Peru: Child Online Protection Bill Could Threaten Free Expression

[Links are to Spanish-language pages except where noted.]

With the aim of keeping Peruvian children safe, Congressman Omar Chehade has proposed a bill to protect minors from Internet pornography. But according to some experts, if the bill becomes law, it could end up restricting freedom of expression for all Internet users.

Legislators from the governing Peruvian Nationalist Party presented the bill last July 22. Its preamble states that it is the duty of the state to protect children and adolescents, and that they face potential risks in the use of new technologies that “threaten their sexual freedom.” (p.1) They note that given Internet use by minors for recreational purposes is on the rise, “it is necessary to establish a framework to protect them from cyberspace.” (p.7)

Photo by One Laptop Per Child. (CC BY 2.0)

Photo by One Laptop Per Child. (CC BY 2.0)

The most worrisome aspect is that the proposed law would create a Commission to Protect Minors from Pornographic Internet Content (COPROME), which would be charged with “choosing, in an impartial, transparent and reasonable manner, the content that would be blocked by Internet service providers.” (p.18) The commission would “permanently monitor the content circulating on the Internet in order to identify those sites or services that should not be propagated in cyberspace.” (p.19)

The bill explains that COPROME “would be able to filter content by Internet service providers in order to restrict minors’ access to pornographic content.”

For lawyer Erick Iriarte Ahón, the bill is clearly aimed at controlling content. On his blog he comments on the use of filters:

[El proyecto] se creara una Comisión que tendrá que colocar filtros que monitorearan contenidos previamente. Y aquí empiezan las preguntas: ¿Cómo estos filtros determinarán quién es un menor de edad? ¿Cómo se limitará que el contenido filtrado solo sea el de contenido pornográfico frente a un menor de edad, y no contenido que cualquiera desee acceder en cualquier momento? ¿Dónde esta el límite de pasar de control de contenidos pornográficos a control de contenidos políticos, religiosos, sindicales u otros?. Crear un “comité de decencia” como se ha intentado en otros países es un camino a crear un “Ministerio de la Verdad” a lo 1984.

[The proposed law] would create a commission that would have to set up preventative filters to monitor content. And so the questions begin: How will these filters determine who is a minor? How will filtering prevent only pornographic content from reaching minors and not content that any user might want to access at any given time? Where does one draw the line between controlling pornographic content and controlling political, religious, labour union or other kinds of content? To create a “decency committee,” as has been tried in other countries, is going down the road to a 1984-style “Ministry of Truth.”

What's more, Iriarte finds it odd that the bill is being put forward against the backdrop of “accusations that the National Intelligence Directorate (#DINI) is monitoring the Web” and “the comments by Congressman Eguren that one should not govern listening to Twitter users.” He adds that:

Es un error tratar de hacer una regulación de este tipo….hay que mirar…el intento de USA de crear el Child Online Protection Act (COPA) donde la American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) fue quien logró que esta ley fuera declarada inconstitucional, un proyecto cuestionado por entidades de sociedad civil que encontraban vulneraban el derecho del acceso a la información y además de libertad de expresión y daban instrumento de control de contenidos al gobierno.

It is a mistake to try and regulate this way…one has to look…at the attempt by the USA to create the Child Online Protection Act (COPA) where the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) were the ones who managed to get the law declared unconstitutional, a law questioned by civil society advocates who found that it weakened access to information and freedom of expression and that it was an instrument by which government could control Internet content.

Lawyer Miguel Morachimo also believes that the proposed law—as currently drafted—threatens freedom of expression and questions whether, by restricting minors’ access to adult content, it is necessary to set up mandatory preventative filters on all Internet content. After pointing out certain false premises contained in the bill, he posits a few inherent problems:

Imagínense a un grupo de siete funcionarios estatales mirando todos los días cantidades alucinantes de pornografía y decidiendo qué contenidos serán prohibidos. Probablemente durante las primeras horas terminaría por censurar páginas como Tumblr, Twitter o Flickr. Esas tres páginas albergan contenidos para adultos y, sin embargo, también son herramientas de comunicación y libre expresión usadas con otros fines. ¿Qué haría en esos casos nuestro Comité Censor de Internet?

Imagine a group of seven public servants watching astounding amounts of pornography daily and deciding what content to prohibit. Within the first few hours they would probably end up censoring pages like Tumblr, Twitter or Flickr. These three sites host content for adults and, nevertheless, also function as communication and free speech tools for other purposes. What would our Censorship Committee do in those cases?

Morachimo goes on to suggest other possible alternatives to a content blocking system:

[E]l Estado [podría] invitar a los proveedores de servicios de Internet a buscar mejores formas de vender y promocionar sus filtros parentales….Los operadores podrían ofrecer planes móviles especiales para menores de edad, de la misma manera en que se ofrecen en otros países. Existen muchas formas de atacar este problema que no pasan por restringir las libertades del grueso de los usuarios.

[T]he State [could] invite Internet service providers to look for better ways of promoting and selling parental controls…Operators could offer special wireless plans for minors, in the same way as they do in other countries. There are many ways of attacking the problem that do not involve infringing on the rights of the majority of users.

Given the recent date of the bill, which almost coincides with the end of the legislative term, there has been little debate on the matter, though on Twitter as on Facebook a few comments can already be found under the hashtag #leychehade. However, it remains to be seen whether, when Congress reconvenes, digital rights activists undertake activities to inform citizens and pressure members of Congress not to pass the bill.

Original version of this post published on the blog Globalizado.


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