The announcement that two ISP’s have signed up to run their service through the new government filter service has led to some debate on the list serve about censorship. Previously myself, Sean and others have had a vigorous debate about the pro’s and con’s of censorship and filtering, in particular with regards to the act of filter public terminals in libraries. I am not going to re-litigate that argument, as I think we came to a “agree to disagree” conclusion, besides this is a different kettle of fish.
So what is this filter? It is a secret filter of some 700 sites that purportedly have on them materials that show child abuse. [Note I say purportedly and I will get back to that soon]. It is run through the agencies of the Department of Internal Affairs, and is a voluntary filter that ISP’s my opt-in to.
Already there has been some hysterical statements in the public about us joining countries like China, Iran etc in censoring “the people”. Though not on the list-serve. There we have had some reasoned argument for and against any such move. And a sort of side move into the bringing the National Library into the Department of Internal Affairs point as well.
As an aside, I did think about quoting some of those arguments, but felt that since they were made on the semi-private medium of the list serve it wouldn’t be appropriate. What do you think? Should you quote list-serve emails on a blog?
So my thoughts…
It is a voluntary scheme, so the screaming of government censorship is a little premature. If it was compulsory then that is a different matter. So far only two smaller ISP’s have signed up. That being said it is timely to debate such a filter before too many ISP’s join up, or the government seeks to make it compulsory. The “thin end of the wedge” argument does hold some traction.
I think the concerns about pulling the National Library into the D.I.A. are small, as both are already administered by government, pulling the administrative functions together just cuts some of the degrees of separation. Of course if such a merger went ahead we would need to watch the terms very carefully to ensure that the existing remit of the National Library was not watered down or endangered.
I do have concerns about the secret nature of the list of sites (why I said purportedly previously) . While in some ways I see it as being paranoid to think that Governments would add other sites that are purely of political nature onto the list, there are times that being paranoid is justifiable. Of course publishing the list would defeat the whole purpose of the filter, so maybe there needs to be some sort of independent review body to monitor such a filter?
As to the effectiveness of the list, well so far that is up to debate. Filtering can be circumvented by those who know how and want to badly enough. But if it blocks the casual browser, especially children from accessing offensive/illegal materials, I think I am with the it’s not a really bad thing camp, as long as those concerns previously highlight are dealt with.
In the meantime I will be reading this report that came through the list-serve with some interest.