Opinion, Technology

Opinion: Losing the Phoney War

In an attempt to assuage the moral outrage of Daily Mail (it’s all their idea, you know) and Daily Telegraph readers, David Cameron “wants to declare himself the first prime minister to win the war on on-line porn”

What war? The one against the legal, tax-paying industry that successive governments have relaxed restrictions year by year? Oh, the war against child pornography? No that’s the one that police forces across the country are fighting, despite the budget cuts. The war against children seeing pornography? Now we’re talking.

Only we’re not. The government issued a fraudulent and hypocriticial set of demands to Internet Service Providers demanding “a commitment to fund an ‘awareness campaign’ (currently undefined and open-ended) for parents” and to change the language they are using to describe the net safety filters they will be offering to Internet users. Instead of talking of “active choice +”, they are urged to use the term “default-on.” All, the letter says, “without changing what you’re offering”.

Caving in to demands by politicians and newspapers for default-on filters, this is intended to block harmful and offensive – but legal – material through the Internet Service Providers unless customers choose to have the filters switched off.

Industry sceptics list three reasons why it won’t work: “…first it may be illegal under the Regulation of Investigatory Powers. Then there’s the fact that no filter is perfect, and finally kids are smart enough to find their way around them.”

Worse, “it makes parents complacent – if you tell them the filter is switched on by default, they get a false sense of security. We want parents to make informed choices about the way their children use the internet.”

Technically, deault-on is the worst kind of temporary fix that will be easily circumvented by the smartest, most tech-savvy members of the household – children.

Might I suggest Cameron has joined the Nanny State as a policy ploy? All for  individual choice and responsibility until the Tories decide the populace is too stupid or irresponsible to make the choice that’s good for them, in which case the Tories will make it for them. Because Government knows best. And it plays well in the right-wing press.

If the problem is that children can’t use the Internet safely, then parents should supervise them when using it, educate them how to use it so they can use it safely on their own, or don’t let them use it at all.

But no, the Internet is potentially harmful. Unlike cigarettes and alcohol which are actually harmful, but have powerful lobbyists to water-down or burn any further regulation of those industries.

And who is getting dumped on to implement this fiasco? The ISP’s, except the government is offering no funding for the ISP’s to manage the multitudes of transparent proxies, keep the filtering lists up to date or manage the opt-in/opt-out register. And how is this going to work, exactly? DNS filtering? See process outlined above.

We have a government that believes every industry should be capable of self-regulation, but the Internet is far too dangerous: all that information? Unregulated? Unexpurgated? Why, this is emotional terrorism against our children. And don’t you dare disagree. If you’re not with us, you’re agin’ us. Who said that last? George W. Bush. And where did that get us? Iraq, the Patriot Act and the dismantling of the US Constitution. Well, it’s easier in good old Blighty, as our constitution isn’t written down.

So who decides what content gets blocked? Stop twenty people in the street, you’ll get twenty different answers. Actually, any questionnaire defining a scale of what’s acceptable will give you any number of answers.

Instead, the government will step in and tell us what’s acceptable. It won’t matter which government – the UK, the US, France, Germany – all have their own policy agenda depending on how dangerous they perceive the Internet to be, from left, right, religious or secular viewpoints.

Unfortunately most of the pornography is outside of the jurisdication of the governments wishing to filter it. So are we now looking at an Iranian-style, super-filtered National Non-Internet or a Great Firewall of China? Therein lies the Orwellian nightmare.

But it will be fine. I’m sure there’s a bored twelve-year old in Essex, or Abergeveny will punch a hole right through it. Or a retired Nigerian general. You know the ones. RC

Related: Opinion: From tumblr to Tumbleweed – I Give It a Year

Image credit: Great Wall of China at Mutianyu by Ahazan.

About Robin Catling

Robin Catling gained degrees in both arts and technology which led to a diverse portfolio of employment. A freelance systems analyst, project manager and business change manager for the likes of American Express, British Airways and IBM, he moved on to web design, journalism and technical authoring. He has also worked in film and television, both behind and in front of the camera, including productions by Steven Spielberg, Martin Scorcese, Ron Howard and Ridley Scott. A qualified three-weapon coach, he runs West Devon Swords teaching sports fencing to all age groups, and in recent years qualified with the British Federation of Historical Swordplay to teach medieval and renaissance combat in the Historical Western Martial Arts.


3 thoughts on “Opinion: Losing the Phoney War

  1. This is awesome!

    Posted by rosalind chambliss | Jul 30, 2013, 3:12 am
  2. The strong protections for freedom of speech and expression against federal, state, and local government censorship are rooted in the First Amendment of the United States Constitution . These protections extend to the Internet and as a result very little government mandated technical filtering occurs in the U.S. Nevertheless, the Internet in the United States is highly regulated, supported by a complex set of legally binding and privately mediated mechanisms.

    Posted by Natasha I. Roth | Aug 6, 2013, 2:45 pm
  3. The Internet Industry Codes of Practice registered with the Australian Communications and Media Authority (“ACMA”) set out how internet service providers, such as AAPT, and email service providers must address the sources of Spam within their own networks. They also requires internet service providers and email service providers to give end-users information about how to deal with Spam, and informed choice about their filtering options.

    Posted by Chance U. Saunders | Aug 8, 2013, 8:26 am

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