Sad, but unfortunately not surprising

Free speech and civil liberties organizations do a hugely important job scrutinizing the activities of state agencies. However, you are forced to wonder if, sometimes, they don’t completely lose touch with common humanity.

The Electronic Frontier Foundation  (EFF)has just served up another example of exactly the kind of thing I had in mind.  Click and tell me what  you are reminded of when you look at the graphics used in their latest campaign. 

Yep. Me as well.

But what is the EFF actually complaining about? It’s a measure brought forward in Congress by Senators Graham and Blumenthal to try to get internet businesses to do more to combat the kinds of child sex abuse that are facilitated by the internet.

My generous spirit

I try not to leap to conclusions. I try to give people the benefit of the doubt.  When I look at something that is otherwise rather startling I wonder if there is a benign interpretation, some context of which I am unaware, that might cast a new light on the matter in hand.

Driven by such thoughts I wrote to the EFF. Below I reproduce the entire correspondence. I have left out the name of the person at the EFF who sent me the reply for reasons I will happily explain if they are not obvious.

My initial email

Dear EFF,

I have just read your blog opposing EARN IT (the Graham-Blumenthal Bill). Have you published anything suggesting what tech companies can and should do to reduce the distribution of child pornography over the internet? And ditto in respect of grooming behaviour (behaviour designed to persuade under age persons to engage in illegal sexual activity)?

EFF’s reply

Hi John,

Thanks so much for reaching out to us at the EFF. We appreciate you seeking our input on this.

While we do not have any resources of the nature you describe, we know child exploitation online is a real problem. But the EARN IT Act offers no meaningful solutions. It doesn’t help organizations that support victims. It doesn’t equip law enforcement agencies with resources or training to investigate claims. Rather, the bill’s authors have shrewdly used defending children as the pretense for an attack on our free speech and security online. (emphasis added by me)

Thanks again for coming to us about this.



My second email

Dear EFF,

Many thanks for getting back to me…..  I  completely get the importance of supporting victims and equipping law enforcement agencies with resources  and training to investigate claims. Has the EFF said anything about the use of technical tools to detect child pornography so it can be identified and investigated and victims located? If more companies used these sorts of tools I guess that would mean politicians would back off. No?


EFF response to my second email

I haven’t had one.

But look again at the EFF reply, in particular the section I put in bold. “Shrewdly”?  “Pretense”?  Don’t these words suggest deliberate, cynical intent? Directed at what? Disguising the Senators’real motivation which is to “attack…free speech and security”.

Trying to protect children is just a ruse. A smokescreen.

So there you go. Additional comment seems pointless. At the moment.

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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