Freedom on the Internet, Only Safer For The Children

Thomson Reuters, the venerable marketeer legal publisher, has joined hands with the International Centre for Missing and Exploited Children, and not too small a smattering of federal alphabet law enforcement agencies, to produce a report on the future safety of the digital world.  It’s called The Digital Economy: Potential, Perils and Promises, a report of the Digital Economy Task Force.

Curiously, news of the report was broken by David Lat at Above The Law, under the heading “The Dark Side of the Web.”  After all, it’s not like ATL isn’t all about serious legal issues confronting the safety of children, right?  Lat begins by offering his position:

I am on record as an optimist when it comes to the internet. The free flow of information on the web, including but not limited to websites like Above the Law, helps people make better decisions about their lives and careers (and also entertains, a value that shouldn’t be ignored).

Unclear as to what that meant, I clicked on the link, only to learn that Vivia Chen has no future as a video interviewer and that the quote above is all there is to David’s deeply nuanced view of internet freedom.  It’s a shame, as I would hope for more from David on an issue that’s his bread and butter. But the report goes further.

The technological frontier of the digital economy presents countless opportunities and challenges for the public and private sectors, including for example, the potential to provide financial tools for more of the world’s poor who are currently “unbanked.” It is also evident that new forms of payment and trade continue to emerge – including digital currencies, prepaid cards, and alternative payment systems, among others – where anonymity reigns and their growth has been left largely unchecked.

While the growth of the digital economy can lead to many benefits, it also opens the door to those who seek new and profitable avenues to perpetrate illicit activities. The child pornography and sexual exploitation industries, in particular, are moving outside of traditional economic mechanisms and into the shadows of the digital world. It’s on this central issue that the DETF has decided to focus their effort.

What? Did you expect otherwise? Come on, when the report comes from the ICMEC, did you think they were going to be concerned about your privacy?

Our hope is that the recommendations contained in this report can lead to a worldwide policy debate of the digital economy. We need to inform decision makers and digital pioneers in order to develop new methods and mechanisms for addressing these groundbreaking technologies. And we must create a coordinated and thoughtful approach in light of this global, technological revolution. Together we can ensure that the potential of the digital economy is not exploited by those who seek to use it for harm.

Our global community deserves no less.

Okay, it’s not “do it for the children,” but do it for the global community. Same idea.  The report contains every buzzword, from “thought leaders” to “stakeholders” to “human sex trafficking,” so no one feels left out.  It praises the “good uses” of the internet, to make money off others, while artfully condemning how it’s become the new frontier for evil, who hide in the shadows of anonymity.

What is striking about the report is how it’s well-phrased to touch the heartstrings of anyone who has ever been hurt by dishonesty or worse, or fears that they or their loved ones could be victimized by the evil lurking behind the forces of technology. Not cops, mind you, because they do it to help us, but the bad, bad people whose identities we will never know.

Technologies that facilitate online anonymity, such as bulletproof hosting, anonymizing networks, and anonymous payments systems, offer a particular challenge: balancing their use for positive social impact against their potential misuse by those who perpetrate illicit activities.

Is this not true?  Is it wrong to expect balance, to demand honesty and integrity from the digital world just as we do in the physical world?  The argument has enormous appeal, especially to the vast majority of people who would have never been capable of using a computer had Bill Gates not invented Windows and forced people to use DOS.

The internet is foreboding and scary to most.  It seems as if it’s the perfect digital underworld, leaving us at the mercy of criminals hiding behind “anonymizing networks” so we can never find them.  This report will resonate with many, even though its sweet words can’t conceal its true significance, that it is a fundamental attack on what little privacy remains in the name of making the digital world as safe and happy a place as the physical one.

At Coyote, there was a post not long ago entitled, The Road to Totalitarianism is Paved with Good Intentions.  Who doesn’t want to protect children? Who doesn’t wish the criminals, liars, marketeers, and psychos couldn’t be stopped?  And so they can, but you will have to pay a price to make the digital world as perfect as the real one.

3 comments on “Freedom on the Internet, Only Safer For The Children

  1. John Barleycorn

    I might raise an eyebrow if we start seeing legitimate pop up ads for child labor auctions, to be paid in bit-coins, while browsing the industrial manufacturing journals online.

    Until then, as a secondary precaution, I am even more convinced you should continue to use your expertise to keep pounding away at the importance of big-tech (whose tentacles will continue to expand into every industry and personal endeavor on the planet) and it’s users getting the current and forthcoming legal precedents right the first time around as they continue to face off (in still reasonably independent courts) with the state.

    As the conflicts, accusations, and damages (real and imagined) work their way through the courts in the next few decades if big-tech and it’s users don’t get it right with the assistance of the courts Jack and Jill will certainly inherit a significantly different concept and expectation of privacy, freedom, and democracy than we take for granted today.

    I don’t think big-tech or the majority of it’s users will get it right and even if they do chances are good that big-tech and the state will simply continue to merge on several self serving and cooperative fronts under the cover of the “greater good” and “security” via legislation that the courts will find increasingly difficult to circumvent.

    Its all good though, because if things do get a bit prickly with the state and big-tech cooperating to enhance democracy it should prove nearly impossible for the state to show any realistic sense of moderation for long with the tools at hand and a crippled court.

    Which may perhaps evolve into the “outlaws” having the perfect opportunity to build an unprecedented case for national and global decentralization on a scale that is currently unimaginable.

    Which just might be the best, if not the only option, for a soft landing if things truly do go completely off the rails.

    The stakes at this juncture do certainly appear to be quite significant if one ponders looking over the horizon fifty years out or so.

    I do think that for better or worse, ready or not, the train has left the station on our watch.

    It should prove to be an interesting ride.

    1. Patrick Maupin

      > legitimate pop up ads for child labor auctions

      Provenance is so important, although I understand they have DNA tests for that now.

      On a more serious note, I would actually worry more about the “illegitimate” ads — the FBI is the foremost purveyor of kiddie porn, so I would fully expect they would want to protect their turf and be the foremost purveyor of kiddies as well. Means of production and all that.

      > to be paid in bit-coins

      The FBI has a lot of those right now, enough that it behooves them to learn how to dispose of them in a way that maximizes gain. That knowledge, and the resultant gain from their current cache of coins, will almost certainly whet their appetite for more bitcoins.

  2. lagaya1

    In your last paragraph, I think you mean, “who doesn’t wish they COULD be stopped. At least I hope you do…

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