British Minister In Discussions With Obama to Filter Internet to ‘Protect the Children’

Britain and the United States next in line to filter the internet while saying the internet is nothing more than a broadcaster?

Note: This is an article I wrote that was published elsewhere first. It has been republished here for archival purposes

Last week, we posted a relatively thorough piece on why the internet should not be considered little more than a broadcaster mainly because we saw the government using the description to push internet censorship legislation. Now it seems as though even more governments around the world are using the argument that the ‘internet is little more than a broadcaster’ excuse to pass censorship legislation – and one of the next governments to use these arguments could be the government of the United States.

The latest wave of attempts to control the internet seems to be finally catching a headline or two in mainstream news outlets. The CBC is reporting that the British culture minister is in talks with Obama to implement a ratings system that is similar to that of normal film ratings. With this sort of system, it is being suggested that there should be legislation that forces ISPs to offer filtering technology to their customers.

Internet filtering has become a controversial idea from the get-go and isn’t exactly devoid of rocky public relations moments in this early stage. Britain was already under scrutiny for overly broad filtering. The big recent story from Britain over overly broad filtering involved the blocking of Wikipedia. It does raise the question, should a country listen to another country when they suggest something that they, themselves, can’t do successfully in practise?

Then again, when one wants to ask about how successful filtering is in the first place, one might not have to look farther than the debates going on in Australia. Last year, the government put in an 84 million dollar porn filter on their ISPs only to have it cracked by a 16 year old in a half an hour of his free time. That didn’t stop the extensive testing to see if filtering the internet would be a practical and workable solution. An extensive study was conducted in the country, and it suggested that filters might work for standard traffic, but not for p2p traffic. The problem was the public backlash that erupted as a result of the government trying to filter the internet in the first place. The protests that occurred throughout the country pointed out that the filters significantly slowed down their internet connections and that the government was going down a slippery slope on what was to be considered ‘inappropriate’ content. One of the examples they used when it comes to overly broad filtering was the blocking of Wikipedia. They also argued that even if one trusts the current existing government, what about future governments who might be more inclined to block websites that are critical of the government. One might point out that this is frighteningly similar to that of the ‘Great Firewall of China’.

The real question might be, will the proposals of filtering be an opt-in system (that which is proposed in Australia) or opt-out? Most of the programs that were proposed, if it was an option, was an opt-out system. It is reasonable to assume that the system that could be proposed would likely be an opt out system given that such web filtering technology already exists, so why bother making it part of the law to begin with?

Additionally, the CBC report suggests that it’s just a good idea to rate every single website. Given that millions of websites are created and taken down on a daily basis, is such a proposal even remotely possible in a practical sense? Sure, one could rate the top 100 most popular web pages, but not every single web page in existence. For such a system to even be remotely workable, one would have to control what websites are being created in the first place – thus implementing systems at the web developers level (like web registrars) So while there is the talking point of this not having anything to do with free speech, it’s next to impossible really to implement such a plan while avoiding a free speech issue. Not every web developer online will be willing to go along with the web ratings system.

Either way, it may seem like it’s an innocent little idea, but when one looks at who is asking for these things, why they are asking for these things, and a history of such actions, such a thing is still cause for concern.

Drew Wilson on Twitter: @icecube85 and Google+.

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