Straw Dogs And Straw Men

“Oh Jeesh, you’re not going to talk about that Patrick Naughton thing, are you?”

Not really. But everyone around the web water cooler wants to start there today, so let’s start there.

If you haven’t heard Naughton, an executive vice president of Infoseek Corp. was nabbed Friday in a pedophilia sting by the FBI. He was immediately fired, and the Walt Disney Co., which is buying Infoseek, quickly added he’d never really worked for them.

The fast, final fall of one of Java’s original creators illustrates an important point.

When it comes to protecting children, no law enforcement effort is too much.

That’s why, for those who support a firm hand against Internet liberty, pedophilia is like crack cocaine. Just as crack moved society to redefining the Constitution’s protections in favor of the state (basic rights were redefined as “technicalities”), so the protection of children is used to demand laws against Internet speech.

No one will protect or defend a pedophile, and no one will protest any action aimed at destroying one, no matter how high they may have risen. This is true worldwide, which is why our zeal here can be so dangerous.

Roger Ebert (yes, that Roger Ebert) writes this month of how so many reporters overstate the Internet’s importance in order to get stories into newspapers and onto TV.

To hear some news reports, you would think that the web was filled with nothing but hate sites and pornography, and that the web is creating crime where none existed before. That’s just not true, he adds, although the Internet does enable communication among criminals, just as it does among bread lovers.

The question is how will we balance the good and the bad.

What will we allow law enforcement to do online, what words will we seek to ban online, and how far will we go to enforce those bans? These three questions are separate, and all three are important.

The Internet libertarian idea that crime happens nowhere because it happens in cyberspace won’t hold in the court of public opinion. Around the world national, state, and local governments are claiming jurisdiction, and the claims often overlap.

Demagogues are demanding that Internet speech be reined in, and that police be given extraordinary powers to keep those they feel are “beyond the pale” from being heard.

In the U.S., we usually don’t join in such calls except when the subject turns to protecting children.

I think that’s dangerous.

Does that make me “soft on child porn” or pro-pedophile?” I think it makes me strong for liberty, but pass this column around to your off-line friends. My guess is at least one of them will make the accusation.

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