John McCain’s War On Blogs?
Amanda Terkel has a scary post detailing what she terms “John McCain’s War On Blogs.”
— Commercial websites and personal blogs “would be required to report illegal images or videos posted by their users or pay fines of up to $300,000.”
— Internet service providers (ISPs) are already required to issue such reports, but under McCain’s legislation, bloggers with comment sections may face “even stiffer penalties” than ISPs.
— Social networking sites will be forced to take “effective measures” — such as deleting user profiles — to remove any website that is “associated” with a sex offender. Sites may include not only Facebook and MySpace, but also Amazon.com, which permits author profiles and personal lists, and blogs like DailyKos, which allows users to sign up for personal diaries.
That certainly sounds intrusive and unnecessary.
Looking into the matter–using links Amanda provided–I’m a bit puzzled. The legislation is entitled “The Stop the Online Exploitation of Our Children Act of 2006.” I scanned through the legislation to see if McCain had somehow hid an anti-political blogging section in the bill but could find no evidence of that.
The CNet account of the bill confirms it:
Millions of commercial Web sites and personal blogs would be required to report illegal images or videos posted by their users or pay fines of up to $300,000, if a new proposal in the U.S. Senate came into law.
The legislation, drafted by Sen. John McCain and obtained by CNET News.com, would also require Web sites that offer user profiles to delete pages posted by sex offenders.
After child pornography or some forms of “obscenity” are found and reported, the Web site must retain any “information relating to the facts or circumstances” of the incident for at least six months. Webmasters would be immune from civil and criminal liability if they followed the specified procedures exactly. [emphases mine]
So, the bill is specifically targeted to child pornography. Not political commentary. Not profane language. Nothing that is even remotely “speech” is affected. We’re talking only about images and videos that would be classified as “obscene” and which involve children.
The requirement is hardly an onerous one, let alone a “war on blogs.” Most of us monitor user comments and the like already. In principle, I have no objection to complying with such a law if it passes.
Practically, however, it may be difficult for bloggers, especially those with large communitarian sites like DailyKos or RedState, to police their sites. I’m not sure how Markos Moulitsas would know whether some schmoe with a Diary has posted something objectionable, let alone whether a commenter on said Diary did. Indeed, even on comparatively small group blogs like OTB, the site owner is unlikely to keep up with the comments in posts made by other contributors.
My reading of the proposed law, though–and I am not an attorney–is that punishment is only in cases of “knowing and willful failure” or “negligent failure” to comply with the law and that there is “no affirmative duty” to seek out information. Presumably, then, the duty to report and maintain the records only attaches at such time as someone has made a credible report of illegal content on the site. I can certainly live with that.