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Q: When Is Spyware Not Spyware? A: When It's Anti-Porn

Why worry about government spying on you when your "friends" can do it instead?

Q: When Is Spyware Not Spyware? A: When It's Anti-Porn

CYBERSPACE - It's long been said that there are only two kinds of people in the world: Those who masturbate and those who lie about not doing it. In other words, everybody does it - and one of the things that helps us do it is porn.

And thanks to the internet, finding porn is as easy as typing four letters into a search engine and clicking the mouse button. Doesn't matter what your race is, doesn't matter what your gender is, doesn't matter what your religion is: Porn is easily available for everyone.

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But the fact that it's so easy to find has made things a little difficult for the religious fundamentalists, for whom all sex outside of (heterosexual) marriage for any purpose other than to impregnate the wife under the covers with the lights off is a sin.

And so the fundies are faced with a dilemma: Their instincts and hormones drive them toward having sex, but they fear that if they do it improperly, they'll wind up in hell.

So thank goodness for Covenant Eyes ! After all, even the best filtering software can be circumvented if the user has the necessary skills, so what's to stop even the most devout worshipper from occasionally straying from the flock and seeking out bigbustedbeauties.com in the dead of night?

"I own my own laptop, with a wireless Internet connection," writes Matthew, a "very satisfied user," to the Covenant Eyes website. "This spells danger clearly, as I could take the computer into the bathroom, my bedroom, or anywhere private, and have my own little dark time of browsing as many porn sites as I could find... And believe me they are easy to find! I would look at as many pictures as I could until my fantasy was fulfilled for the time, and I would then clear my Internet history, to cover my bases just in case someone using my computer would find out what I had been doing. This went on for many, many months. Nobody ever caught me... I was very good at covering my tracks."

See, with Covenant Eyes, there's no Internet filter to circumvent - although they'll sell you one if you want it. Instead, the user chooses one or more "accountability partners," and with the Covenant Eyes software installed, a report of every website the user visits is emailed to the "partners" so they can check to see that the user is staying on the straight and narrow.

"Accountability Partners are trusted individuals selected by the member to review reports and discuss how the Internet is used," says the Covenant Eyes website. "They include parents, family, trusted friends, mentors, coaches, husbands, wives, pastors, clergy, counselors, or other trusted and concerned individuals who are committed to helping the Covenant Eyes user."

Even better, the reported websites are "scored" so the partners can "easily identify questionable websites, searches, links, and more," and bar charts show what times of day or night the Internet is used.

Big Brother couldn't have done a better job!

"How did I come to learn about this?" asks an anonymous poster on the liberally religious Faith and Fumbles website. "Because my own blog has been crawled by Covenant Eyes. Obviously, pornography isn't the only thing that Covenant Eyes watchers are interested in. Questionable theology; improper books; the possibilities are limitless... Covenant Eyes ask that we turn ourselves over into the hands of people that we think we can trust (when in fact ministers can be among the least trustworthy people around, if scandals and the list of ministers praising Covenant Eyes for breaking them or their porn habits are any indication); to place our livelihoods in the hands of morality police."

"Making oneself 'accountability' [sic] by revealing your web-viewing history to people you think you know, you open yourself up to much more trouble than some embarrassment," the poster continues. "Churches and pastor can - and inevitably will - use this material to ostracize, humiliate, and even destroy individuals... Schools can ruin the careers of students who make a mistake. Companies that subscribe to 'Christian values' can require individuals to install it on their home systems and name their supervisors are partners. The opportunities for abuse are mind numbing."

One example from the site is the case of Moore College in Sydney, Australia, a seminary whose administration advises using Covenant Eyes because, "We need to acknowledge frankly that pornography - and in particular internet pornography - is powerful and harmful. I do not want to exaggerate its power, nor sensationalise the harm it can do. However pornography exploits and misuses good, powerful, natural, God-given instincts and can do immense harm to individuals, their relationships (including marriages) and ministries."

But while the school claims that "Involvement in Covenant Eyes is voluntary," the school's "Student Network and Internet Access" policies say that "Students should recognize that the internet contains much material that is unhelpful as a Christian (such as pornography), and should avoid visiting sites that are contrary to Christian standards. Please note that all internet activity on the college network is logged against the user account, and a student's chaplain may be informed of activity which is not appropriate." In other words, whether the students elect to use Covenant Eyes or not, their internet use is still being tracked by the college.

A Covenant Eyes employee objected to Faith and Fumble's description of the program as "spyware" since its use is "voluntary," and claimed that the company "has never received a complaint about people using the information to ostracize, humiliate, or destroy individuals." But as the anonymous poster notes, "Perhaps. But why else would a seminary strongly suggest its students and faculty sign up? Surely if they're 'caught' there will be repercussions. And imagine this tool in the hands of the likes of The [Bakkers], or Jimmy Swaggert, or any of a number of ministers with a questionable record of manipulating their charges."

And considering that there are several websites dedicated to the removal of spyware that list instructions for deactivating Covenant Eyes, the objection that it isn't spyware, while possibly technically correct, certainly seems to be morally shaky.

People who become obsessed with anything - gambling, drugs, online porn, even praying - should probably seek professional help. But installing a spy program that reports the person's online searches and surfing to his/her minister, or even to a friend, isn't the type of help that person needs.






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Mark Kernes

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