Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Are You On an Adults-Only Social Network Web Site? Big Brother Wants to Know Why


Justice Department Wants to Amend Federal Recordkeeping Law to Require Adults-Only Social Network Sites to Keep On File the Names and Addresses of Their Millions of Users for Possible 'Data-Mining'

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Millions of users of adults-only social networking Web sites -- including thousands of social networking groups hosted by Internet giants Yahoo! Inc., Google Inc. and Microsoft's MSN Network -- could find their personal information "data-mined" by the federal government if a proposed amendment to a federal Internet recordkeeping law is adopted. (Photo: Fethi Belaid/Agence France-Presse)

WEDNESDAY NEWS EXTRA
By Heather Cassell
Bay Area Reporter

(With additional reporting by Skeeter Sanders)


SAN FRANCISCO -- If you're a member of an adults-only social networking Web site -- and you have sexually explicit photos of yourself posted on it -- the federal government wants to know who you are and why you're doing it.

A proposed amendment to a federal recordkeeping law could force adults-only social networks and other Internet sites to gather and maintain users' identification and addresses.

Some of the largest adults-only social networking Web sites, such as AdultFriendFinder.com, GayFriendFinder.com and BisexualPlayground.com, have millions of users from across the nation and around the world -- many of whom have sexually explicit photos of themselves posted on them.

Even the three major Internet search giants -- Yahoo! Inc., Google Inc. and Microsoft Inc.'s MSN Network -- host literally hundreds of thousands of social-networking groups on their sites, many of which are also adults-only and have multi-million-member subscriber bases.

But unlike the stand-alone adult networking sites, which require their members to enter a user-selected password to gain access, the groups on the Big Three search engines are open to almost anyone.

Civil liberties organizations have slammed the proposal, and have submitted comments to the Justice Department on behalf of adult social networking and adult entertainment Web sites that could be severely crippled by the amendment to the federal labeling and recordkeeping law.

Public comment about the new rules and regulations to Section 2257 of the recordkeeping law closed last Monday. The new regulations are a product of the Adam Walsh Child Protection and Safety Act of 2006, which is designed to prevent sexual and other violent crimes against children, and regulate sexually explicit digital images online.

The regulations call for stiff penalties -- including up to five years imprisonment -- if businesses don't comply.

"The proposed amendment to the federal labeling and recordkeeping law will surely at the least have a chilling effect on users of social networking Web sites, and at the worst [is] an outright and unacceptable invasion of privacy," wrote Roberta Sklar, a spokeswoman for the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force (NGLTF), in an e-mail to the Bay Area Reporter.

According to Diane Duke, executive director of the Free Speech Coalition in Canoga Park, California, the Justice Department could take up to eight months to process public comments about the proposal before issuing the new regulations. After the Justice Department issues the new requirements businesses will have 30 days to comply.

Duke told the Bay Area Reporter that the Free Speech Coalition would file a lawsuit seeking an injunction if changes aren't made to the regulations to protect individuals' privacy rights.

Personal Info of Millions of Users Could Be Subject to 'Data-Mining'

The regulations require secondary producers, such as dating and social networking Web sites, to gather and maintain personal information from every user who posts a "sexually explicit" photo, according to the NGLTF.

Civil liberties organizations stated that the language in the amendment lacks clarity about how personal information -- which would be subject to investigation without probable cause or warrants -- could be used by the federal government and maintain the regulations violate individuals' rights to privacy and free speech and causes concerns about security.

"The [new] regulations seem to be sweeping with a much broader brush, using bureaucracy to curtail sexual images," said Susan Wright, media spokeswoman for the National Coalition for Sexual Freedom in Baltimore, which is aggressively working against the regulations and encouraging social networking Web site users -- particularly those who live "alternative" lifestyles -- to join the Free Speech Coalition, which also submitted public comments to the Justice Department.

Concerns Raised About 'Security Breaches' Spreading to Social Network Sites

In a letter to the Justice Department dated September 7, the Human Rights Campaign, the nation's largest gay-rights lobbying organization, also raised questions about the regulations, including security breaches that could affect lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered individuals.

In its letter, the HRC cited "707 data security breaches ... since January of 2005" and pointed out many security breaches that have become an increasing problem at major companies such as Monster.com, Bank of America, SEC Fidelity, National Information Services and Certegy Check Services Inc. -- all of which recently experienced the theft of personal information of a combined 10.1 million customers.

"As these companies with better resources than most adult networking sites can attest, maintenance of the security of sensitive data for networking sites with thousands of visitors and members can be very difficult to manage," the HRC wrote. "This creates an unreasonable risk of exposure."

Outlining more specific risks for gay individuals, The HRC cited everything from identity theft to fears of being "outed" to discrimination to hate crimes.

