December 13, 2006

JOHN MCCAIN AND INTERNET FREE SPEECH: This story on CNET has gotten a lot of attention, with links on Drudge and Slashdot. Excerpt:

McCain’s proposal, called the “Stop the Online Exploitation of Our Children Act” (click for PDF), requires that reports be submitted to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, which in turn will forward them to the relevant police agency. (The organization received $32.6 million in tax dollars in 2005, according to its financial disclosure documents.)

Internet service providers already must follow those reporting requirements. But McCain’s proposal is liable to be controversial because it levies the same regulatory scheme–and even stiffer penalties–on even individual bloggers who offer discussion areas on their Web sites.

“I am concerned that there is a slippery slope here,” said Kevin Bankston, an attorney with the Electronic Frontier Foundation in San Francisco. “Once you start creating categories of industries that must report suspicious or criminal behavior, when does that stop?”

According to the proposed legislation, these types of individuals or businesses would be required to file reports: any Web site with a message board; any chat room; any social-networking site; any e-mail service; any instant-messaging service; any Internet content hosting service; any domain name registration service; any Internet search service; any electronic communication service; and any image or video-sharing service.

The McCain people were upset enough with this report that they emailed me about it, and I talked with a guy from McCain’s office named Pablo Chavez. Chavez says that this misstates what the bill does: In fact, there’s no obligation to monitor or discover child porn, just to report it if you become aware of it. And the bill is, he says, aimed at “the MySpaces of the world,” not individual bloggers.

I’ve given the bill a quick read — text here — and it doesn’t seem entirely clear to me that it doesn’t reach individual bloggers, regardless of intent. Chavez says that McCain only wants to get hard-core child pornography, and has no desire to do anything that might reduce free speech on the Internet. He also says that McCain is open to amendments that would alleviate any concerns that bloggers might have. Perhaps people should propose some?

UPDATE: Email from InstaPundit readers is universally mistrustful of McCain, which is indicative of just how much damage he’s done himself with his support of campaign finance “reform.”

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