So Computer Reseller News [sic!] has a particularly concerning case of cover discourses. This is, kids, where a discourse with which one can't reasonably disagree is linked to an action which, in content, does not necessarily link up exactly as its advertised. It's, in a word, presumptuous. In another phrase, it's a syllogistic fallacy. Say we see that folks are too fat, myself included, so we decide to burn all the corn fields in the US. I mean, come on, it's the High Fructose Corn Syrup (HFCS) making us fat and giving us diabetes, after all, and the HFCS is made from... (you guessed it) CORN!!!
[Rep. Lamar Smith (R-Texas) and Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas)] are working together to tighten the law against child pornography by forcing Internet service providers to retain Internet usage records. ... The Internet Stopping Adults Facilitating the Exploitation of Today's Youth (SAFETY) Act of 2009 is covered in the House version by Smith as H.R. 1076 and in the Senate version by Cornyn as S.436.
Can we stop child porn by recording everyone's illicit online affairs? Apparently so.
The cover discourse is child porn. The active discourse (the one calling for a specific action) is one of surveillance and control. Everyone wants to stop child porn, except for those sick enough to enjoy it. We can't argue against the motivation for stopping child porn, can we? The problem is that the action is absolute overkill. Because every packet, from Quake's UDP to a kid hitting pbskids.org could be child porn, and we won't know until we check, we have to save it all until someone is suspected. Then we can blast through, find the "paper" trail, and bust the pervert.
I'm all for busting the child porn pervs. But Alex Rodriguez might have something to tell us about the way the government collects information that wasn't supposed to be recorded or saved, and tends to cast wider rather than narrower nets in a manner that shows, practically speaking, the practical has more immediate effects for citizens than the theoretical.
The Internet and binary media in general offers the potential for measurement and recording in a way we've never been able to do before. Why? Because there's no play on the net. Everything done from the interface to the network must be first translated to digits that can then be accurately recorded and precisely reproduced. Watch five people walk down the sidewalk, and each's feet will take a different path. But, give or take, and enough give to be practically accurate, everyone reading a relatively static web page will see the same thing. More importantly, get someone to retrace their steps on the sidewalk and, even if you measured down to an accuracy of nano-inches, there were still be room for play. On the net, again give or take, there is *none*; the system requests and nearly always creates a situation in which there is no play. I can exactly reproduce not just the steps, but everyone else's steps at a certain moment in the virtual w/World of Warcraft. Exactly. Each choice breaks down to a digital (as in numeric) decision. Every movement is reduced to a number. Every decision. Everything is reduced to real numbers. Not just numbers, but digits. Easily represented digits. Everything measurable. Everything reproducible exactly. EXACTLY. EVERYTHING. Capiche?
It's a seductive power whose proverbial siren song asks us to keep precise ties on what happens just in case. Each measurement is already being taken and it's a trivial addition to record it all. If we could know a priori what Internet traffic -- what numbers, what digits, what zeroes and ones -- were illegal, we, providing the laws are just (as I believe these discussed in CRN much more than likely are), should record them to help make the actions stop. But right now we don't know the difference between child exploitation numbers and the numbers of mailing pictures of grandkids to grandma before the fact. Which is more evil, 3 or 4? Tell me now which number should be disallowed (ignoring for now John Muckelbauer's theory that open 4's are more likely to catch on fire than any other number). We might know a subset of numbers (and a very useful subset -- wasn't this Carnivore?) for which we could filter and which could and arguably should automatically trigger recording, but we don't know them all. The cover discourse certainly doesn't argue well for our collecting every digit. Because there's a long, long spectrum between grandkids and child porn within which there's a number of activities that are not a threat to society, there are numbers that should, in this approximation of a free country, be allowed to stay private.
The link between child porn and Internet traffic records might be onto, but it sure ain't one-to-one (do I have that backwards?). Laziness and technical naivety is no excuse for us to trade in our freedoms, maxim or no.