Every cloud has a silver lining?

mark.hughes@ccamatil.com mark.hughes@ccamatil.com
Wed, 23 Oct 1996 23:03:47 EDT


The child pornography spam raises a subject that may be worth
further consideration - i.e. the effect of such spams (whether
serious or spoofs) on Governments' attempts to control content which
they believe to be undesirable.

Lets start with a basic assumption - that all Governments have
content which they want to control.  It may child pornography; it
may be the Singapore government restricting Web sites such as
Playboy that are perfectly acceptable to Scandinavian Governments;
it may be the Chinese government restricting its citizen's access to
Taiwanese Government sites.  The content and purpose is pretty
irrelevant to this discussion.

The problem is one of enforcement, and while the Internet makes the
problem much more difficult, even if the 'net and e-mail and the WWW
didn't exist, there would still be a problem.

For example: what if someone leaves on your phone answering machine,
details about how to obtain child pornography?  Or faxes child
pornography from outside Oz to hundreds of people inside Oz?  Are
you legally liable for stuff you didn't ask for but did receive?

What does the Singapore Govt. do if someone spams to a million email
addressses in Singapore, files with contents that the Govt. doesn't
approve of?  Is the Govt. going to prosecute the receivers?  The US
and USSR govts used to follow this tactic with radio broadcasts -
e.g. Radio America used to broadcast into the USSR all sorts of
information/content which was banned in the receiving country.  And
the USSR used to try and jam the broadcasts.  So if the Taiwanese
Govt (or wealthy exiles based in any other country) want to spam
1,000,000 addresses inside China with stuff the Chinese don't
approve of, then just what does the receiving country do?  They'd
have to try and prove the recipient 'wanted' to receive the stuff.

I believe that FIJI has the rights to a geostationary satellite that
could transmit TV programs to the entire east coast of Australia.
So what happens to the 'Australian Programming Content' that's
required by Australian law?

And that brings us back to spamming and its role in Governments'
attempts at censorship.  If one person in Country X is caught
receiving data that is illegal, they may be prosecuted.  But if a
million people in Country X receive the stuff?  That is, the closer
to a 'total spam', the less the receiving country can do to the
receivers.  The only option is to try and stop undesirable content
at source, and thats going to be difficult if the sender knows their
stuff technically, changes accounts regularly, and is sending stuff
that is legal (and perhaps even encouraged) in the country of
origin.
And 99.9% of the stuff that governments try and control is legal
somewhere in the world.

I didn't get the child pornography spam; and I'm totally against
spamming.  Thats one of the reasons I'm concerned about how Internet
costs are charged to users - that is, the lack of a volume related
charge in many situations.  People don't spam faxes 'cause its too
expensive to make all the phone calls.  In the US, where free local
calls are common, junk faxes became a serious problem and attracted
controlling legislation.  But the net is so cheap, it's cost
effective to spam.

I suspect spamming will continue; its interesting to note that
strategically it may play a role in the effectiveness of government
censorship.

Regards, Mark


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*  Message From : HUGHES, MARK          *
*  Location     : AUSTRALIA-CCA HDQ     *
*  KOMAIL ID    : N17503  (CCAMCQN1)    *
*  Date and Time: 10/24/96  12:49:40    *
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