Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Tap Dancing Routine

With the Attorney General, Alberto Gonzales, facing calls for his resignation over the scandal about the politically motivated firings of federal prosecutors, you would think he would have more to say to the press and the public about recently released documents or his upcoming testimony on the Hill, even if it was understandably postponed by events at Virginia Tech. Government websites can serve important informational and rhetorical purposes when there is precisely this kind of national crisis of confidence in federal leadership.

Instead, the official website of the Department of Justice is focusing again on still more politically expedient anti-Internet hype. Gonzales is shown trumpeting Project Safe Childhood. This program has a super-creepy sexually prurient video in which Gonzales also uses buzzwords about threats to a "civilized society" created by online child pornography that mimic the exact same language of surveillance associated with our current War on Terror.

As a parent, teacher, former social services worker, and feminist activist, I certainly think it's reprehensible to exploit children in any way. But there is also something disturbing about the ideology of many of the DOJ's appeals to the public in this campaign. Words like "salacious," "voyeuristic," "appalling," and "loathsome" come to mind as I watch the footage. Right from the start, in their visual rhetoric, the parade of mugshots emphasizes the display of perpetrators with distorted physical features, in an obvious reference to antiquated ideas about the phrenology of sexual predators and other deviants.

To be fair, at least the DOJ admits that face-to-face power relations play a significant role in victimization and that cops, teachers, and clergy are among the perpetrators. They also seem to be making a visual argument about racial integration at the DOJ: two of the talking heads in the video were African Americans. The DOJ even tellingly shows a crime scene featuring a pillow with the Confederate Stars and Bars.

Nonetheless, the overall yuckiness of the video and its morbid interest in including details from the most graphic descriptions -- including a criminal sharing the sensation of penetrating a victim -- was a totally sickening example of political opportunism. While you're at it, if you can stand to watch this far, watch out for the appearance of cybercop Flint Waters, who has also developed a system that can be used for corporate copyright holders against P2P file sharing, which the department is still busily prosecuting this month. Note also how they complain about the prosecutorial "weakness" of liberal California, a state that two of the fired federal prosecutors represented.

The campaign has also produced the sniggering Public Service Announcement, "Everyone Knows Your Name."

Hey, Alberto, what about the positive uses of the Internet for teens and children?

Furthermore, as my colleagues in computer science point out, these computer forensics experts should perhaps be looking at the proprietary Republican network from which critical e-mails reportedly vanished.

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Anonymous Anonymous said...

Sounds to me like just another way to keep the wiretapping bill alive, in case fear mongering us with terrorism does'nt work, the threat of our kids being exposed to child porn will.

4:42 AM  

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