FFC website for the writing of comments here.
FFC website for the writing of comments here.
U.K. Prime Minister David Cameron announced this morning that “By the end of this year, when someone sets up a new broadband account, the settings to install family friendly filters will be automatically selected.” That means you’ll have to adjust your settings to see things that your ISP, and indirectly the U.K. government, does not think you should see. Like porn. Or what the government thinks is porn.
In a long speech, which you can read here, Cameron laid out the argument for opt-out family settings and a call for search engines to block objectionable or illegal content. Some key points:
- “Many children are viewing online pornography and other damaging material at a very young age and that the nature of that pornography is so extreme, it is distorting their view of sex and relationships.”
- Search engines should be held responsible for illegal material because they’re “like the Post Office helping someone to identify and order the illegal material in the first place – and then sending it onto them in which case they absolutely would be held responsible for their actions.”
- “Child abuse images” are a major focus of the speech. Cameron wants “clear and simple signs warning [people who search for these images] that what they are trying to do is illegal and where there is much more accountability on the part of the search engines to actually help find these sites and block them.”
- “Put simply – there needs to be a list of terms – a black list – which offer up no direct search returns. So I have a very clear message for Google, Bing, Yahoo and the rest. You have a duty to act on this – and it is a moral duty.”
- After examples of younger sexuality, including viewing pornography and sexting: “Our children are growing up too fast.”
- “This has never been a debate about companies or government censoring the internet but about filters to protect children at the home network level.”
- The government is “making it a criminal offence to possess internet pornography that depicts rape.”
- The speech ends with “And I will do whatever it takes to keep our children safe.”
So! There’s an awful lot going on here, both explicitly and implicitly. Cameron is proposing a two-pronged approach: an opt-out filter, and working with search engines to block access to child pornography, simulated rape pornography, and possibly other unsavory or illegal materials.
The first is essentially is a family filter that’s put in place by the internet service providers, or ISPs (the equivalent companies in the States would be Comcast, Verizon, Time Warner, etc.). The filter can be adjusted or disabled entirely by an adult–not clear how the service will make sure it’s an adult and not a child messing around with these settings–but it will by default be put in place. The filters will extend to any device connected to the network, including laptops, tablets, and smartphones. Those proposed filters comprise what the government plans to do, and what the government theoretically can do.
But in that second prong, Cameron urged international corporations like Google, Microsoft, and Yahoo to adjust in accordance with his crusade.
There are significant problems with both prongs, falling into three categories: logistical, rhetorical, and, for lack of a better word, moral.
Logistical: This Is Not How The Internet Works
In his second prong, looking outside the U.K. government, Cameron chastises search engines like Google and Bing for making it easier to find, he says, child pornography.
“We need the search engines to step up to the plate on this,” said Cameron. “And there’s a further message I have for the search engines. If there are technical obstacles to acting on this, don’t just stand by and say nothing can be done; use your great brains to help overcome them.”
This is absurdly, insultingly presumptuous. A prime minister is demanding a foreign corporation kowtow to his demands and implement a childishly naive proposal based on his own showy morality. It’s insane that Cameron would so condescendingly offer a foreign entity that’s violating precisely zero laws itself an ultimatum. Google is under no obligation to do anything Cameron wants, and yet Google just last month pledged to spend $7 million to figure out new ways to stamp out child pornography. What makes Cameron think that his proposal–a blacklist of keywords–would be more effective than whatever Google’s brilliant engineers are doing? We were indignant when China demanded Google censor itself there; how dare Cameron expect anything different, no matter how many times he hollers “it’s for the children”?
Many of the illegal corners of the internet aren’t indexed by Google, anyway. Try searching for child porn right now; you won’t find any. Try searching for an online store that’ll mail you heroin. You won’t find that, either. But both exist, and you will find news stories or forums about both that can lead you there. Discussion of illegal activities isn’t illegal, but makes any indexing restriction on Google pretty much worthless.
There are ample warning signs in this speech for anyone who’s wary of government intervention in free speech.Many of these corners of the internet are only accessible via anonymizing software like Tor, which masks your identity and allows you to visit sites like the Hidden Wiki, which indexes sites that Google doesn’t. Yelling at Google is grandstanding; Google is responsive–too responsive, sometimes–to laws and governmental requests. “We have a zero tolerance attitude to child sexual abuse imagery,” said a Google spokesperson. “Whenever we discover it, we respond quickly to remove and report it.” Google’s got lots of problems, but it’s naive to think that the scariest parts of the internet are accessed with a giant corporation’s search engine.
Rhetorical: This Is Just Amateur Social Psychology
Cameron’s speech does not go beyond platitudes like “we have to protect our children.” He simply states as fact that “children are growing up too fast,” that this is a result of readily available adult material, and that this is an unhealthy development. I don’t agree or disagree with him, but those are an awful lot of giant leaps to make without any cited studies or research to back him up. “In a survey,” said Cameron, “a quarter of children said they’d seen pornography which had upset them.” Well, okay! I don’t know which survey this is, or whether it’s trustworthy at all, but let’s accept that that’s true. What percentage of children have seen something on the news which upset them? What percentage of children were upset when Lennie kills the mouse in Of Mice And Men?
