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Republican File-Sharing Porno

By Annalee Newitz

ALL THESE people I know who would normally go to Burning Man decided to go to the Republican National Convention instead. Well, almost all of them. So I kept getting these demented updates from the RNC via various wireless devices—"Here's live footage of police brutality streaming from my Zaurus!" Then, four minutes later, I'd get an urgent email from somebody on this list of Burners where I lurk. "Shit!" the email would typically begin. "We need a propane tank RIGHT NOW! And a big trailer!"

Sometimes, I fantasized that the Burning Man missives were actually coming from the RNC. And then I imagined that they weren't being authored by my smarty-pants radical friends who want to do constructive things like blog about the demise of liberalism or the danger of E-voting. Instead, I pictured that all these disenfranchised file sharers who just got arrested in the FBI's massive peer-to-peer sting operation—known absurdly as "Operation Digital Gridlock"—had taken up torches and were storming the RNC demanding justice.

I mean, for fuck's sake, these people are being threatened with jail time for sharing movies online! They weren't beating and cornholing Iraqi prisoners. They weren't running people over while driving in a drunken stupor and then zooming off into the night. Instead, they're facing up to five years in jail for giving away a few copies of Finding Nemo on a P2P network. Is that what our country has come to?

Yup. Under U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft, the feds have been busy keeping us safe from digital copyright infringement by conducting a massive, nationwide surveillance operation on members of a P2P community called the Underground Network (a suspiciously fake-sounding name if I ever heard one). Last week, the supercybersnooping came to a head with a series of arrests and the seizure of dangerous items like networked computers and pirated games and other sorts of things that ordinary geeks have lying around in their living rooms.

Ashcroft and Co. also announced that they're starting another large-scale cybercriminal investigation into spammers, focusing especially on phishers, people who send out spam that lures victims into giving them personal information. Phishers are the ones who send spams that say, "Your account has been canceled. Please sign up again." A link in the email will lead you to a website made to look like your bank or whatever, with a spot to enter your financial data. People are routinely swindled out of thousands of dollars by falling for the old "gimme all your personal data" trick.

Maybe I just have my priorities all mixed up, but doesn't the anti-phishing investigation seem more important and more, well, criminally oriented than "Operation Digital Gridlock"? I mean, scamming money out of eBay users may be entertaining, but I'm 100 percent behind the idea of sending jerkoffs who do it to jail. But Ashcroft couldn't let the spam thing be his one sterling moment as an attorney general who is targeting actual crimes, rather than ideologies. Apparently, "Operation Spamtastic" or whatever stupid name they've given it is also going to target "pornography." Um, hello?

Pornography isn't illegal. Nor is it spam (although of course there is porn spam, but that's not what Ashcroft says they're targeting). So basically this is yet another way that the government is trying to convince us that pornography is illegal. Somehow I don't have a feeling that the heavies involved in "Operation Digital Buttmuffin" are going to arrest all the zillions of people who are infringing the copyrights of pornographers by putting Jenna Jameson's latest DVD on BitTorrent.

In this time of national turmoil and post-RNC barfiness, I think it's important to remember what really makes us happy. Turns out, according to an academic study conducted in Australia, that it's pornography. This government-funded project authored by three professors is called "Understanding Pornography in Australia" and reveals that most people find that porn makes them feel better about themselves and more attentive to their partners' needs. One author of the study, Dr. Alan McKee from Queensland University of Technology and Creative Industries, said that only 6.9 percent of people surveyed felt that pornography had had a negative impact on their lives. The majority, 58 percent, said it had a "positive effect on their attitudes towards sexuality."

Well, there you have it. To quote Ricky from my favorite TV show, Trailer Park Boys, "Defense rests. Everybody can go fuck off."

Annalee Newitz ([email protected]) is a surly media nerd who hopes that the people who film orgies at the RNC will put them on P2P networks so we can all share.

Send a letter to the editor about this story to letters@metronews.com.

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From the September 1-7, 2004 issue of Metro, Silicon Valley's Weekly Newspaper.

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