Critics Say New Regs Part of 'Attack' on Sexual Freedom, Sex Education

Civil-liberties organizations agreed, noting that the effect of the pending regulations and the attacks on the adult-entertainment industry under the Bush administration have led to self-censorship. According to Wright, the regulations could have an adverse effect on sexual education Web sites.

Wright told the Bay Area Reporter that she's already seen self-censorship occurring, with Web sites that cater to people who live the "alternative" lifestyle known as BDSM (bondage, discipline and sadomasochism) pulling images.

Wright also believes that the regulations could be more insidious than just including social-networking Web sites; chat groups and personal e-mail conversations could be included. The pressure, according to Wright, could lead to some networks and Web sites closing down, particularly if the groups running them are nonprofit organizations that can't afford to operate as a "primary" source for the images.

"We firmly believe it's not about enforcing the intent of the law," said Duke. "It's about putting adult entertainment out of business and seriously damaging the industry."

Fear and Loathing Rises Among Adults-Only Networking Sites

Not surprisingly, operators of adults-only social networking Web sites -- including some of the biggest in the genre -- are scared. Kevin Nyland, vice president of corporate communications and investor relations for PlanetOut Inc., owner of the social-networking site Gay.com, declined to comment, saying he didn't want to politicize the issue.

"There are a lot of legal issues surrounding it and just as a general rule we don't want to politicize the whole thing," he said. "[But] we are taking all steps necessary to maintain our knowledge about the issue and will handle it in the most appropriate way as we move forward."

OkCupid.com, a dating Web site that includes both opposite-sex and same-sex dating matches, also refused to comment about the pending rules, even after Sam Yagan, its co-founder and chief executive officer, agreed by e-mail to speak to the Bay Area Reporter about their potential effects.

Other sites, including OurChart.com, Butch-Femme.com, and the giant Craigslist.org -- which has come under mounting police and media scrutiny in recent weeks over the alleged use of its social-networking classifieds section by prostitutes and pedophiles -- also did not respond to requests for comment.

A Logistical Nightmare for Sites With Subscribers Who Live Outside the U.S.

Jonathan Crutchley, co-owner of the gay-oriented site Manhunt.net, said that with more than nine million photos posted on his site by its 1.1 million subscribers from around the globe, it would be impossible to verify the proof of age for each individual picture.

"My company is not in the business of posting pictures of children at all," said Crutchley. "But they want us to prove that we don't do that. It would just be too difficult to keep records of 9 million pictures and growing. You have to be 18 or older to join our site."

Crutchley fears that once the new regulations are enforced, he could be imprisoned for life for not being able to maintain records, especially of subscribers who live outside the U.S. and whose home countries have stricter privacy laws.

"What can they do except close the business and move to Amsterdam?" asked Crutchley, a former Republican, who is keeping a close watch on the issue. "We haven't faced that one yet."

He noted that other adults-only social networking Web sites posted banners alerting their users to the pending regulations during the past few weeks. "I think the Web sites are counting on that [federal courts striking down the new regulations as unconstitutional] rather than wanting to go public with political statements," said Crutchley. "Because if you stick your head up you might get shot."

Asked why he was willing to speak out against the regulations, Crutchley said, "I'm in serious risk, but I would say to Mr. Cheney, 'Go ahead and make my day' – someone has to."

# # #

Volume II, Number 48
Wednesday News Extra Copyright 2007, Benro Enterprises Inc.
The 'Skeeter Bites Report Copyright 2007, Skeeter Sanders. All rights reserved.





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Monday, September 17, 2007

Ex-Federal Reserve Chairman Says War in Iraq 'Is Largely About Oil'


In an Explosive New Memoir, Alan Greenspan Also Blasts Bush and Congressional Republicans For Mishandling the Economy; Defense Secretary Gates Dismisses His War Criticism as 'Not True'


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Former Federal Reserve chairman Alan Greenspan, seen here in March, is back in the limelight more than a year and a half after his retirement, with the release of his memoirs just as the economy is at a crossroads and ahead of a critical Fed meeting. In a commentary on the Iraq war sure to infuriate the White House, Greenspan effecitvely confirmed what many opponents of the war have said all along: That the 2003 U.S. invasion of Iraq "is largely about oil" -- although he admits supporting Saddam Hussein's ouster because he saw him as a threat to the world's oil supplies. (Photo: Chip Somodevilla/Agence France-Presse)

By Skeeter Sanders

"No Blood for Oil!"

That was the principal rallying cry by anti-war protesters during the 1991 Gulf War to oust Saddam Hussein's armies from Kuwait. And it was used again -- albeit to a much lesser extent -- during the massive worldwide protests in the weeks before the 2003 U.S. invasion of Iraq to oust Saddam from power.

