December 6th, 2007

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Catastrophe or Big Yawn: The debate over HR 876, The "SAFE ACT"

Like many, I was deeply alarmed by the report by Declan McCullagh (picked up by Slashdot) on the House passage of the SAFE Act. From Declan's description, the Act would require anyone offering free wifi to track and store records user traffic to capture child pornography images (and, incidentally, anything else that NSA or others might like to see, since this is fishing with a very large net). You can see Declan's story here:

Then I read this story by equally Libertarian tech blogger George Ou. Ou points out that the provision in question is more reasonably understood as requiring ISPs to report if they happen to come accross such traffic in the ordinary course of business, not mandating new tracking, monitoring, or spying obligations. While still presenting problems, of interpretation if nothing else, this is far different from what Declan suggests. for one thing, it does not constitute a death knell to community wireless, as I initially feared. Nor would it criminalize folks who WANT to share their wifi connections.

I still think it was idiocy of Pelosi to move it forward. It damages the political standing of the Dems with key groups who are sick of the Religious Right creating a "nanny state" for the "good of the children" and threatens the major gains in Silicon Valley, youth voters, and western Libertarians made by the Dems as a consequence of the Bush Administration. But it may not be the "Nancy Pelosi hates poor women, poor children, and minority communities -- or is possessed by a demon" moment I initially thought it was.