Technology’s Role

  On January 23rd, a California businessman pled guilty to 37 million dollars in credit card fraud. What stood out about Kenneth Taves' crime was, first, what the victims were being billed for, and, second, that Taves believed the charges wouldn't raise suspicions. It turns out Taves had billed nearly a million cardholders for services they never received -- access to Internet pornography sites he owned. Taves bet the charges would be unremarkable -- like a purchase from, say, the Pottery Barn . . . and he was right. But his choice of scams tells us something about how common pornography has become. This particular scam was made possible, in large part, by technology. Twenty-five years ago, porn consumption meant going to places like Times Square in New York or the "Combat Zone" in Boston. The tawdriness and danger associated with these places was enough to keep respectable people away. But then, in the early eighties, came the VCR. The porn industry popularized the idea of video rentals. Suddenly people didn't have to risk their safety or dignity to indulge in pornography. Next came the Internet. As with the VCR, it was pornographers who found a way to make money with the new technology. Thanks to millions of home computers, people could gain access to pornography without ever leaving their homes. Because of technology, pornography is as available today as any other consumer service. And it's increasingly treated as such -- especially when you consider that Americans will spend an estimated 12 to 14 billion dollars on pornography this year alone. That's more than they'll spend on music or movies. But it isn't only technology that makes the spread of pornography possible. Our legal institutions have effectively given pornographers a green light. Libraries are notoriously ineffective at keeping patrons -- even minors -- from accessing obscene materials on library computers. If they try to filter these materials, as recently happened in Loundon County, Virginia, they're sometimes taken to court for interfering with their patrons' so-called First Amendment rights. Faced by such unwarranted charges, many libraries simply follow the lead of the American Library Association, which insists on a "no censorship" policy, and, consequently, they do nothing about porn. Federal law enforcement officials haven't done much better. Over the past eight years we've seen the rise of cyber-pornography on the World Wide Web. While it was happening, prosecutors did little to slow the spread of obscene and indecent materials. Given the nature of the Internet, federal prosecutors can't expect to drive the cyber-pornographers out of business, but they could make life more difficult for them. They could raise the cost of doing business; but so far they haven't done it. Instead, they've given the industry time to establish itself in the cultural mainstream. There are things you and I can do, however, to slow the spread of pornography. First, we can urge our leaders, including the new Attorney General, to take action. And, second, we can limit our families' exposure. Call us at 1-888-995-8777 or visit our website at for resources on dealing with pornography. Technology may be pushing pornography into the cultural mainstream, but that doesn't mean we have to remain silent.   For further reference: Amis, Martin. "To Millions of American Men, These Women Are Movies Stars." Talk Magazine, February 2001. Rosenzweig, David. "Man Pleads Guilty to False Billing on the Web." Los Angeles Times, 23 January 2001.


Chuck Colson



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