The inauguration of President George W. Bush and the likely confirmation of John Ashcroft as attorney general have antipornography forces rejoicing and adult-site operators nervous.
The last eight years have been very good to the cyberporn industry. The Clinton administration took no action against online smut sites despite ample state and federal obscenity laws.
"The obscenity laws were not being enforced; they were never enforced on the Net, and the producers are saying, Lets get more graphic and explicit because we have a green light from [former Attorney General Janet] Reno, " said antiporn advocate Donna Rice Hughes. "We need a message loud and clear saying: You know what? This has got to stop. And if it doesnt, youve got to pay the piper. "
Pornography has not been a central issue for Ashcroft during his long career in public service, although he did attack his Democratic opponent in the Senate race this year, Gov. Mel Carnahan — who died in a plane crash during the campaign — for accepting campaign donations from Playboy chief Christie Hefner.
But pornography is an issue over which the Department of Justice has jurisdiction, and the degree to which obscenity and other pornography-related laws are pursued by the federal government depends, at least in part, on the attorney generals agenda. In addition, the DOJ has a $5 million budget set aside specifically to enforce obscenity laws.
"Half the [adult] sites on the Web are illegal," said Parry Aftab, executive director at online safety group Cyberangels, who expects much stricter enforcement under the Bush administration.
Crystal Roberts, legal policy analyst at the Family Research Council, hopes Aftab is right. "Vigorous enforcement of obscenity laws is something that the Bush-Cheney administration is going to be stronger on than the Clinton administration," she predicted.
The online porn industry isnt happy about the turn of events. Most adult-site owners dont wish to speak out publicly against Ashcroft or Bush for fear of retribution under the new regime.
Bob Kim, vice president and counsel at adult-site operator Flying Crocodile, expects more scrutiny from Bush and Ashcroft. "We are concerned, but theres not much we can do about it," he said.
While states have their own obscenity laws, the federal government has a three-part test in defining what is and isnt obscene. The first, and most problematic, measure asks whether material is offensive when applied to "contemporary community standards." The second test asks whether such material breaks state statutes, and the third asks whether the material has any "literary, artistic, political or scientific value."
It was a slippery slope that the Clinton camp chose not to hike on. Most of the outgoing administrations Web enforcement efforts focused on more obvious hacking.
Aftab said adult sites should expect trouble. "We all know its going to come down in a more conservative environment," Aftab said.