Arstechnica today reports that an Ohio judge understands the issues involved with child pornography laws, teens, and computing. In an entry called Judge bars Ohio's attempt to keep "harmful" Internet content away from minors by Nate Anderson, he reports,
The state of Ohio this week found itself on the losing end of a judicial decision that struck down a state law banning all Internet transmission of content that is "harmful to minors" if the sender should know that someone on the receiving end is a minor.Today, legislators, judges, and informed citizens must insist an end to witch-hunt prosecutions of citizens, in many cases minors, for possession of material that they may encounter due to legitimate online activity.
Federal judge Walter Rice issued a permanent injunction against the law after pointing out the many ways that it could restrict legitimate speech between adults. The Supreme Court has already found that Internet users have reason to believe that there are minors present in every chat room, for instance; under the Ohio law, anything deemed obscene for minors that was uttered in a chat room could therefore possibly lead to prosecution.
The law was first passed in 2002 and immediately challenged by Media Coalition, a group of booksellers, newspapers, and providers of sexual health information. The judge soon granted a preliminary injunction, and the state amended the law in order to avoid several of the original problems. Despite the changes, Judge Rice still found the bill too broad when applied to the Internet, where it can be difficult or impossible to know the ages of every person that one interacts with.
Media Coalition's executive director, David Horowitz, praised the decision. "While we should have adequate legal safeguards to shield children from objectionable content," he said, "those safeguards cannot unreasonably interfere with the rights of adults to have access to materials that are legal for them."
Consenting adults enjoy broad cultural interests that will occasionally intersect the lives of others. The underlying personalization automata of the internet is indifferent to social norms. Perfectly innocent people's computers are daily assaulted by malware, viruses, and ingenious scripts that can control and contrive artificial and unwelcome content on anyone's computer. If that content comes to the attention of the authorities, the unfortunate party can find themselves accused of crimes they did not commit.
Knowing what we know about artificial intelligences influencing personal computers, we need more judges insisting on free speech who can couple that conviction with an intolerance for nuisance prosecutions based on synthetic digital realities.