Apparently, the Justice Department is turning up the volume on rhetoric defending their proposed web-labeling mandates. The linked CNET article says its backers are comparing it to requiring gas stations to hold some racy magazines behind blinders that block their covers, but this is far more murky territory. Even if you agree with the blinder-laws, they came about in a time when the internet didn’t exist and magazine genres were fairly straightforward—there wasn’t much to get confused about between the magazines with sexual content and others. Nor, in comparison to the net, was there that much content to classify. But with the web, the sheer volume of content has dwarfed whatever tiny amount of material the print world could support.
Not only that, the web is a global medium unchecked by physical-world
restrictions, meaning that such labeling laws wouldn’t do much good for
material created and hosted outside of the U.S. And despite Justice Department claims that this isn’t “a major break
with First Amendment principles,” the law would require some difficult,
impossible-to-please-everyone decisions like how to classify the work of
someone like Spencer Tunick (possibly
not safe for work). What kind of nudity
is art and what kind is offensive? How
far can racy material go before it warrants a label? Should publications (like, say, Maxim or the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue) that don’t show nudity but don’t
get restricted in the physical world get restrictions? And who gets to make these decisions? We don’t know the answers to many of those
questions, but according to the Justice Department, the answer to the last one
is easy: government regulators.