An overzealous bill that claims to be about stopping child pornography turns every Web user into a person to monitor
Every right-thinking person abhors child pornography. To combat it, legislators have brought through committee a poorly conceived, over-broad Congressional bill, The Protecting Children from Internet Pornographers Act of 2011. It is arguably the biggest threat to civil liberties now under consideration in the United States. The potential victims: everyone who uses the Internet.
The good news? It hasn't gone before the full House yet.
The bad news: it already made it through committee. And history shows that in times of moral panic, overly broad legislation has a way of becoming law. In fact, a particular moment comes to mind.
In the early 20th Century, a different moral panic gripped the United States: a rural nation was rapidly moving to anonymous cities, sexual mores were changing, and Americans became convinced that an epidemic of white female slavery was sweeping the land. Thus a 1910 law that made it illegal to transport any person across state lines for prostitution "or for any other immoral purpose." Suddenly premarital sex and adultery had been criminalized, as scam artists would quickly figure out. "Women would lure male conventioneers across a state line, say from New York to Atlantic City, New Jersey," David Langum* explains, "and then threaten to expose them to the prosecutors for violation" unless paid off. Inveighing against the law, the New York Times noted that, though it was officially called the White Slave Traffic Act (aka The Mann Act), a more apt name would've been "the Encouragement of Blackmail Act."