But now, the man who for 18 years was the world's most powerful and influential banker has shaken the White House to its foundations by effectively confirming what the protesters have been saying for years: That the prime motive for the present Iraq conflict was oil.

In his long-awaited memoir scheduled to be published today (Monday), former Federal Reserve chairman Alan Greenspan also delivers a damning rebuke of President Bush’s economic policies -- and blasted his fellow Republicans in Congress for making "a major mistake" by not maintaining fiscal discipline.

Greenspan's salvo comes at a particularly critical time, just days ahead of an important meeting of the Fed's governing board, which will decide whether to lower interest rates amid mounting fears that the U.S. economy is on the brink of sliding into a recession.

But it's the former Fed chairman's comments on Iraq that is sure to provoke the most controversy -- which Greenspan readily acknowledges. “I am saddened that it is politically inconvenient to acknowledge what everyone knows: The Iraq war is largely about oil,” he wrote.

Sure enough, within hours after word of Greenspan's comments was leaked Sunday, Defense Secretary Robert Gates dismissed them as having the same lack of merit as similar allegations made against the 1991 Gulf War.

Greenspan's critique -- and Gates' swift defense -- of the war came a day after thousands of anti-war protesters marched in Washington. A spokeswoman for one of the groups who organized the march said more than 200 protesters were taken into custody, including at least 10 Iraq war veterans, when they attempted to cross a police barrier near the U.S. Capitol.

Greenspan: U.S., U.K. Saw Saddam Hussein as Threat to Mideast Oil Supplies

In his new memoir, The Age of Turbulence: Adventures in a New World, the 81-year-old Greenspan wrote that it was the Bush adminstration's belief that Saddam Hussein posed a threat to the security of oil supplies in the Middle East that was the primary motivation for the invasion.

"Whatever their publicized angst over Saddam Hussein's 'weapons of mass destruction,' American and British authorities were also concerned about violence in an area that harbors a resource indispensable for the functioning of the world economy," Greenspan wrote.

That "indispensable resource," according to the former Fed chairman, is oil. “I supported taking out Saddam, because he was moving inexorably toward taking the world’s oil resources,” he said in a pre-publication interview published today in The New York Times. “Iraq was a far greater threat than Iran to the world scene.”

Britain and the United States have always insisted both the 1991 Gulf War and the current conflict in Iraq had nothing to do with oil. Bush said the aim was to disarm Iraq of weapons of mass destruction and end Saddam’s support for terrorism.

Yet after months of searching -- by United Nations weapons inspectors before the invasion and by U.S. and British troops since then -- no WMDs have been found, severely undermining the credibility of the president's primary rationale for the war.

Gates Disputes Greenspan's Conclusions -- Politely

Revelations of Greenspan's criticisms clearly caught the White House off-guard Sunday, as Press Secretary Tony Snow -- who announced his resignation in August -- worked his last day at the White House on Friday and Bush spent the weekend at the presidential retreat at Camp David, Maryland.

Informed of the former Fed chairman's comments during an appearance Sunday on ABC's "This Week," Gates could muster only a polite response. "I have a lot of respect for Mr. Greenspan, but I know the same allegation was made about the Gulf War in 1991 and I just don't believe it's true," even as he acknowledged that "I wasn't here for the decision-making process that initiated it, that started the war."

The defense secretary went on to say that the war is "really about stability in the Gulf. It's about rogue regimes trying to develop weapons of mass destruction. It's about aggressive dictators," noting that "Saddam Hussein launched wars against several of his neighbors. He was trying to develop weapons of mass destruction, certainly when we went in, in 1991."

In his nationally televised address to the nation Thursday night, the president announced gradual troop reductions in Iraq into next summer, but defied calls for a dramatic change of course, saying the U.S. military role there will stretch beyond his presidency.

Battle Looming on Capitol Hill Over 'GI Stay-at-Home' Bill

Gates said he would urge Bush to veto a bill by freshman Senator James Webb (D-Virginia) that would require U.S. troops returning home from Iraq to spend as much time at home as their previous tour in the strife-torn country -- as long as 15 months.

"It would be extremely difficult for us to manage that," Gates said of the Webb measure. "It really is a backdoor way to try and force the president to accelerate the drawdowns. Again, the drawdowns have to be based on the conditions on the ground."

Appearing on CBS's "Face the Nation," Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Carl Levin (D-Michigan) acknowledged Sunday that he did not know if the Senate -- which the Democrats and two allied independents control by a razor-thin 51 seats to 49, would be able to muster the 60 votes needed to overcome an almost-certain Republican filibuster and approve the Webb measure. But he said "it has a good chance."

