Thursday, December 6, 2007

DC - House vote on illegal images sweeps in Wi-Fi, Web sites

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Why do they always add "and for other purposes" on the title of the bills? This leaves it wide open so they can add "any other purpose" to it without having to go through the normal process. This should be illegal, IMO.


The U.S. House of Representatives on Wednesday overwhelmingly approved a bill saying that anyone offering an open Wi-Fi connection to the public must report illegal images including "obscene" cartoons and drawings--or face fines of up to $300,000.

That broad definition would cover individuals, coffee shops, libraries, hotels, and even some government agencies that provide Wi-Fi. It also sweeps in social-networking sites, domain name registrars, Internet service providers, and e-mail service providers such as Hotmail and Gmail, and it may require that the complete contents of the user's account be retained for subsequent police inspection.

Before the House vote, which was a lopsided 409 to 2, Rep. Nick Lampson (D-Texas) held a press conference on Capitol Hill with John Walsh, the host of America's Most Wanted and Ernie Allen, head of the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children.

Allen said the legislation--called the Securing Adolescents From Exploitation-Online Act, or SAFE Act--will "ensure better reporting, investigation, and prosecution of those who use the Internet to distribute images of illegal child pornography."
- Thus turning everyone into a policeman.

The SAFE Act represents the latest in Congress' efforts--some of which have raised free speech and privacy concerns--to crack down on sex offenders and Internet predators. One bill introduced a year ago was even broader and would have forced Web sites and blogs to report illegal images. Another would require sex offenders to supply e-mail addresses and instant messaging user names.

Wednesday's vote caught Internet companies by surprise: the Democratic leadership rushed the SAFE Act to the floor under a procedure that's supposed to be reserved for noncontroversial legislation. It was introduced October 10, but has never received even one hearing or committee vote. In addition, the legislation approved this week has changed substantially since the earlier version and was not available for public review.
- Of course they did, when they have a controversial bill, they keep it silent and pass it quickly so nobody can oppose it, like they knew people would.

Not one Democrat opposed the SAFE Act. Two Republicans did: Rep. Ron Paul, the libertarian-leaning presidential candidate from Texas, and Rep. Paul Broun from Georgia.
- Another reason I'd vote for Ron Paul...

This is what the SAFE Act requires: Anyone providing an "electronic communication service" or "remote computing service" to the public who learns about the transmission or storage of information about certain illegal activities or an illegal image must (a) register their name, mailing address, phone number, and fax number with the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children's "CyberTipline" and (b) "make a report" to the CyberTipline that (c) must include any information about the person or Internet address behind the suspect activity and (d) the illegal images themselves. (By the way, "electronic communications service" and "remote computing service" providers already have some reporting requirements under existing law too.)

The definition of which images qualify as illegal is expansive. It includes obvious child pornography, meaning photographs and videos of children being molested. But it also includes photographs of fully clothed minors in overly "lascivious" poses, and certain obscene visual depictions including a "drawing, cartoon, sculpture, or painting." (Yes, that covers the subset of anime called hentai).

Someone providing a Wi-Fi connection probably won't have to worry about the SAFE Act's additional requirement of retaining all the suspect's personal files if the illegal images are "commingled or interspersed" with other data. But that retention requirement does concern Internet service providers, which would be in a position to comply. So would e-mail service providers, including both Web-based ones and companies that offer POP or IMAP services.

"USISPA has long supported harmonized reporting of child pornography incidents to the (NCMEC). ISPs report over 30,000 incidents a year, and we work closely with NCMEC and law enforcement on the investigation," Kate Dean, head of the U.S. Internet Service Provider Association, said on Wednesday. "We remain concerned, however, that industry would be required to retain images of child pornography after reporting them to NCMEC. It seems like the better approach would be to require the private sector to turn over illicit images and not retain copies."

Failure to comply with the SAFE Act would result in an initial fine of up to $150,000, and fines of up to $300,000 for subsequent offenses. That's the stick. There's a carrot as well: anyone who does comply is immune from civil lawsuits and criminal prosecutions.

There are two more points worth noting. First, the vote on the SAFE Act seems unusually rushed. It's not entirely clear that the House Democratic leadership really meant this legislation to slap new restrictions on hundreds of thousands of Americans and small businesses who offer public wireless connections. But they'll nevertheless have to abide by the new rules if senators go along with this idea (and it's been a popular one in the Senate).

The second point is that Internet providers already are required by another federal law to report child pornography sightings to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, which is in turn charged with forwarding that report to the appropriate police agency. So there's hardly an emergency, which makes the Democrats' rush for a vote more inexplicable than usual.

FL - Police: Woman made up sex assault

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A woman who said she was sexually assaulted by a robber in Little Havana in October made up the story because she ''was undergoing marital problems,'' police said Wednesday.

Adriana Velasquez, 28, who had recounted her story in a teary press conference last month, was charged with filing a false report with law enforcement.

Velasquez had claimed that on Oct. 28, as she opened up the family's Little Havana business, two men robbed her. One cut off her clothes and sexually assaulted her -- stopping only because she had pressed an alarm, she claimed.

She had even given detectives a detailed description of the attacker: He had a dime-size mole over the left side of his mouth and a tattoo on his forearm that read ``Love Mom.''

Detectives began realizing that the story didn't add up when they failed to get tips after the press conference. They had also rushed DNA swabs to the lab. Samples came back negative.

''It seems to be a cry for attention. But her cry for attention violated the trust of the police, the media and the public,'' Miami police spokesman Bill Schwartz said.

She admitted to making up the story about the sexual assault, even though she insisted she had been robbed. Detectives don't believe her.