Eye on Big Brother
by Liz Highleyman

From Issue 3.1 - September/October 1996

Online Censorship in the UK

Online censorship is temporarily on hold in the U.S. since the CDA was declared unconstitutional in June; the Department of Justice has announced that it would appeal the decision to the Supreme Court, probably in 1997. However, censorship is heating up in Europe.

In mid-August, London's Metropolitan Police warned all British Internet service providers that publication and transmission of pornographic material is illegal. The police gave the providers a list of 133 suspect Usenet newsgroups containing sexual content, including content which would not qualify as obscene under U.S. law. Several of the groups listed deal with SM-related content, including alt.sex.spanking, alt.sex.bondage, alt.sex.fetish.feet, and alt.sex.watersports; however, unlike recent restrictions by Compuserve in Germany, groups with non-sexual queer content were not included. The stated goal of the police is "the eradication of this type of newsgroup from the Internet."

Attack on Anonymous Remailers

The U.K. action comes in the midst of a heightened panic in Europe about sexual abuse of children. In August, the London Observer featured an article on pornography on the Internet which was reminiscent of the Time magazine article which galvanized pro-censorship forces in the U.S. The article accused Johann Helsingius of Helsinki, Finland, who maintains the anon.penet.fi anonymous remailer service, of being a middleman in the distribution of child pornography. In the wake of the article, the service went out of operation on August 30. Many thousands of people throughout of world had accounts on the server, which allowed users to send mail to a central site where their identifying information was removed, a unique identifying number was allocated, and their message was forwarded to its destination. Such a tool is invaluable for those who must protect their anonymity -- including closeted queers and human rights activists in countries where such work is severely punished -- and those who simply want to keep the prying eyes of the government or their employer out of their private electronic mail.

The Observer article quoted an FBI source as claiming that more that 75% of Internet porn -- including interactive films -- comes via anon.penet.fi, a claim which Finnish police found groundless; Helsingius modified his server some time ago so that it cannot transmit pictures. The service's closure came after a Finnish court ruled that the operators of such privacy remailers could be forced to make known the identity of their users; Helsingius has said that he may reopen the service if its legal status is clarified.

Newsrack Case

Accusations of harm to children have become the favorite rationale of those seeking to limit freedom of speech and interfere with personal privacy. CU has reported in the past on the case of Crawford vs Lungren, in which Spectator newspaper and several other adult publications are challenging AB17, a 1994 law which makes it illegal to sell sexually explicit material from newsracks and street vending boxes. In January 1995, the plaintiffs were granted a preliminary injunction against enforcement of the law pending appeal. In September 1995, a federal district court judge ruled against the publishers. On July 11, oral arguments were heard in Pasadena, CA, by the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals. The plaintiffs claim that the law is not the least restrictive means of protecting children, and thus impermissibly interferes with adults' rights to access sexually explicit material. Under questioning by one of the judges, Deputy Attorney General Chris Foley maintained that although he could not show that any children had purchased the explicit material, children could suffer psychological harm due to the mere availability of such material, even if they never actually see it. A decision in this case is not expected for a several months.

Pink Pyramid Case

The city of Cincinnati, OH, where an exhibit of Robert Mapplethorpe's photographs was shut down a few years ago, is at it again. On August 5th, the owner and two clerks of the Pink Pyramid bookstore were tried on obscenity charges for renting Paolo Pasolini's "Salo: 120 Days of Sodom." The film, an indictment of fascism, contains several scenes showing explicit sex and torture, but is not legally obscene. The ACLU and the Museum of Modern Art have filed friend of the court briefs in support of the bookstore. And in Vancouver, Canada, Little Sister's bookstore's court victory has not stopped local pro-censorship forces. Love's Touch adult store recently suffered the seizure of over 2000 books and magazines, many of which contained content related to SM between adults.

Dominatrix Busted in CT

Finally, a dominatrix in Suffield, CT, was arrested in June and charged with two counts of prostitution. The woman, Mistress Eva, also known as Renee Jewel, was arrested after a 10-week investigation of professional domination sessions conducted at her home. Mistress Eva was released on $1,500 bail, but still must appear in court. The Mistress called the arrest a "witch hunt," and asserted that she was being victimized by a male-dominated system that was threatened by strong women. Don't these guys have anything better to do?

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Last updated: 30 September 1996