Maybe I should have ignored this…..


I have just read an extraordinary blog. It was written by someone called Rick Falkvinge. He founded the world’s first Pirate Party in his native Sweden. The title of the blog is “Three reasons why child porn must be re-legalized in the coming decade”.

Because it is so off-the-wall and dumb in parts I was going to ignore it but a friend pointed out that for many Pirate Party supporters in the 30 or so countries where the Party exists Falkvinge remains a charismatic and persuasive leader. If the blog I am referring to is in any way representative of his thinking I find that difficult to believe but I decided to take their word for it. In what follows I deal only with the most bizarre of the several opinions he expresses. I do this in the doubtless vain hope that if any Pirate people should happen to read this they will think again.

Google Glasses

Falkvinge’s jumping off point was the emergence of a prototype of Google Glasses. In effect this is a new type of mobile phone that has been built into what looks to all-the-world like an otherwise ordinary pair of spectacles. The glasses come with a full on video camera, microphone and internet connectivity.

Falkvinge appears to believe soon enough we will all be wearing them. Thus as we walk along the street we will be able to film, broadcast and record everything we see and hear. Probably we will route the output to a web page of some sort where other people, who plainly have no lives of their own to live, could tune in to see what’s going on in ours.

Danger ahead

Falkvinge sees danger. He asks us to imagine wearing the glasseswhile taking a stroll in a park. We walk around a corner only to see

…..a 12-year-old being brutally raped right in front of you.

WHAM. You are now a criminal, guilty of recording, distributing, and possessing child pornography.….

The rapist notices you and laughs, knowing that you can’t do anything. If you were to call the police and offer to be a witness….. you would lose your job, children, and house over the…..crime you have just committed. As you struggle in panic to delete any and all imagery that could be used to convict the child rapist, hoping that nobody was able to make a copy, you see another person coming into view of the rapist and reacting just like you did. And on the ground, a 12-year old who is being raped watches helplessly as witnesses turn away and delete all evidence of the crime being committed against her.

This is not some far-fetched science fiction scenario.

I certainly agree with the last statement. What it is is complete and utter tripe. Quite apart from anything else e.g. the implausibility of the scenario, in civilized jurisdictions for crimes of this nature to be committed two things have to come together simultaneously. There has to be an evil act linked to an evil intent. You cannot become a criminal because your camera happens to be running when something bad happens in front of its lens. The footage would be evidence against the rapist not against you and in those circumstances every decent human instinct would be to intervene immediately to help the child.

It gets worse

Falkvinge goes through some further incredible twists and turns of hallucinatory non-reasoning to suggest that the laws on child pornography are being cynically used or manipulated by the copyright industry. Here are his words

There is a reason the copyright industry loves child pornography. This reason. It opens the door to censorship.

If I were a rights holder I would find that statement offensive and deeply insulting. Questioning people’s personal motives rarely gets you anywhere. There is no way of proving them one way or the other. Anyone can accuse anyone of anything. Absent convincing proof to the contrary you have to deal with each argument entirely on its merits, one by one.

Falkvinge also says

Child pornography is horrible and awful from every angle and in every aspect. But it is not dangerous to the fabric of society. Censorship and electronic book burning, however, is.

Really? The children in the images will not see it that way and wider society is most definitely harmed as well. Laws on child pornography pre-date the internet. They were not got up for ulterior, undisclosed reasons.

Behind the images

Not every child who is raped or sexually assaulted is also further humiliated by having the abuse recorded in an image which is then made public or distributed to others. Where such images do exist, therefore, they are not merely an accidental, incidental, unintended or unimportant by product of some other dastardly deed.

It is undeniable that some adults rape and abuse children, or arrange for them to be raped and abused, just so they can sell, swap or post the images. If other individuals did not want to buy, look at or download them less would be produced, fewer children would be harmed. There is a direct link between downloading and abuse.

Moreover all child pornography, whether pseudo or real, has been shown to encourage some people to go on to commit hands on offences against children, to act out the things they see in the images. Child pornography is therefore not, as Falkvinge argues elsewhere, neutral, lifeless “information”. It does great harm and has the potential to do more. That is why we have laws about its possession, production and distribution.

Prevention is better than cure but

Of course our overriding goal must be to do everything we can to prevent child abuse from taking place to begin with but we also have an obligation not to allow its proceeds to escape and do further damage.

And finally, in case you were in any doubt about what Falkvinge would like to see, here he is again in his own words

The necessary legislative change would primarily mean that you would always… allowed to record and distribute what you see with your own eyes. A journalistic protection law that supersedes all other laws, if you like. The slightest risk of a grey area here, and people will delete all evidence of witnessed crimes against children rather than risking their own jobs and families – there must be no doubt or uncertainty whatsoever, not a shadow of it. As a side-effect consequence, deliberate recording and distribution of child porn from a first-person perspective would also be legalized with this change…… (emphasis added by me).

I rest my case.

About John Carr

John Carr is one of the world's leading authorities on children's and young people's use of digital technologies. He is Senior Technical Adviser to Bangkok-based global NGO ECPAT International and is Secretary of the UK's Children's Charities' Coalition on Internet Safety. John is now or has formerly been an Adviser to the Council of Europe, the UN (ITU), the EU and UNICEF. John has advised many of the world's largest technology companies on online child safety. John's skill as a writer has also been widely recognised.
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