Of Russian Hackers and Google Cops
The recent news that Russian hackers have the usernames and passwords for over a billion users as well as a half billion email accounts wraps up a week of Internet craziness.
Last week, Google revealed that it had turned into police a Google user who had included child pornography on some of his emails. The company made clear that it had been investigating this guy and that its procedures for doing so "cannot violate the privacy of other users". This week, MicroSoft made a similar announcement about a similar investigation of data stored on its "Cloud" storage system.
It seems these guys can't refrain from competing in whatever they're into. It also seems that, as usual, these companies are playing an informational shell game when they explain what they're doing and the threat it poses.
The most important question all these cases raise is going unanswered (and frequently unasked): what are your privacy and data rights on the Internet and are our governments and companies really protecting those rights?
The fact that child pornography -- particularly the production of it -- is among the nastiest forms of exploitation conceivable helps cloud the issue. After all, in our society, sexual violation of kids is epidemic one of our every six women or girls in this country has been raped and 15 percent are under the age of 12. Over 90 percent of those kids know their attackers and over half are raped by a family member. Child pornography is a form of rape if not while being seen (which is sick by any definition) but while it is being produced.
Nobody wants this stuff to thrive anywhere. The question is who goes after it and how. Google has an answer and, when analyzed carefully, it's disturbing.
Texan John Henry Skillern is a sex offender with a Gmail account. The police say he was tagging some email with attached pornographic photos of children and Google turned him in to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children who then called the cops. They got the arrest warrant and found the material on Skillern's computer.
There is a large and troubling legal question about his case and others that are similar. Do we punish those who consume this material: people who are, when all is said and done, engaging in a private, individual albeit repugnant obsession? Does going after them really help us stop the people who are actually exploiting these kids: the ones who produce the pornography? While made difficult by the repugnant nature of this kind of material, it's a question worth pondering.
Still, no matter your answer to that first question, there's another we should all be asking: is the policing of the Internet the way to combat this and are Internet companies the people to do that?