This page responds to one of the ten recommended laws proposed by C-Net to regulate the Internet.

  The problem:  Pornographic materials are easily accessible on the web; access to such material should be restricted, and promotion of such material should be limited.

The proposal:  "All web sites devoted to the sale or dissemination of sexually explicit content should live in a newly created top-level domain, for example, an .xxx domain."

The survey:  At the time of my visit, 18,869 "netizens" had voted, with 84% supporting the proposal, against 16% opposing it.
I'd like to know your thoughts
  This seems on its face to be a commendable approach to an awkward problem.  There are those of us who might wish that such materials did not exist; but that wish will not cause them to vanish.   I suspect that there are those who are perturbed in reverse--that access to such material frequently requires that you "prove your age" by giving credit card or similar information, even if the material is said to be free.  The idea of a special suffix--a "top level domain"--dedicated to such material would allow such web sites to be easily screened by a simple browser function, a command which required a password to access files with that ending.  At the same time, anyone who wanted to easily and directly access the pornographic sites could set the browser to skip the password function and go directly to the site.  It sounds like a simple process.

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  The problem which arises is one which plagues all laws related to the regulation of pornography:  what is the definition, and who makes it?  The international nature of the Internet complicates this immensely.

  Not long ago, the German parliament passed a law which would make it illegal to transmit into Germany by Internet technology any materials which would be illegal to publish in Germany.  Although this would include much of what those of us in America would consider pornographic, it would also include all material which espouses a Nazi philosophy, wherever they originate.  I disapprove of such material, and would cry no tears for it all to vanish from the universe.  However, it is not only in Germany that certain ideas are considered pornographic and illegal.  There are countries in the world in which certain religious philosophies are forbidden--and since access to the Internet by means of satellite uplink is feasible from almost any point on the globe, there is no country in which no one ever has such access.  Anyone who has read Ray Bradbury's Fahrenheit 451 will recall the demon of that book:  once you allow that any one offended group may censor what is published, publishing itself will vanish from the earth.  If Germany can convict publishers of Nazi web pages, if they can legally drive a single ideology from the web, on the claim that by German standards it is pornographic, then the Internet is doomed.

  But perhaps you think that example too intellectual.  Of course the Nazi philosophy, as horrible as it may be, is not pornographic.  That is not what we Americans mean when we say pornography.  This, of course, is begging the question--should we Americans be the ones to define what is pornographic?  But there is a much more basic example--directly on point.  Many people have put their own photos on the web, or photos of their families or loved ones.  If in a photo spread a young girl decides to include a picture of herself and her friends at the beach, dressed in their bathing suits, who would think that pornographic?  But what if the beach is in Brazil, and the bathing suits are all topless?  Those pictures would be quite normal in the United States of Brazil, but pornographic in the United States of America.  Which standard should apply?  And if we put tops on these girls, dressing them in the common two-piece bikini of American beaches, would these same images which we find ordinary not be pornographic in so many of the Islamic states of the Mediterranean area?

  In law it is sometimes said that the exception swallows the rule.  Our American sensibilities will put the Brazilian bathing suits in the proposed .xxx domain; but our Islamic friends will put the harmless pictures of our daughters in the same area (goodness--they wear pants!).  Germany will insist that material related to Nazi beliefs should be there, and soon Christianity, Judaism, atheism, Marxism, capitalism, communism, all will be relegated to the pornographic domain.  And that which means everything means nothing.

  The majority of pornographic sites are interested in attracting paying subscribers.  They are already setting up systems which will assure that they are paid--which incidentally also make these materials less accessible to teens and children.  Is it entirely inaccessible?  Have we prevented our children from having access to Playboy magazine, or R-rated movies?  The proposed .xxx domain is a good idea--I voted for it--but as a practical matter, it faces more hurdles and complications than have been considered at this point.  We can create a top-level domain, and require pornographic commercial sites to exist there; but if a young girl in Japan decides to put pictures of herself dressed in less than we might think appropriate on her personal web page, I would object to any action being taken against her, as I would hope she would object to anyone attempting to remove my words and ideas from my site.

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