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“Big business never pays a nickel in taxes, according to Ralph Nader, who represents a big consumer organization that never pays a nickel in taxes.”     Dave Barry

December 7, 2007

House Passes SAFE Act — Do You Feel Safer?

by Brad Warbiany

Have a small business offering wifi access? Have a home wireless connection that you’ve not secured? Well, consider yourself “deputized”. You may not know how to even track your who is using your internet connection, but you may soon be legally required to do so:

What’s SAFE? It stands for the Securing Adolescents From Exploitation-Online Act, and its reach could be unprecedented. Namely, it holds that anyone offering any public electronic communications service (including an open Wi-Fi connection or internet kiosk) must create a sort of dossier on anyone they suspect might be viewing child pornography over their network and submit it to the government. (Presumably the culprit would have to be caught in the act; the bill doesn’t really say.) The service provider will also have to maintain an archive of all the suspect’s files for use as evidence.

It sounds bad at first, but the definition of child pornography in this case is especially surprising. Per Cnet’s Declan McCullagh, the definition of such images include those featuring fully-clothed children in “lascivious” poses and even drawings of such obsenity. (That would include the popular form of hentai anime.)

Failure to comply could result in a first-offense fine of $150,000 and $300,000 after that. That means every library, coffee shop, and even private homes that offer open wireless access could face crushing penalties if they don’t eavesdrop on their clientèle. In other words: The government wants you to do its dirty work and play Big Brother on its behalf. Creepy.

Yep. You’d better know what people are using your internet connection for, or you might be in trouble. The government doesn’t have the time nor resources to catch criminals on their own, so you need to do it for them!

Personally, while this might get a lot of airtime, I wouldn’t worry too much about it. A government too incompetent to catch criminals on their own will most likely be too incompetent to catch you if you don’t understand that someone is using your internet connection for nefarious purposes. I’d say that I don’t care and would continue to offer free wi-fi, but I’ve kept my own connection secure just as general principle since I’ve had it, so it doesn’t affect me much.

Oh, but one little bit takes the cake on this one:

Additionally scary: This legislation never received a committee vote or public hearing and was never made available for public review. Way to sneak one past the goalie, Congress!

I don’t know what’s more sad… The fact that Congress often passes bills like this (without review), or the fact that the original author didn’t quite realize that Congress often passes bills like this. After all, they want to make sure you don’t get any crazy hentai through your connection to the series of tubes.

Hat Tip: Doug

PS – Initial paragraph & title updated to reflect that the bill has only passed the House, not the Senate, and that you’re not legally required to report this stuff unless this makes it all the way through the process.

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5 Comments

  1. You know this has virtually the effect of shutting down or making cost prohibitive all public WI-FI spots. There has to be some big tel-comm support. I know it sounds like a conspiracy, but what the hell. I don’t see how it makes anyone safer and it has the effect of destroying access to Wi-Fi.

    “It’s for the children” benefits the big ass tel-comm corporations.

    Comment by TanGeng — December 7, 2007 @ 7:53 am
  2. I’m gonna start distributing stick-man porn. That’ll get the politicians riled up! One of them is under 18.

    Comment by somebody — December 7, 2007 @ 7:58 am
  3. When the news article linked to says “the House overwhelmingly voted for the legislation, sending it now to the Senate” (emphasis added), the line “you’re now legally required to do so” is, at the very best, premature. Nobody is required to do squat until the Senate also passes it (and Bush signs it, but that’s probably a given).

    The companion bill in the Senate has been referred to the Judiciary committee. I’ve just looked on the ACLU’s web site and the EFF’s site to try to find easy action pages dealing with this, but they seem not to have updated for the Senate-level fight yet.

    However, since the Senate Judiciary Committee is currently embroiled in the whole “give the telecoms retroactive immunity for helping the government spy on everyone” scandal, the EFF has a page for contacting your senator about that issue. I’m sure it would be easy to use some of the ACLU’s talking points about the House version when calling your senator — especially if your senator should happen to sit on the Judiciary Committee.

    Comment by Kai MacTane — December 7, 2007 @ 8:53 am
  4. [...] read a lot of bellyaching today about the SAFE Act.  Mostly people are worried that free WiFi access will disappear from [...]

    Pingback by SAFE Bill Doesn't Solve Any Problems | Hear ItFrom.Us — December 7, 2007 @ 11:20 am
  5. What’s even more disturbing is that only 2 people voted against it (Ron Paul and Paul Broun). This is yet another example for why we need the Read the Bills Act.

    Comment by Stephen Littau — December 7, 2007 @ 11:24 am

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