Congress Makes Operating WiFi Dangerous And Potentially Illegal

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The U.S. House of Representatives on Wednesday overwhelmingly approved a bill saying that anyone offering an open Wi-Fi connection to the public must report illegal images including "obscene" cartoons and drawings--or face fines of up to $300,000.

That broad definition would cover individuals, coffee shops, libraries, hotels, and even some government agencies that provide Wi-Fi. It also sweeps in social-networking sites, domain name registrars, Internet service providers, and e-mail service providers such as Hotmail and Gmail, and it may require that the complete contents of the user's account be retained for subsequent police inspection.

Before the House vote, which was a lopsided 409 to 2, Rep. Nick Lampson (D-Texas) held a press conference on Capitol Hill with John Walsh, the host of America's Most Wanted and Ernie Allen, head of the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children.

Allen said the legislation--called the Securing Adolescents From Exploitation-Online Act, or SAFE Act--will "ensure better reporting, investigation, and prosecution of those who use the Internet to distribute images of illegal child pornography."

The SAFE Act represents the latest in Congress' efforts--some of which have raised free speech and privacy concerns--to crack down on sex offenders and Internet predators. One bill introduced a year ago was even broader and would have forced Web sites and blogs to report illegal images. Another would require sex offenders to supply e-mail addresses and instant messaging user names.

Wednesday's vote caught Internet companies by surprise: the Democratic leadership rushed the SAFE Act to the floor under a procedure that's supposed to be reserved for noncontroversial legislation. It was introduced October 10, but has never received even one hearing or committee vote. In addition, the legislation approved this week has changed substantially since the earlier version and was not available for public review.

Not one Democrat opposed the SAFE Act. Two Republicans did: Rep. Ron Paul, the libertarian-leaning presidential candidate from Texas, and Rep. Paul Broun from Georgia.

This is what the SAFE Act requires: Anyone providing an "electronic communication service" or "remote computing service" to the public who learns about the transmission or storage of information about certain illegal activities or an illegal image must (a) register their name, mailing address, phone number, and fax number with the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children's "CyberTipline" and (b) "make a report" to the CyberTipline that (c) must include any information about the person or Internet address behind the suspect activity and (d) the illegal images themselves. (By the way, "electronic communications service" and "remote computing service" providers already have some reporting requirements under existing law too.)

The definition of which images qualify as illegal is expansive. It includes obvious child pornography, meaning photographs and videos of children being molested. But it also includes photographs of fully clothed minors in overly "lascivious" poses, and certain obscene visual depictions including a "drawing, cartoon, sculpture, or painting." (Yes, that covers the subset of anime called hentai).

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Illegal?
Posted by Robin on 2009-07-27 14:28:11
at least they included "overly" lascivious poses. My 13 yr old neice would be a good target - I'd love for someone to force her to take her overly lascivious pix down. Right now its a countdown to her first teenage pregnancy. (her father is useless in curbing her online activities). I reported her to Myspace once already. She is very well developed and says she is 17 online. They said that they would ban her profile, but she's still up there. She has met guys from her Myspace already. Not sure how this meshes with the new law. Myspace should have done it themselves since she has no supervision.

Just a thought.
 

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