If child porn is the reason, could porn ban be the solution? Here’s how the world deals with the menace

A little over 2 years ago, an activist sounded off the government with a list of 857 pornography websites. He referred to pornography as being “worse than Hitler, worse than AIDS, cancer or any other epidemic.


A little over 2 years ago, an activist sounded off the government with a list of 857 pornography websites. He referred to pornography as being “worse than Hitler, worse than AIDS, cancer or any other epidemic. It is more catastrophic than nuclear holocaust, and it must be stopped.” It probably doesn't matter that 39 million people have died due to AIDS as per the World Health Organisation. Millions more through lack of access to medical facilities.

And it seems he surely got the attention of ‘Competent Authority’, who has been attributed in the message put up on blocked web pages. May be it was the wrong department that got the attention. Instead of IT, it could have been Health Ministry instead. First pornography was attributed to rape. Then we heard the ban was albeit temporary. Soon it was reported that the ban was put in place to deal with child porn. Now we hear about an ombudsman for pornographic content.

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Putting all of this into perspective, we wonder if a ban is the answer to it all. Summing it up, it hints at action taken with a noble intention, but through misdirected moves. And unfortunately, it has shaken up the confidence of net neutrality activists, activists fighting for free speech, and advocates of freedom and liberty. A ban doesn’t help. If child pornography was the reason for initiating the ban, then the list of 857 websites doesn’t hold true because a majority of them do not host pornography content. Given the systems and frameworks in place across the globe, child pornography would be taken down before it became visible to the vast world in the visible web.

How Interpol deals with child abuse

Child pornography is wrong. But Interpol believes it's not porn. It's worse. It very aptly says, “It is worth noting that we avoid using the term "child pornography" when describing images of sexual abuse of children. Other, more appropriate terminology includes the term "child sexual abuse material". Among the mechanisms used by the Interpol to deal with the issue of images of sexual abuse of children are the “Worst of” list which comprises a list of domains containing child sexual abuse content to any (Internet) Access Service Provider (ASP) willing to participate in reducing the availability of such material on the Web. The “Worst of"-list by Intepol includes those domains that contain the most severe child sexual abuse material, according to defined criteria.”

Interpol adds, “Participation is free of charge and completely voluntary, and will see Internet traffic redirected away from child sexual abuse material to a "stop page" hosted on an ASP server. The "stop page" will provide a mechanism for complaints about the blocking of a domain.”

Several prominent courts across the globe have deliberated on the menace of child pornography. The key though is the differentiation between porn and offensive material depicting children.

United States

There have been a series of rulings in the United States that have clamped down on child pornography. In fact, the United States distinguishes between the subjects of a pornographic video being an actual minor, or being realistic images such as graphical rendering that aren’t of a real minor, and drawings and caricatures that aren’t real to begin with. According to the law in the US, graphical rendering and drawings are protected legally. They only can’t be obscene. However, when it comes to the case of actual minors, there is no specific requirement of finding obscenity. It is a de facto crime. Without justification.

According to the Department of Justice of the United States, “Any violation of federal child pornography law is a serious crime, and convicted offenders face severe statutory penalties. For example, a first time offender convicted of producing child pornography under 18 U.S.C. § 2251, face fines and a statutory minimum of 15 years to 30 years maximum in prison. A first time offender convicted of transporting child pornography in interstate or foreign commerce under 18 U.S.C. § 2252, faces fines and a statutory minimum of 5 years to 20 years maximum in prison. Convicted offenders may face harsher penalties if the offender has prior convictions or if the child pornography offense occurred in aggravated situations defined as (i) the images are violent, sadistic, or masochistic in nature, (ii) the minor was sexually abused, or (iii) the offender has prior convictions for child sexual exploitation. In these circumstances, a convicted offender may face up to life imprisonment.”

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It is worth noting that as much emphasis is laid on the protection of child rights, it is with equal effect that pornography has been protected as free speech in the First Amendment of the US constitution. There is no doubt that child pornography involves the abuse of children. In 1982 the Supreme Court held in New York v. Ferber that child pornography, even if not obscene, is not protected speech. The court gave a number of justifications why child pornography should not be protected, including that the government has a compelling interest in safeguarding the physical and psychological well-being of minors.

To protect children, major technology corporations including Google have laid down mechanisms to report abuse. According to Google, "the company now has at least 13,000 queries and search terms which automatically trigger warnings from Google and certain charities alerting users that the content may be illegal. Schmidt also outlined how technology from their otherwise-competitor Microsoft is helping them apply unique identifiers to illegal images, and how YouTube is developing a similar system for video content ."

Canada

Canada has effectively implemented technological innovation to deal with content on child abuse. 10 years ago, Canadian authorities along with Microsoft released software that helped "police worldwide hunt down child porn traffickers by enabling authorities for the first time to link information such as credit card purchases, Internet chat room messages and arrest records."

According to a report in TheStar dated 2011, Detective Sgt. Brad Cook said, 'Halton police say technology is helping them pinpoint predators in their war on child pornography. A one-second snapshot of Internet use showed six Oakville computers, seven in Burlington, four in Halton Hills and five in Milton were accessing child pornography sites at that moment.' Police also detected 158 computers in Halton that accessed child porn last month, he said. But Cook said police won’t reveal how they can track Internet traffic for fear of giving an upper hand to those who troll child porn sites."

United Kingdom

Through the Protection of Children Act 1978, the United Kingdom makes it illegal to take, make, distribute, show or possess an indecent photograph, or pseudo-photograph of someone under the age of 18. In the context of digital media, “the act of voluntarily downloading an indecent image from a web page on to a computer screen is an act of making a photograph or pseudo-photograph”.

India

In line with its global mandate to deal with child abuse, Google India works with local organisations to report offensive child abuse content online.

Google India child abuse

In November 2013, The SC had impressed upon the centre that it was to take steps in order to block pornographic websites, especially those that deal in child porn. A bench headed by Justice BS Chauhan reportedly said, “Nothing, you have to do it,” in response to Additional Solicitor General KV Viswanathan seeking time to file response on a plea for blocking sites like these in India. Earlier in July, the apex court had granted four weeks time to the centre in order to be able to devise a mechanism in order to block such sites.

Currently, India has banned over a list of 857 sites.

Germany

Germany is relatively stringent when it comes to child pornography. According to a report in DW, "When it comes to the legal definition of child pornography in Germany, a large grey area exists. Just by entering relevant terms in a search engine or trying to open a picture on a computer, individuals can face prosecution. That's because searching for and attempting to obtain child pornography are illegal in Germany, just as the possession of such materials is.

Only certain experts or investigators are allowed to search for the images. If private citizens search on their own - even if their intent is to help the police - they are committing a criminal offense."

Australia

Australia has ramped up its mechanism to check child porn. According to a report in the ABC, the new considers "offences include administering a child porn website, encouraging the use of a website to deal with child porn and a new offence about providing assistance to any other person to avoid apprehension. The legislation will also allow prosecutors to 'sample' child pornography, rather than having to go through every individual image and will give magistrates new powers to issue search warrants that allow police to demand passwords to access the images.


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