in places such as a public library.

The report concluded that this association between private ownership of computers and Internet access in the home cannot be ignored and that “aggressive measures” must be implemented if children are to be protected from the horrible abuses connected to child pornography.

Recommendations for fighting child pornography included creating municipal ‘hotspots’, image detection software installed on all devices that are part of the internet of things, and the elimination of private ownership of computers.

Municipal hotspots would provide coverage throughout an incorporated area or city which would replace private internet service providers. The costs would be covered by grants awarded by the federal government.

Image detection software would attempt to identify photos depicting child pornography as they are downloaded or viewed. Many fugitives are already apprehended each year through the use of image detection software installed on surveillance systems in airports or those maintained by police departments in high crime districts. “We already have the software that identifies fugitives as they walk down the street or through a security checkpoint. Now all we would have to do is make a slight modification for it to recognize child pornography” said the Attorney General. The software would be integrated into the operating systems of all devices capable of being used to download or view photos. Automatic updates would install themselves whenever the device connected to the Internet.

Private ownership of devices would be replaced by employer based ownership of computers and leasing of personal mobile devices from carriers. “Most people already have a phone on a service contract which is essentially a lease so there wouldn’t be much of a change” said one congressional leader. Both employers and service carriers would be subject to regulation by the Federal Trade Commission which would implement rules giving law enforcement agencies access to the information downloaded since those would no longer be privately owned devices but devices used in commercial trade. For people who do not have a work based computer or want one at home the federal government would make grants to municipalities to fund access through schools or libraries for purchase of the devices to be lent to individuals.

Congressional leaders expressed support for these recommendations and promised bipartisan efforts to protect children. The necessary provisions for implementation would be promulgated by the Federal Communications Commission and could be put into effect within a year.

I suspect that you have read this far because this all seems plausible. While it is not at all unreasonable to think that our government would create such an unscrupulous plan to deprive us of our liberty of private communication this farce was written to illustrate widely accepted logical fallacies. The first is the ad hominem. This faulty argument appeals to emotion or prejudice rather than reason. In this instance it was tied to protecting children which falls under the umbrella of the liberty deprivation scheme of ‘safety.’ The other is the correlation and causation sophistry commonly employed by the government which is the hysteron proteron fallacy. This fallacy is the contention that the result [consequent] proves the proposed cause [antecedent]. In my purported rationation for government control over the internet of things I associated the private use of computers and internet access to a greater likelihood of viewing child pornography. But it of course seems obvious that owning a computer does not cause one to view pornography. This association is true because downloading and viewing child pornography is a loathsome and illegal act that people wouldn’t do in public because of the risk associated with that.

Look at this quote from the federal government. “Heavy marijuana users generally report lower life satisfaction, poorer mental and physical health, more relationship problems, and less academic and career success compared to non-marijuana-using peers.” First note that the term ‘abuser’ is avoided in place of ‘heavy user’. None of these are causations although that is implicit in the context of the document used to support the government’s proposition that marijuana is as or more dangerous than methamphetamine and heroin. Also note these are subjective accounts of marijuana abusers.

Lower life satisfaction - people who report lower life satisfaction are more likely to seek to escape the reality of life through drugs or some other means such as suicide. Thus trying to use marijuana as a causation for the lower life satisfaction factor is like trying to say that suicide causes people to report lower life satisfaction.

Poorer mental and physical health - people who report poorer mental and physical health are likely to do many things as a result. This may include taking pain killers or seeking professional care such as psychological therapy or physician assisted medical care. However, it may also include trying to self medicate. Some may try this through alcohol while other may use what was, up until 1943, part of the United States drug pharmacopeia -- marijuana. One of the conditions for which it was prescribed was neuropathic pain. It is a miserable pain that's tough to treat. The most common pain medications prescribed today come from the poppy plant, including morphine, oxycodone and dilaudid which are not effective for neuropathic pain. Thus trying to use marijuana as a causation for poorer mental and physical health is like saying going to a therapist causes mental illness [or does it?].

More relationship problems - people who report more relationship problems are also likely to do many things as a result. One could be go to a therapist for this also. Alcohol consumption is another popular self medication treatment for relationship problems as any bartender can attest. And so is getting high! But this is a ‘chicken and the egg’ argument. Did getting your ass beat cause the problem in the marriage or did the problems in the marriage lead to the violence? Thus trying to use marijuana as a causation for more relationship problems is circular and cannot be clearly established.

The last correlation was so obvious that I literally laughed when I read it. Only someone as stupid as a government bureaucrat could write something as moronic as marijuana users report less academic and career success compared to non-marijuana-using peers and try to establish marijuana as the cause. This one is so obvious that it is almost not worth explaining but I will anyway. Numerous companies and educational institutions have policies that punish those who use marijuana. This may include dismissal or expulsion, or less severe consequences such as reprimands -- which lead to less success. Underlying these are not behaviours but random drug testing or arrest records. Thus, saying that marijuana causes less academic and career success is like saying that if patronizing tanning salons was made illegal and against policy or rules then patronizing tanning salons causes less academic and career success by those who get fired or expelled for tanning. Absurd! It’s the law or rule not the action of using marijuana or tanning that adversely affects career or school performance.

So beware of the propositions that employ these logical fallacies. Much of the support for laws or policies that deprive us of liberty has been based upon similar sophistries with the support of an unwitting or ignorant populace. More important is to ask yourself if you believed the part about bipartisan support for these purported efforts to protect children from the harms of child pornography. While this scenario isn’t real [yet] similar deprivations of liberty have been perpetuated in the past with bipartisan support. If you for a moment believe this story then you need to reconsider whether you have supported personal freedom by supporting either of those parties. They are the people who would come into your life, put a bullet-proof vest on you and shoot you point blank then expect your gratitude.

[1] Tink Palmer, Behind the Screen: Children who are the Subjects of Abusive Images in VIEWING CHILD PORNOGRAPHY ON THE INTERNET (Ethel Quayle & Max Taylor eds. 2005), supra note 32, at 71; see also Mimi Halper Silbert, The Effects on Juveniles of Being Used for Prostitution & Pornography in PORNOGRAPHY RESEARCH ADVANCES & POLICY CONSIDERATIONS at 228 (“The long term impact of participating in pornography appears to be even more debilitating than the immediate effects.”).
[2]See Palmer, supra note 32, at 71

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