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8/17/2001
10:41 AM
Bob Evans
Bob Evans
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Ethics Or Morality? You Decide

Will South Carolina's legislature give out brown shirts when the law is followed?

In keeping with this issue's special focus on privacy, I'd like to share some reader feedback on our recent coverage of new legislation in South Carolina that requires IT workers, under threat of going to jail, to give the police the names and addresses of anyone at work whose computer contains images of child pornography (see "You Be The Judge," and "Big Brother Lives In South Carolina"):

"First, I assume I can't receive child pornography without my knowledge? Second, I assume that a trained law-enforcement official or a judge can tell by simply looking at the subject line 'You ought to see this' whether an attached file is child pornography? Third, I assume that by 'accidentally' being redirected to a child-pornography Web page, my computer won't store that photograph 'somewhere' on my computer? Fourth, I suggest that all of the South Carolina Legislature visit http://www.whitehouse.com for more important information about pornography issues. [Editor's note: Despite the name, this site is pure filth, and highlights the writer's point about unintended consequences. Be forewarned.] Fifth, I assume that the South Carolina Legislature is aware it shouldn't have its IT department check their 'temp' directories after they visit that site?" ... "Oh, puhleeze, Chicken Little! Stop that knee from jerking long enough to think. South Carolina isn't coercing its IT workers into spying. They're saying that if you become aware of illegal activity, you must report it." ... "I can't agree with this approach. It reminds me of an era that we gave many lives to end more than a half-century ago. Is there a clause in the bill about giving anyone who turned in a suspected pervert a nifty brown shirt?" ... "While all of the IT staff abhor child pornography, [the law] puts us in a position we haven't been trained to perform. The law assumes much, and IT being a house of 'geeks,' we may not be the most educated in the methods of social reform." ... "I fear this smells of McCarthyism. Perhaps you might turn your editorial light upon those who thought up this draconian idea. We all recognize that when evil is not confronted, it simply grows more powerful." ... "This whole thing scares the hell out of me. I am not the Internet Police." ... "Every time you view a site online, intentionally or unintentionally, or try to report a porn site that has been flooding your E-mail provider, a cookie of that site will be created. However, in the event of a computer malfunction, virus, or firewall intervention, the cookies may get saved to nontemporary files. Some of these sites are traps by law enforcement, but who's to say how the sites came into someone's 'possession'? I've known of people who reported child porn to the postmaster general, and then in turn were prosecuted for possessing child porn. It's a real nice thank-you." ... "Say I don't like someone in my office and I know the company is monitoring, so I drop an image from a floppy to that person's machine to get him/her. It would be very easy to set up completely innocent people with this type of law." ... "There is no privacy on the Internet. Privacy is therefore not invaded. When the government hacks into my personal computer without a search warrant, then privacy is an issue." ... "Sounds like Nazi Germany!" ... "For the last several months, I've been continually spammed by porn. If all this were coming to a corporate address, my network admin just might assume I chose to accept this garbage." ... "You never mention accountability. If all those things are happening on company computers, where is the accountability and personal integrity?" ... "This is not a privacy issue, though it touches privacy issues. It is an ethical and moral issue." ... "After all, we may actually end up limiting the Internet. We couldn't let that happen at any cost (sarcasm intended). Life seems to be getting pretty cheap if we feel that we can safely ignore the issue of child pornography." ... "We talk about privacy as if it were a constitutionally guaranteed right. It isn't, you know." ... "This is, sadly, only the latest example of how privacy rights are being assaulted. Every good citizen should be an agent of the state, right? And you wouldn't run if you weren't guilty, right?"

BOB EVANS
Editor-in-Chief
bevans@cmp.com

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