Dirty, until proven clean

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Much has been posted about the DOJ's demand for Google search data. (Which is why I won't bother to link to more than the story. The blog references are too numerous, and I would certainly leave out plenty that are more deserving of links than those I might include.)

I do want to add one thought to the mix. It's the end of this paragraph that confounds me most:

The government, which says its request will not result in identifying individual computer users, wants to use the information to resurrect an online pornography law shot down last year by the U.S. Supreme Court. It wants to search Google queries to see how often users inadvertently run across sexual material.

The DOJ says it has no interest in personal data, simply in those otherwise innocuous searches that result in links to adult sites. Pardon me, but isn't this starting from the wrong end of the problem?

The original law (the Child Online Protection Act) was shot down largely because in casting so wide a net, it would limit access to valuable information. Honestly, pick one biological word for a body part associated with sexual acts and see what happens on ANY search engine. It would need to be incredibly sophisticated filtering software that could distinguish well between, say, instructions on checking for breast or testicular cancer and the sites hawked by the flood of spam we all receive.

Wouldn't it make more sense to go the other direction? Why doesn't the DOJ set a few of its interns to listing and then searching for porn, and then track the non-porn sites that are part of the search results. I can imagine a number of search terms that might prompt hits on pages for sexual reassignment surgery. (Plus, this would give me great amusement at the thought that DOJ would have rooms of people surfing for XXX-rated websites. Let's face it: the government does far less productive things with our money on an hourly basis.)

Taking a step back from my abhorrence to any sort of filtering via fiat, if I have to accept that my tax dollars are going to rich congressmen and women who pretend to know the best way to raise your children, the least I would hope for is some attempt to make the blocking of adult material as unobtrusive as possible. The presumption in the current method (looking at searches and see what "nefarious" things turn up) is that all search terms are potentially dangerous things, resulting in a flood of porn, until they can be satisfactorily (according to whom?) listed as clean of "filth".

Of course, in terms of effort expended by the government, this kind of rediculous intrusion is far less expensive than finding ways of improving enforcement of already existing laws.

1 Comment

Hi, I just wandered in here by Googling this phrase that I independently thought of as an anti-coal slogan. I have no idea what the phrase is doing here -- context, please?


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This page contains a single entry by published on January 20, 2006 12:30 PM.

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