Friday, July 04, 2008


I haven't seen this around, and I thought some people might be interested. It raises some interesting questions:

What’s Obscene? Google Could Have an Answer

Judges and jurors who must decide whether sexually explicit material is obscene are asked to use a local yardstick: does the material violate community standards?

That is often a tricky question because there is no simple, concrete way to gauge a community’s tastes and values.

The Internet may be changing that. In a novel approach, the defense in an obscenity trial in Florida plans to use publicly accessible Google search data to try to persuade jurors that their neighbors have broader interests than they might have thought.

In the trial of a pornographic Web site operator, the defense plans to show that residents of Pensacola are more likely to use Google to search for terms like “orgy” than for “apple pie” or “watermelon.” The publicly accessible data is vague in that it does not specify how many people are searching for the terms, just their relative popularity over time. But the defense lawyer, Lawrence Walters, is arguing that the evidence is sufficient to demonstrate that interest in the sexual subjects exceeds that of more mainstream topics — and that by extension, the sexual material distributed by his client is not outside the norm.
It may be the first time I've ever heard of somone using that data collection to protect free speech rights, rather than to violate them, so it's interesting if only for that reason. It also amuses me that they're still charging smut peddlers. I watched Swingtown last night, and it was about the prosecution of Harry Reems, the star of Deep Throat. Serendipity.

But more importantly, it forces the question of "community standards". What are they? Does it matter? Should all members of a community be held to the same standards? If you, and all our neighbours, only like vanilla sex, does that mean that I'm not allowed to try S&M? If you, and all our neighbours, hate porn, does that mean I can't watch it? At home? In private?

Because that's what it's about, really. It's not like the defendant in this case was filming or showing porn on the street: he runs a website. You have to look for it to find it. Punishing the guy who provides the images is stupid. If you really want to bump community standards, and you think that getting rid of porn is the answer, stop looking at porn yourself.

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