A UNIVERSITY STUDENT was recently prosecuted for criminal intent for an online posting that jokingly expressed the desire to be "kept." According to the law prohibiting sexual transaction with minors (兒童及青少年性交易防治條例), any Web message that hints at sexual transaction with minors is subject to prosecution with sentences up to five years in jail. Though in this case the prosecutor eventually dropped the charge, the student suffered through a painful ordeal that left a mark on his criminal record.
This was largely the result of inappropriate legislation that can be attributed to the exclusion of sex rights groups from the legislative process, resulting in unfair laws.
On Dec. 20, the Cabinet again proposed revisions to the Children and Youth Welfare Act (
The implementation and spirit of Web content regulation exhibit serious flaws: Laws usually deal with text or images alone, not the possible political or social discourse that such messages or information is part of. The censorship of pornography targets only the amount of exposed flesh rather than the context of the text or image, such as nudity by protesters, confrontational political statements, academic discussion of morally controversial materials and individual acts of flirtation or sexual invitation.
In the West, regulations that lack provisions for context have resulted in the arrest and conviction of feminist promoters of family planning and birth control as well as persecution for expressing anti-religious sentiment.
Similar Taiwanese legislation has resulted in the criminalization and prosecution of any discussion of sex on the Internet, be it in the form of self-expression, inquiry or exploration, amorous interaction or even community-building and socializing among sexual minorities. When police, urged on by conservative child-protection groups, focus only on superficial meanings in their indictments, the result is a serious abuse of police power.
Because of its anonymous nature, Internet communication often exhibits a high degree of informality that tends to transcend the conventions of real life and engage in lewdness or licentious jesting with little inhibition. Sexual flirtation and invitations find their most direct channel of expression on the Web.
For people whose longing for information and interaction is limited, the Web is a place for self-affirmation, self-expression and community interaction.
Current regulation of Internet content not only ignores context, but also often mistakenly infers motive. For instance, a request for a one-night stand could be wrongly interpreted as intent to conduct a sexual transaction. Police set up entrapment operations that have put more than 20,000 people through the shame and humiliation of the judicial process in the last seven years.
Sex rights groups have warned against such a travesty of human rights. Is there any justice when a small private joke could lead to prosecution for a crime that carries a possible five-year jail sentence?
Internet speech and communication has its own specific context and meaning that belong to the realm of freedom afforded us in the Constitution. Social space should not be rigidified and unconventional Internet communication should not be demonized simply for the sake of child protection. Basic freedom of speech and expression should be upheld at all costs.
Josephine Ho is a professor at the Center for the Study of Sexualities at National Central University.
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