Censoring Your Phone


A gloomy forecast from Adam Thierer:

So, will cell phones be next on the feds' censorship wish list? You better believe it. I'll make a prediction now: Within the next two years, legislation will be introduced proposing the extension of the FCC's current clear-as-mud indecency rules to mobile content and devices.

NEXT: Fisk on Hariri's Murder

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  1. You will have a rebellion if you try to tell people they can’t drop the F-bomb on their own cell phones. I can’t believe anything of the sort is being considered.

  2. There could be restrictions placed on what the carriers themselves can offer, but I think it’s pretty unlikely that any attempts to restrict what third-party content providers deliver would pass constitutional muster. The reason being that it’s the carriers who own the spectrum licenses, not the content providers. Likewise, though Wi-Fi also makes use of public airwaves, it’s unlikely that commercial hotspot owners will be forced to try to prevent network users from accessing porn.

    But, yeah, it’s still possible that such technicalities won’t stop one or more boneheaded, blue-nosed legislators from trying to censor both platforms.

  3. Jason,

    I thought there’d be rebellion when New Yorkers couldn’t smoke in a bar!

  4. What the fuck are they…hey, why are those cops outside my door…


  5. thoreau has been taken to a reprogramming camp on suspicion of obscenity. Let this be a lesson to those of you who use indecent language: We don’t tolerate that shit!

  6. “Verbal Morality Statutes”, anyone?

    Have a joy-joy day.

  7. What about phone sex?

    I want the government out of my bedroom! When I’m there by myself. Talking on the phone.

  8. Hey, Warren — you out there?

    If this ever comes to pass, the first three rounds are on me.

  9. Constitutional muster? When has that ever mattered? Ever?

  10. I guess technology makes speech not speech.

  11. Read the instruction manual of any radio transmitter you own. In the back is the FCC-mandated section on rules and regulations. Profanity over the airwaves is already prohibited.

  12. “…though Wi-Fi also makes use of public airwaves…”

    It is certainly not a new argument but it bears repeating: This notion of “public airwaves” is the real problem here – the “airwaves” should be private not public. The owners could buy, sell or lease parts of the spectrum as necessary to fit changing technologies. This would certainly result in a more efficient use of the spectrum as well as doing away with the major rationale for government censorship. If the government simply must keep some part to itself for NPR or some other approved programming, fine, let it regulate that part to its indecency troubled hearts content and leave everyone else alone to decide what we want to watch or say or download.

  13. Why is it always the affordable level of content that has to be regulated to death?

    As an aside, does anyone really want to masturbate to cell-porn? I can barely read the numbers half the time.

  14. David,

    You just need a bigger screen… Might I suggest the new Motorola Razor?? 😉

  15. I know the popular mantra is that the airwaves should be private. But who would buy it from who, who deserves first crack at an airwave, etc. Do networks get squatters rights? What about pirate stations? I think the whole problem lies in the fact that, unlike land, a bunch of people can use the same airwaves at the same time. The only difference is, multiple people using the same frequency will just cause interference. At the end of the day, someone is going to have to regulate those rights.

    DO I own the airwaves in my house? Why not? I’d love for airwaves to get publically owned, or at least the current system without speech restrictions, but I can’t seem to understand how the private system would work.

  16. No one is suggesting, or hinting at, regulation of what you say on the phone. It’s what you watch on your portable idiot box screen that concerns them.

  17. Stevo,
    Don’t think I won’t take you up on that. Right now this still looks like so much political hot air for me to get too worked up over. OTOH, all the freedom choking regulations that are suffocating us now, started off as some windbag’s hyperbole.

  18. Mo, I think those are all questions that could be worked out in any private ownership system. The fact that multiple users will interfere is not much different than how trespassing on land interferes with it. This problem seems to require only an enforcement mechanism, not regulation, as you say. As to the initial division of the spectrum, I’m pretty ambivalent – anything that gets it into private hands is fine, though I suppose the preferred method is to auction off parts to the highest bidder. The market will then take care of consolidation and/or breaking up into smaller chunks as necessary. I don’t see this as a major concern. Concerning your ownership of airwaves on your property, well no, you probably wouldn’t own them because it is not a tangible or physical entity. It is simply the right to emit RF or microwave radiation within a band of frequencies. As a practical matter however, any radiation below some fairly low power threshold that does not interfere with property around you would not be an issue.

  19. I seem to recall a case (or cases) where the defendant was accused of criminal violation for telling a tella-marketer to ‘go fuck themselves’ (or similar language). I think they were convicted too. But I can’t find any reference to it now. Does anyone else remember that, or was it just another aberration resulting from copious recreational drug use?

  20. The only restrictions should be in where you can use it, specifically while driving. Since you are almost as impaired as someone who is drunk while using a cellphone in the car, it should probably be banned. But as to anything else as far as regulation, it really shouldn’t be regulated, the government should be able to tap cellphones if possible to track people who should be tracked, but only if that ability doesn’t allow hackers to break into everyone’s cellphone. Otherwise, don’t regulate them at all.

  21. Ryan, get with the times. Anyone using a cell phone who doesn’t want to be tracked will buy a whole bunch of one-time use phones. And apparently, it’s not that difficult to pick up *all* cell-phone transmissions, though it’s currently impossible to do a good job sorting through all the chatter.

  22. Since you are almost as impaired as someone who is drunk while using a cellphone in the car, it should probably be banned.

    Alternatively, since you are almost as impaired as someone who is using a cellphone in the car while drunk (0.08% blood alcohol content), the legal BAC limit should be increased. If the rate of accidents related to cellphone usage is any indication, and .08%BAC = cellphone usage in terms of impairment, the it appears our standard of alcohol-related impairment is grossly overstated.

  23. Since you are almost as impaired as someone who is drunk while using a cellphone in the car, it should probably be banned.

    Says who? Phones with clamshell designs are a little trickier to manage, but I’ve never had any trouble using a phone with a candybar design while driving. And I’m sure the same is true for a lot of other one-handed drivers.

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