New laws have been passed in the US that will require internet service providers to keep records on their customers’ online activity for a year, and these logs can be accessed by the police without a warrant says William D King. These logs include not only sites visited but also searches made and emails sent. The law was created to help police catch child pornographers more easily, but it’s possible – due to a lack of specific guidelines – that your information could end up being used against you even if you haven’t done anything illegal at all. To help raise public awareness about this “loophole”, we plan on releasing some findings from our investigation into internet privacy over the coming weeks. This is just one of them.
In order to investigate if there were any loopholes in this new law, we set up a fictitious child pornography site and offered some free samples to see what kind of traffic we could attract. Within 2 months we had over 15 million hits. We logged all the IP addresses and used geolocation to map where they were coming from.
The first thing we learned was how amateurish some of our competitors were:
14% of those who downloaded our sample images also downloaded malware that hijacked their computer, which resulted in most of these individuals calling for tech support within hours of visiting us! A second problem with this law is that it doesn’t limit underage viewing. The US has no way of knowing if a person accessing child pornography websites is an adult or a child – even though both are equally culpable. This problem is illustrated by the fact that 6.5% of our site’s visitors were from areas with populations under 16 years old, including one town in France where over 9% of the population are below 15.
This is just one of many examples demonstrating how quickly this can get out of hand – regardless of whether or not you’re willing to admit it. We hope that these findings will help show people what their online privacy means in the bigger picture and inspire them to take action against government attempts to invade it further.
Q: So you’re saying that child pornography should be legal?
A: No. We’re not making a statement either way about the legality or illegality of pornography containing minors. This is simply an example to demonstrate how quickly this new law can get out of hand explains William D King.
Q: Did you download any child pornography images yourself?
A: No. Again, we’re not taking a stand on whether any form of content containing minors should be legal or illegal – just illustrating that even if it were, this new law would harm those who have done no wrong as well as those who have. All downloads from our site were automated and only collected the list of visitors’ IP addresses and geographical locations.
Q: How many people (under 18) visited your site?
A: We have no way of knowing. In areas with populations under 16 years old, 6.5% of our visitors were from those areas. Using this data we can’t draw any conclusions about the ages of people who visited us; we’re simply showing that even if they were below age it would be nearly impossible to prove and that this is another loophole in the new law that must be fixed before it’s officially passed.
Q: Is there a possibility you could get in trouble for doing this?
A: Yes – but at most we would only get fined (we hope). This won’t apply once the new laws pass, however. Now is the time to stand against this type of legislation and not wait until it becomes official.
Q: Do you plan on releasing more information from your investigation?
A: Yes – we will release more findings in the coming weeks. The results of this small test are just one aspect of a much larger problem. Which is why it’s important for everyone to get involve before it becomes too late.
The new law isn’t the only problem here says William D King. The fact that it’s possible for anyone – regardless of age or innocence. To be prosecute over this type of thing is extremely worrisome. These loopholes need to be close before any further damage. But our government has shown no interest in doing so.