For a government that - as proven by Osama's latest threats - can't penetrate Al-Queda, and can't penetrate international methamphetamine smuggling rings that are tearing your town apart with their poison - well, this government seems to care quite a bit about another kind of well, "penetration."
The news hit today that Federal prosecutors defending the 1998 Child Online Protection Act have asked Google,Yahoo!, Microsoft and America Online to each hand over the results of one million recent "random" search queries as well as one million "random" Internet addresses accessible through each company's Internet search site.
Prosecutors say this is being done to prove that the Act- being challenged by the American Civil Liberties Union- is "more effective than filtering software in protecting minors from exposure to harmful materials on the Internet." These prosecutors hope to learn from these records how frequently Web users of all ages encouter pornography, and whether pornographic websites found in these searches could be blocked by filtering software.
To their credit, Google has said they would fight the motion. The others have given in.
I don't think it is a very noble moment when an 11-year-old girl, perhaps feeling her first sexual urges, decides to find something on the Internet that would enable her to indulge herself. Yet I have to ask myself, if she goes to Google and types in, say, "boys" and "hard" (choose your own word here), and is able to get to websites that literally show her what she is looking for, then who am I to make that decision if I am not her parent or legal guardian?
I should have equipped her to not want to make that decision, not employ electronic surveillance to thwart her if she does, even out of nothing but natural curiousity.
Or if a 9 year-old boy goes to Yahoo! and types in, say, "dirty babes" into a search engine, and then plays with himself to a display of a picture of a skanky 'ho doing the nasty with a dildo, then what is so wrong with that it requires the Feds to step in?
True, such experiences can serve to devalue sex, but generations ago, this type of material was also floating around. Maybe your older brother gave you a "skin mag," and then, when your parents were asleep, you "read" it. You turned out OK, right? (I think).
I have this theory. Parents should sit down with their kids and tell their children real early on that when they are of the right age and social circumstance to make their own choices, sex can be beautiful. And when they explain to kids that on the Internet, there are these pictures of very troubled people doing things that turn sex into something wrong, something ugly.
Parents should do this early enough so that their children can understand the difference.
I speak from experience.
Way back when computers ran on tapes in giant rooms, I was still of a very tender, single-digit age. I remember accidentally discovering my parents' Kama Sutra book in a chest-of-drawers. I didn't tell my parents that I found it, but I was impressed by the depictions, the positions, the joy on the faces of the illustrated participants.
Not long therafter, I was in the corner of a store and I snuck in to look at the porn. Even through a child's eyes, I found it gross. As a result, the 25-cent peep shows with all those um, "money shots," never had an appeal to me. Because even in childhood, I knew the participants in these shows were troubled.
But notice something? I was able to develop a value system that was able to distinguish smut from non-smut. It was not the government's job to act as a gatekeeper. And yes, now that I am an adult, I can remember times not all that long ago when I've "dated myself," but my life experiences have taught me the difference between the truth of love shared, and the fantasy, the lie, of self-rendered engorgement deposited on a towel.
Parents, it is up to you to teach your children the difference.
And, feds, stop trying to look for Google searches with pornographic terms. If you must, look for search strings such as "jihad" "infidels" and "New York."