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Media watchdog group calls for international obscenity treaty

WASHINGTON (BP)–A leading media watchdog group is calling for an amendment to decades-old international treaties on obscenity that will include a ban on pornography reaching U.S. homes through the Internet and by satellite.

International treaties signed in 1910 and 1950 need to be upgraded in light of the Internet and trans-border satellite distribution of pornography, said Paul J. McGeady, general counsel with Morality in Media, a New York-based group.

“The big problem today is the fact that this stuff is coming from foreign countries — no matter where you live it comes from a foreign country,” McGeady said in a CNSNews.com article June 4. “So these treaties need an amendment to cover this new situation.”

A treaty titled, “Agreement for the Suppression of the Circulation of Obscene Publications,” passed in 1910, and an amendment signed in 1950 are not designed to protect Americans or citizens of other countries that signed the treaty from the proliferation of Internet pornography, McGeady said.

International efforts to combat cyber crime have been underway for years.

More than 40 member states of the Council of Europe are moving closer to finalizing an international treaty that covers the destruction of data or hardware by computer viruses, as well as online child pornography, copyright theft and other Internet crimes.

Developed over four years, the treaty is expected to be ready for signature by the end of the year.

The United States, along with Canada, Japan and South Africa, has been working with the council to develop the treaty and will be eligible to sign on once it is ratified.

But legal analysts point out it is extremely difficult to enact effective laws to protect U.S. computers from foreign porn.

The U.S. Supreme Court ruled in June 1997 that the Internet is protected by the First Amendment and it struck down the 1996 Communications Decency Act as a violation of freedom of speech.

“At some point you have to ask which is easier, to put a treaty like this in place and try to implement it, or for those who are bothered by some kinds of material to simply not get a satellite dish, or to sign up with satellite services that themselves will screen out pornography for them,” said Wayne Crews, director of technology studies with the Cato Institute in Washington.

In addition, to get pornography, users usually have to pay a premium such as pay-per-view charges.

“This is a manufactured problem that’s being blown out of proportion, and people who want to resolve it have ways of doing that which don’t require international treaties,” Crews said.

McGeady conceded the enactment of an effective treaty could take years.

“We want to get other countries thinking about this,” he said. “We don’t anticipate we can do this unless some other country takes up the baton and runs with it.”

“What we’re trying to accomplish is to prevent this material from coming in,” McGeady added. “In some countries it wouldn’t be necessary to sign on. In the United States, for instance, it’s against the law to use computers or satellites to send obscene material. If the law is enforced, we wouldn’t even have to sign a treaty.”

The Clinton administration didn’t enforce the law, “but hopefully the new administration will,” he said.
Morahan is a senior staff writer with CNSNews.com. Used by permission.

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  • Lawrence Morahan