Nonetheless, Levin conceded that supporters of the Webb bill have nowhere near the two-thirds majority -- 67 votes -- that would be needed in the Senate to override a Bush veto. Nor would they have the required 290-seat, two-thirds majority in the House, where the majority Democrats hold 233 seats to the minority Republicans' 202.

"But that doesn't mean we shouldn't fight for what we believe in just because the president may veto it," Levin said. "I think there's enough Republicans who believe we've got to change course but whether they'll vote that way, we just simply don't know."

Greenspan Rips GOP's 'Feeding at the Tough" on Fiscal Matters

The highly respected Greenspan, who retired last year after serving six presidents over 18 years either as Fed chairman or as a presidential economic adviser, also launches a harshly critical attack on Bush’s economic competence in his memoir -- just as the economy is becoming a big issue in the 2008 presidential campaign.

Indeed, Greenspan’s 531-page book will do little to restore faith in the president's claims of economic proficiency at a time when the markets are deeply unsettled by the real-estate sub-prime mortgage meltdown and deepening credit crunch. He excoriates Bush, Vice President Dick Cheney and congressional Republicans over their big spending and lack of fiscal discipline, which resulted in the biggest federal deficits on record.

When Bush and Cheney won the 2000 election, Greenspan writes, “I thought we had a golden opportunity to advance the ideals of effective, fiscally conservative government and free markets . . . I was soon to see my old friends veer off in unexpected directions.”

He flatly rejects the modern GOP mantra that “deficits don’t matter” and says that in the Bush-Cheney White House, “little value was placed on rigorous economic policy debate or the weighing of long-term consequences.”

Bush’s failure to curb spending, Greenspan writes, was “a major mistake” and that while they controlled Congress, the GOP was “feeding at the trough.” The Republicans in Congress "lost their way,” he says. “They swapped principle for power. They ended up with neither. They deserved to lose [the 2006 congressional election].”

He sums up his deep disappointment with Bush. “My biggest frustration remained the president’s unwillingness to wield his veto against out-of-control spending,” Greenspan writes. “Not exercising the veto power became a hallmark of the Bush presidency . . . To my mind, Bush’s collaborate-don’t-confront approach was a major mistake.”

Economic Prediction: Inflation Will Be Harder to Control

Greenspan predicts in his memoir that inflation will be harder to control in the future and that far higher interest rates will be needed to maintain price stability. At some point, he argues, the movement of people from farms to factories in countries such as China will slow, leading inevitably to higher wages and prices.

Economists have been highly critical of Greenspan’s 2003 decision to cut interest rates which, they argue, helped create the housing bubble, the collapse of which provoked this summer’s banking crisis. Greenspan defends the policy.

“We wanted to shut down the possibility of corrosive deflation,” he writes. “We were willing to chance that by cutting rates we might foster a bubble, an inflationary boom of some sort, which we would subsequently have to address . . . It was a decision done right.”

Praise for Clinton, But Dismay Over Lewinsky Scandal

By contrast, Greenspan, now an economic adviser to British Prime Minister Gordon Brown and who describes his own politics as that of a “lifelong libertarian Republican," called President Bill Clinton’s 1993 economic plan “an act of political courage.”

Greenspan makes no secret of his admiration for Clinton, but believes he was undermined by the scandal of his relationship with former White House intern Monica Lewinsky. “President Clinton’s old-fashioned attitude towards debt might have had a more lasting effect on the nation’s priorities," he wrote. "Instead, his influence was diluted by the uproar about Monica Lewinsky.”

When the scandal first broke in January 1998, Greenspan discloses, “I was incredulous. ‘There is no way these stories could be correct,’ I told my friends. ‘No way’.” But later, when Clinton himself admitted the affair, Greenspan says, “I wondered how the president could take such a risk. It seemed so alien to the Bill Clinton I knew, and made me feel disappointed and sad.”

Sharp Viewpoints Also on Ford, Nixon and Reagan

The former Fed chairman also has sharp views on other presidents he has known, judging that there is something abnormal about anyone willing to undergo what it takes to get the job. Gerald Ford, he writes, “was as close to normal as you get in a president, but he was never elected”.

The Watergate tapes, he says, show Richard Nixon as “an extremely smart man who is sadly paranoid, misanthropic and cynical”. He recalls telling a friend who had accused Nixon of anti-Semitism that “he wasn’t exclusively anti-Semitic. He was anti-Semitic, anti-Italian, anti-Greek, anti-Slovak. I don’t know anybody he was pro.”

Ronald Reagan’s ability to joke and tell folksy anecdotes in support of a particular policy represented an “odd form of intelligence.”

# # #

Volume II, Number 47
Copyright 2007, Skeeter Sanders. All rights reserved.














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