World's Governments Alone Cannot Regulate What Goes On Internet

22 January 1999

By Stentor Danielson

Guess what? Child pornography isn't good! That was the startling conclusion announced Tuesday at the close of a two-day meeting of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO). After consulting 300 specialists, UNESCO reached the decision that governments around the world should work together to do more to eliminate the pedophilic material available on the Internet. This action naturally irked individuals in favor of the honored ideal of freedom of expression. But neither laws nor lassez-faire will solve the problem of cybersmut.

I'm sure you're familiar with the arguments against all sorts of objectionable content in the media that say, essentially, "It warps little kids' minds if they see it," so I won't repeat them here. But there is more to the case against freedom of expression when it comes to child pornography, because the viewer is not the only victim. In order to get pictures of something, a smut purveyor needs to get someone to actually do it in front of a camera. And if there is a child involved, chances are that "something" is either illegal or at least wrong.

UNESCO's judgment condemning child cyberporn, despite freedom of expression objections, is therefore the right decision. However, the suggestion that governments can work together to eliminate such objectionable material is somewhat short-sighted. The greatest strength of the Internet as we know it today, as well as its greatest weakness, lie in the same characteristic: the Internet is a completely ungoverned and unedited entity. There are no provisions within the computer programs that make it up for a controlling body of any sort. This allows it to provide us quickly and cheaply with a wealth of immensely useful and utterly inane, as well as shockingly offensive, words, images and sounds. It makes no sense to think that our federal government, or any other, will be able to implant itself as an overseer at this point. A government is just another user, like you or me or any child pornographer.

The Internet also frees criminals from the necessity of being present, and in danger of bodily capture, during the perpetration of the crime. It is altogether too easy for an electronic child pornographer to conceal his identity and location. There are no bloody footprints leading away from the scene, no unalterable fingerprints to leave their mark on the body. Technology is advancing too fast for any government, weighted down by its own bureaucratic apparatus, to effectively keep up with it. By the time the pertinent federal organization roots out a source of electronic porn, the operator can close it down and open up a totally new base from which to display or distribute his wares.

The government should therefore not be expected to track down and arrest every child pornographer with an online presence. At best, active enforcement of anti-cyberporn legislation will discourage those providers who are not really serious about their child pornography, and force the rest to make their sites harder for the government to find and access, and consequently harder for everyone else. But the material will still be out there for those who conceive of a real desire for it.

The real solution is much more difficult, but far more effective, than government regulation. Child pornography is only on the Internet because people are looking at it. Nobody puts pictures of the carpet in the Coop on the Internet because nobody has any interest in seeing that. So, if there is no demand for the kinds of sites that sparked UNESCO's involvement, there would be no such sites. Unfortunately, no law permissible in a free society can attack this end of the problem.

In order to decrease the demand for electronic pornography, we as a society need to create an atmosphere that will not accept such things. It may take a generation or two of raising children with strong morals and establishing an atmosphere of support that will allow people to deal with the problems that lead them to want something as unnatural as child porn. But our only other option is to watch the government round up the current distributors of offensive online materials, only to see a new crop spring up in response to the unsatiated demand.

UNESCO means well, and should be complimented on not hiding from the problem of child cyberporn under the pretense of free speech. But the government intervention it proposes is a temporary solution at best. It's like shaving off a beard no matter how close you get the razor, no matter how much of the visible signs of hair you remove, in a few days it will grow right back. Only society as a whole can kill the roots of the hair, or better yet, breed a beardless race.

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