The Telegraph reports that Google plans to create a global database (databases seem to be in the news a lot these days) of child abuse images which will be shared with its competitors that will permit the images to be deleted from the internet en mass. To identify what images constitute child porn, Google will rely on child protections organizations such as the Internet Watch Foundation (IWF). While no one else seems to be able to define child porn in a way that doesn’t infringe on constitutionally protected speech, the IWF apparently knows it when it sees it. Of course, a lot of people knew this 1999 Calvin Klein billboard proposed for Times Square was child porn, too.
Presumably, since the IWF declares pictures to be child porn before any court judges them to be, their determination of the age of the people depicted in the images is based on how old they look rather than on how old they are. Child porn that doesn’t involve children hardly constitutes abuse of children anymore than porn with women in white dresses constitutes abuse of nurses.
IWF is not without controversy in terms of its precision in identifying what it calls illegal content. Back in 2008, the IWF attempted to censor a Wikipedia article which turned out to be a “false positive” which is a polite way saying, “we accidentally declare some content to be illegal when it isn’t — too bad for you when some service provider bans it based on our say-so”.
Almost all early attempts by the U.S. to control internet content were based on restricting child porn. Some of those attempts were thrown out in court. Other aspects, such as today’s onerous record-keeping requirements that target legitimate adult pornography industry, survived. More recent mechanisms to control internet content come from a government partnership with the entertainment industry to protect copyrights. Once screening technology is in place, it can effectively be used to censor any content.
But, it should be remembered that Google is a private company and not the government, so they have the right to do what they want with data that passes through their systems. And, as we have recently learned, Google will work with the government if asked. The IWF already works closely with law enforcement agencies. If they start targeting people instead of pictures, a “false positive” can destroy someone’s life. On just the mere accusation of child porn, you won’t have a friend in the world regardless of your innocence or guilt.
If you think it’s paranoid to believe that innocent people can be sent to prison for false accusations of child sex crimes, read up on the Satanic Ritual Abuse cases that started in the 1980s. A lot of people went to prison. Eventually many were exonerated, but only after their lives were destroyed. I’d give you statistics, but apparently the definition of Satanic Ritual Abuse is different depending on who you talk to. Imagine that.