Vice Squad
Thursday, October 09, 2003
The Internet and Vice

Microsoft Canada is working with the police in Toronto to develop "software
that will make it easier for police to investigate the dissemination of child
pornography on the Internet," according to this Reuters story. Somehow the software
will allow for computers to do the work of examining photos and identifying those
images that constitute child pornography.

It is a commonplace to say that the Internet has "changed everything," but in the
area of vice control, that has largely been the case. Gambling, pornography, and
prostitution have all been profoundly influenced by the growth of the web. I will
save for the future a discussion of most of these influences. For now, I'll note
just one effect, that of undermining some previously potent social controls. One
limit on the purchase of pornography in the old days was the possibility of running
into your boss while you were at the counter with your smut; even the necessity of
dealing with a shop clerk no doubt dissuaded some would-be porn purchasers. Now no
one need know of how much porn you are acquiring, or how much time and money you
spend gambling. These things can cut both ways -- on a web casino you are not plied
with free drinks by attractive waitresses -- but all in all, it appears that not only
legal controls on vice consumption, but social controls, too, have been undermined
to some extent by the development of the Internet. And not just consumption -- the
web also has made it much easier for people to become purveyors of pornography, for
instance. And it goes without saying that the web has rendered it possible for almost
anyone to become a vice policy blogger these days.

While the initial impact of the web seems to have been to undermine some existing
vice controls, it is not obvious that that will be the case in the long run, as the Reuters
article suggests. Internet communications often are highly anonymous but they also leave
a trail, one that can be exploited by law enforcement -- as the file-sharing cases are

Labels: ,

Powered by Blogger