I seem to be spending an awful lot of time lately, thinking about legal matters, most of them in relation to the Internet.
Laws on child abuse
There are Kiwi concerns about abuse of children, as expressed in Section 59a (since passed into law) …:
The purpose of this Bill is to stop force, and associated violence, being inflicted on children in the context of correction and discipline.
and a response in the July 2009 Referendum:
Should a smack as part of good parental correction be a criminal offence in New Zealand?
Blocks on websites
Meanwhile the Department of Internal Affairs (DIA) and ECPAT want to filter our Internet:
A filtering system to block websites that host child sexual abuse images will be available voluntarily to New Zealand internet service providers (ISPs) within a couple of months, Internal Affairs Deputy Secretary, Keith Manch, said [on 16 July 2009].
The Digital Child Exploitation Filtering System, funded with $150,000 in this year’s Budget, will be operated by the Department in partnership with ISPs, and will focus solely on websites offering clearly objectionable images of child sexual abuse, which is a serious offence for anyone in New Zealand to access.
… The Department will not disclose the 7000 objectionable websites which have been compiled through its own forensic work and with its international law enforcement partners.
A record of press releases issued by the Censorship Compliance Unit of the Department of Internal Affairs lists around 106 items since January 2002. A quick search for just those that contained the word ‘child’ in the title shows 70 items. I imagine more of the entries are in fact related to crimes against children. Here are a few typical entries:
- Jail terms for child sex abuse offences 07/04/2009
- Jail term for child sex abuse image collection 28/11/2008
- Two years jail for child sex abuse pictures 02/10/2008
- Hutt Valley ‘Rocketguy’ jailed 10/06/2008
Big business could cut us off the Internet
Meanwhile there are the ongoing discussions around Section 92a of the Copyright Act whose first intention was to deprive individuals of their access to the Internet if they were accused by so-called Rights-holders (ie the music and movie industries) of copyright infringement.
The public outcry on that one led to the implementation being delayed.
The time has come though for further discussion. The latest ideas at least provide for those accused to have some kind of hearing before being disconnected. After several preliminary steps:
A [rights-holder] may then notify the subscriber that an allegation of repeat copyright infringement has been lodged against them. The subscriber will have an opportunity to respond to the allegation and to elect to proceed to mediation. The Copyright Tribunal will be convened unless agreed otherwise. The Copyright Tribunal, in addition to available relief by way of damages, injunctions, account of profits or otherwise, may consider ordering a subscriber to pay a fine or an ISP to terminate the subscriber’s internet account.
Intellectual Property blocks
Still in progress are negotiations on ACTA, the
pluralateral Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement.
InternetNZ (and others) aren’t very happy about that one — their submission included such items as:
- Recent amendments to copyright law unduly favour rights holders’ interest and the expense of the interests of citizens in their regular use of Information Communication Technology.
- ISP’s should not be expected to adopt a quasi-regulatory role in policing copyright infringement by third parties under ACTA.
- It is not a proportionate response to allow ISP’s to take down material in a response to a complaint by rights holders.
- The privacy of users’ internet viewing and downloading habit should be protected. Any discovery expeditions should not be engaged without the prior approval of the courts.
- [Technological Protection Measures] do not work and are ultimately futile in combating internet piracy and IPR infringement. The ineffectiveness of TPMs should be examined in ACTA negotiations.
These are complex matters
These Internet-related legal matters are hard. They’re new and ‘grey’, complex and thorny.
I don’t in any way support or condone the sexual abuse of children, but is somewhat secretive blocking of websites appropriate? What say they decide to extend the scope and block other sites that someone considers ‘offensive’ — perhaps sites that provide information about sexual health, or sites about being gay or lesbian, for example?
I imagine those who are dedicated to finding material depicting the sexual abuse of children will soon find ways around the blocks anyway, shifting their transport methods to Usenet or torrents or such.
I think people who create stories and music and movies and so on should be suitably rewarded for their efforts and I don’t condone theft. But is it appropriate to disconnect people who’ve been accused of stealing music or movies? Is it proportionate to fine one person almost US$2 million for sharing 24 files on Kazaa?
Why should the ‘rights holders’ industry be able to dictate that a movie I’ve paid to watch may only be viewed on one type of device and not transferred to another device for watching later? Or that a book should include Technological Protection Measures that prevent me from reading it on my iPod?
The time; the law
It’s hard to work through all of these issues. For one thing there’s locating and reading the source material. Then there’s thinking through the issues, trying to decide what’s fair, reading what commentators have written, formulating an opinion, and then, maybe, making submissions.
It takes a long time.
My general feeling though is that at the moment the Internet and our access to it are very threatened. It seems that the massively huge holders of Intellectual Property Rights — notably the music and movie industries, but also book publishers — are trying to take control over our access to both the Internet and to information of all kinds.
They want to control both the devices and the channels.
The problem is that devices may hold porn, or stolen music, or perfectly legitimate content. Any of those materials may travel through the channels of the Internet, or the airwaves, or the TV cable, or thumb drives or DVDs.
In the old days it was paper that carried ‘stuff’. Paper was passed from hand to hand, or sent by messenger or public postal service. The ability to read and write has always been fundamental to human rights and access to power:
Literacy has also been used as a way to sort populations and control who has access to power. Because literacy permits learning and communication that oral and sign language alone cannot, illiteracy has been enforced in some places as a way of preventing unrest or revolution. During the Civil War era in the United States, white citizens in many areas banned teaching slaves to read or write presumably understanding the power of literacy. In the years following the Civil War, the ability to read and write was used to determine whether one had the right to vote. This effectively served to prevent former slaves from joining the electorate and maintained the status quo.
We need to watch carefully what those in power wish to do with our communication channels and media: our literacy could be at stake.