Thursday, November 06, 2008

Child exploitation and fear mongering...

I've been in a meeting all morning, and I heard something in the meeting that really pissed me off. It's a common meme in our society right now. The meme is that child pornography is a really serious social problem, which justifies extraordinary measures to combat.

What are the extraordinary measures? Well, basically, censorship infrastructure on the Internet, plus mandatory sentencing, plus a lot of law enforcement resources. The one that really concerns me is the censorship infrastructure, because once you have a censorship infrastructure in place, you can use it to suppress anything you want, not just illegal things like child porn.

To combat something in a serious way takes a lot of resources, which might be better spent elsewhere. When we engage in extraordinary efforts to combat some evil, we are often called upon to make sacrifices that we would not ordinarily be willing to make; if the effort is worthwhile, perhaps the sacrifices are worthwhile. But we should not be asked to make sacrifices in service of a goal that either cannot be achieved, or doesn't merit the sacrifice being made.

So am I saying that child pornography isn't worth stopping? No. Of course it's worth stopping. The problem is where it is on our priority list,. I just typed "exploitation statistics" into the google search bar, and the first article that popped up was an analysis of the problem of child exploitation in the world today.

One hundred million children live on the street in our world today. These children may be used to produce child porn. Frequently they are in prostitution. Frequently they are exploited for their labor. But these hundred million children being without aid or home is the problem we should really be addressing. Suppose ten thousand kids every year are exploited to produce pornography (the DoJ prosecuted a total of 2,309 suspects in 2006). That's one tenth of one percent of all the badness happening to children in the world today.

So if we were spending a thousand times as much money, and making a thousand times the sacrifices to our personal liberty, to take care of the HUNDRED MILLION kids that are without homes in the world, who are extremely vulnerable, and who are being exploited, then the extreme efforts we are making to stop child pornography would make sense. And certainly there is nothing wrong with expending ordinary law enforcement resources on stopping child porn.

But should we be engaging in broad-based censorship of the internet? Should we spend hundreds of millions of dollars? Should we create entire new law enforcement infrastructures to end this scourge?

No, I don't think so. This isn't really a law enforcement problem. This is a social justice problem. We should be taking care of abandoned kids. That is what we should be doing. That is what we should be spending our money on. That is what we should consider when we talk about abridging peoples' civil rights.

What to do? A lot of good is being done in the world. Right in our neighborhood Dorothea Watkins has been working tirelessly for years to promote the welfare of disadvantaged children in Frontera Sonora:

I'm sure there are lots of other things like this happening in the world, but obviously not enough.


Blogger Perry E. Metzger said...

Violently agreeing with you for a moment, let me just note that rigging the entire internet to become a far-from-perfect child porn filter will cost far, far more money than helping an ocean of homeless children -- far more by orders of magnitude than are exploited in that particularly way. My back of the envelope says filtering even one high speed link in any sort of reasonable way for a year costs more money than feeding a dozen children in the third world for the same period.

Friday, November 07, 2008 10:48:00 PM  
Blogger nareshov said...

Makes a lot of sense.
Reminds me of the easy routes my university's administration takes in certain cases. Several instances of student suicides -> impose a ban on the LAN - rather than take a more proactive approach like the way you did.

Monday, November 17, 2008 10:41:00 PM  

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