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Posts Tagged ‘filtering’


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.

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There are reasons our lives take the paths they do. Access to information is something I’ve understood and felt passion about on some level from a relatively young age. I recall visiting my local library aged about 15. They were considering adding lending charges to their collections, and had a blackboard and chalk out in their library as a form of consultation.

One opinion stuck out – someone had written “what price knowledge?” A fair point, but one I had to disagree with. I can’t tell you what I wrote (nothing very pithy I’m sure) but I wished, at least, to convey that for those who had nothing knowledge with a price was knowledge made unavailable. Thus was a public librarian born, far more than in my appetite for the written word.

Thus it was that I was heartened to hear of the Aotearoa People’s Network. It launched just over a year ago, and I was privileged enough to be at a conference organised by Puke Ariki and South Taranaki District Libraries at the right time to glean a number of first impressions. People were frustrated and confounded at the new (and new kinds of) people coming into their libraries with no idea of the way we do things. As someone who was comfortable around computers and who had some experience working in libraries with public computer systems, I spent my time assuring them that these troubles were growing pains, that they had welcomed a good thing into their midst. The one matter I heard that truly concerned me was APN’s use of filtering software.

I was fortunate enough to find an opportunity to to an APN representative a little later on last at an AnyQuestions team meeting last year in Christchurch. As an addenda to the session we were to meet one of the people responsible for the new system.

Now, diplomacy isn’t my strong suit. I have strong views on filtering. I believe we shouldn’t do it in public libraries for the same reason we don’t otherwise censor material that hasn’t been delineated as acceptable by the chief censor. I’m not alone in this – it’s based on the LIANZA Statement on Intellectual Freedom. So, I asked this person how her group justified filtering given this particular foundation of public library practice.

I’d like to say her response was articulate and forthcoming, that she described the evolution of thought that underpinned this to me quite major decision, but she wasn’t. My question was dismissed and, I gathered, somewhat tiresome. The filtering question was a closed one. I was bringing up irrelevancies.

I didn’t then have any kind of standpoint to pursue this matter, so it just had to remain a questionmark in my head. A more recent piece of information (care of a longtime internet associate, Thomas Beagle) demonstrates that internet filtering has been happening at the top level in New Zealand for at least a little while, care of the Department of Internal Affairs. Thomas’ article (and its predecessors – please follow his tags as the link isn’t parsing in WordPress) detail efforts by the government to introduce an at-this-stage-voluntary system of filtering to ISPs in New Zealand.

All of which says to me that filtering is simply a part of the way government in New Zealand is looking at the world, and APN can’t be held to blame if its political taskmasters have required filtering as a requirement for greenlight. If this is the case, it certainly goes a way to describing why an open question asked by an information professional in a room full of information professionals was answered with obfuscation.

So filtering’s here to stay. Computerworld NZ suggesets it might not be all that bad. But what is the longterm effect of it? I’m speculating,but I have an anecdote from my personal experience that might paint a part of the picture.

A few years ago I had the acquaintance of a teenager who was a regular in the library at which I was working. He came in to use the computer centre, so he was a good young brain to pick for a young view matters digital. He was a big bebo fan and I asked him whether his school had filters to prevent him using it when he should be studying.

Yep, he answered, but it didn’t matter much, because they used proxy servers to get around the filters.

What happened, I asked, when the schools found out about the proxy servers?

They block them, he replied, but it only takes us a few days to find new ones to use.

So you see, I believe what filtration actually does is to train young hackers well. You can come up with the best system in the world, and I’d still rather we spent the time and effort in getting to our young people and educate them honestly, acknowledging their power and ability in the digital world.

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