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TUCoPS :: Cyber Law :: redlight.txt

From Maclean's: The Internet "Red Light District"





Copyright (c) 1995 by Maclean's Magazine.  All Rights Reserved.
Reprinted with permission.

Maclean's Magazine
May 22, 1995, p58


   RED-LIGHT DISTRICT

   ... from S&M to bestiality,
   porn flourishes on the Internet

by Joe Chidley

Foot fetishists, S&M freaks and people with a passion for
O.J.  Simpson prosecutor Marcia Clark can find Usenet newsgroups
devoted to their desires. Digitally scanned images of bestiality,
busty blonds--even naked boys and girls--populate cyberspace.
Cyberporn is nothing new, of course: it flourished during the 1980s
through the popularity of bulletin board systems, or BBSes, locally
operated database nodes that often offered pornography and erotic
chat. But with the increasing allure of the Internet--30 million
users and counting--computer porn has taken off. In 1994, a U.S.
survey showed that more than 450,000 pornographic images and text
files were available to Internet users around the world; that
material had been accessed more than 6 million times. The users are
remarkable for their enthusiasm--if not for their spelling. ``THIS
PLACE RULES!!'' one writer, calling himself Dragonbals, announced in
the newsgroup alt.sex.stories recently. ``Alll this cool stufff
should be posteed every were on the net.''

Others--legislators, law-enforcement officials and women's groups
around the world--disagree. The Canadian Association of Chiefs of
Police last October recommended that the federal government create a
specific Criminal Code offence for the distribution of pornography
over computer networks. In Singapore, authorities announced plans to
establish a ``neighborhood police post'' on the Internet to monitor
and receive complaints of criminal activity--including the
distribution of pornography. And in the United States, Senator James
Exon, a Democrat from Nebraska, has introduced a bill--vocally
opposed by civil liberties organizations and computer-users
groups--that would outlaw the electronic distribution of words or
images that are ``obscene, lewd, lascivious, filthy or indecent.''
Said Exon: ``I want to keep the information superhighway from
resembling a red-light district.''

Of particular concern to the forces of law is the presence of child
pornography. On the Usenet, there are several newsgroups devoted to
discussion or distribution of pictures and stories that sexually
depict children. Possession of such material is an offence under the
Canadian Criminal Code--but it is not in other countries. And now,
police are concerned that a shadowy pedophiles' ring, offering child
pornography and information on where and how to indulge their
fetish, is operating on an international scale.

In Calgary last month, police say they discovered a trove of kiddie
porn in the home of a man who had already been charged with sexual
assault and sexual contact with a child. ``We seized several dozen
videotapes, written communication and computer disks, and it all
depicted child pornography,'' says Staff Sgt. Fred Bohnet, who is in
charge of the child abuse unit for the Calgary Police Department.
The evidence, he adds, indicates a national and international child
pornography ring operating from computers in Canada, the United
States and Europe. Alan Norton, 52, has pleaded not guilty to 51
charges of possession of child pornography, in addition to the
sexual assault and contact charges.

Still, child pornography comprises a very small portion of the
total smut available on the Internet. And critics claim that
proposed legislation such as the Exon bill is an overreaction. In
the Usenet, for instance, less than one per cent of the more than
11,000 newsgroups are devoted to sexual material. And it is not as
if cyber-surfers are inundated with explicit images. Users have to
go looking for the images in the unorganized and complex network,
and even then need special decoders. Any attempt to control
pornography on the Internet would also involve a host of practical
problems. The sheer bulk of information passed on the network--the
equivalent of about 300 paperback pages per second, by conservative
estimates--would be a daunting challenge for any would-be censor to
sift through.

An example of the difficulty--or futility--of trying to control
Internet pornography is provided by a recent attempt at the
University of Waterloo in Ontario. In February, 1994, citing legal
concerns, the university administration banned five
newsgroups--alt.tasteless, alt.sex.bestiality, alt.sex.stories,
alt.sex.stories.d and alt.sex.bondage--on the grounds that they were
obscene. One of those, alt.sex.stories.d, is a follow-up discussion
group to other groups, including rec.arts.erotica, which actually
posts dirty stories. ``So you have this crazy situation,'' says
Jeffrey Shallit, an associate professor of computer science at the
university, ``in which you can post stories and read them through
rec.arts.erotica--but you can't discuss them.'' Not caught in the
university's net were dozens of other Usenet groups--some offering
pornographic pictures of children--as well as links to the plethora
of World Wide Web sites and other areas of the Internet devoted to
sex.

Shallit--who does double-duty as the treasurer of Electronic
Frontier Canada, an organization devoted to maintaining free speech
in cyberspace--says that government and media attention has blown
the issue of pornography on the Internet out of proportion. And as
academics are wont to do, he has come up with a theory for the
phenomenon--he jokingly calls them Shallit's Laws. The first is:
``Every new medium of expression will be used for sex.'' The second?
``Every new medium of expression will come under attack, usually
because of Shallit's first law.''

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