Do we need Internet rating?

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CNET has an article on the new Bush Administration Internet Rating plan. The key points seem to be:
  • A required self-rating scheme for each "sexually explicit" page. Apparently this includes "close-ups of fully clothed genital regions".
  • Punishing web site operators for misleading visitors (or really search engines, I guess) about the content of their web sites when such content is actually pornographic.
  • Forbid commercial sites from having sexually explicit material on their home page that shows up without user intervention.
  • Some sort of unspecified record-keeping requirement for ISPs.

So, I definitely understand why the feds would want to require a whole bunch of recordkeeping for ISPs, but the other initiatives seem to be premised on some sort of "pusher" model of Internet porn where the porn providers try to shove porn on unwilling viewers. That's not my experience at all. I have Google safesearch off and I do a lot of searching, and I practically never come across anything remotely pornographic--unless I was actually looking for it, of course. So, while Gonzales claims that the system is intended to "prevent people from inadvertently stumbling across pornographic images on the Internet," it's not clear to me that there's even a problem here. Obviously, the big search engines have a lot of incentive to not inadvertantly show their customers porn, so it would be a good reality check to see if they're in favor of this.

Of course, a system of mandatory labelling would be useful for a number of other things. For instance, you could require (now self-described) pornographers to forbid access to children. Thinking further ahead, combined with mandatory record keeping you could construct a database of which people were viewing porn. Thinking even further ahead, you could require ISPs to filter out everything with a certain label. I'm not saying that this is somehow on the roadmap--though of course various authorities have already tried to enforce both forbidding access to children and filtering of specific sites--but I would like to see some evidence that accidental access to porn is a big enough problem to motivate something as intrusive as a mandatory, universal, labelling scheme.

3 Comments

"a mandatory, universal, labelling scheme"

Where "universal is defined as "US-based", right? Wouldn't it just lead to off-shore porning?

Either that or to forcing ISPs to filter any site which isn't labelled.

Seems like a good use for the .xxx TLD.

As far as data retention goes, that seems onerous for ISPs. They should be allowed to write out, in a reasonable format, all the URLs accessed by each user, and at the end of the day, ship CDs containg this information to the Library of Congress for proper retention.

Then maybe soon the government would quit asking.

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