The American Psychological Association notes that research about the effects of internet pornography on children is “scarce” and that what research there is tends to lean heavily on correlation.
It’s not so much that Cameron is right or wrong in his opinion on exposing children to adult content. It’s that he assumes his particular stance is empirically correct, and that it is his obligation to enforce it nationwide. That’s sort of the base of all legislation, after all. But I object to his assumption that internet pornography has a studied, proven net negative effect on children. The research doesn’t support that at all. And that point of view is the motivation for both his legal proposals and his moralizing in the direction of American tech companies.
Moral: Is This Censorship?
The other major concern, just as regards the opt-out family filter, is that this is the first step–and a big one–towards internet censorship. Pornography, like anything else that offends someone, is a vague term. What’s offensive to one person isn’t to another, and one person’s “extreme pornography” is another person’s tame fantasy. The fact that it is a government-mandated filter, the specific contours of which are not laid out in Cameron’s speech, is unnerving.
“This has never been a debate about companies or government censoring the internet but about filters to protect children at the home network level,” said Cameron in the speech. And, well, that’s ludicrous. If this isn’t a debate about companies or government censoring the internet, it sure as hell should be. We’re naturally wary of slippery slope arguments, but a cursory glance into, say, the People’s Republic of China’s policy on internet censorship shows just how far awry this kind of thing can go. Cameron is proposing an opt-out filter, which is not the same as censorship. But his urging of ISPs and search engines to make certain items harder to find goes far beyond an opt-out option. If Google stops indexing something the U.K. government doesn’t like, you can’t opt back in and see it. It’s just gone, at least from the single way that the vast majority of internet users uses to find things on the internet.
There are ample warning signs in this speech for anyone who’s wary of government intervention in free speech. The repeated explanation that this is for the children–that’s an easy way to stifle argument. Are you in favor of children seeing disturbing, violent pornography? That’s the stance those in favor of this policy will take. The fact that Cameron phrases this as a “moral duty” is a red flag, too: whose morals, exactly, are we talking about? And the fact that legal and illegal material are being wound together is alarming. “Let me be clear,” reads Cameron’s speech. “These challenges are very distinct and very different. In one we’re talking about illegal material, the other legal material that is being viewed by those who are underage.” But the speech, and the major legislative push, includes both. By discussing illegal material first, material that hardly anyone would be willing to publicly defend, it makes Cameron’s rhetorical argument against legal material that much easier to swallow. And that’s a problem, because the line between the ability to view legal and illegal material should not be blurred or conflated.
“I really don’t think you can have an algorithm for morality.”The U.K. is far from the first nation to seek to filter the internet. In 2011, France fully authorized what’s called the LOPPSI 2 law, which allows the government to filter the internet without judicial approval. French internet filtering relies on a blacklist of sites, theoretically, but its goal is merely to filter out child pornography sites in addition to those that promote terrorism or racial hatred. The law has attracted criticism; a spokesman for French internet liberty site La Quadrature du Net said, “Protection of childhood is shamelessly exploited by Nicolas Sarkozy to implement a measure that will lead to collateral censorship and very dangerous drifts.” In accordance with these laws, in late 2011 a French court ordered the takedown of a site that showed pictures and videos of French police officers arresting suspects, sometimes violently. But that was passed years ago, before the Arab Spring and before PRISM. And France didn’t bother calling on foreign corporations to do their “moral duty” in accordance with its own filter.
“Of course, a free and open internet is vital,” said Cameron. Never has the call for a free and open internet sounded so much like lip service.
Logistical: You Can’t Pass This Law
Danny O’Brien, the international director of the Electronic Frontier Foundation, says, “My prediction is that these set of proposals won’t make it to the light of day.” It’s an empty set of proposals intended to have the public rally around something that, Cameron thinks, nobody could object to. Who would have a problem with protecting children from violent illegal pornography? But it’s unlikely to go anywhere. “We see these proposals come by in other commonwealth countries like Australia,” says O’Brien. “The more they go through the grinding mill of discussion, the more people realize the terrible consequences.” People are protective of internet free speech, especially after the Arab Spring, and are unlikely to believe Cameron’s proposals could possibly be as simple as he makes them sound.
Then there’s the fact that, well, it won’t work. “You’re creating a censorship system that’s not actually solving the problem that you’re trying to solve,” says O’Brien. “That content is still out there.” And the attacks on search companies are just as ineffectual. “I really don’t think you can have an algorithm for morality,” he adds. O’Brien did not seem worried about the speech; he saw it as theatrical and not realistic.
Cameron’s proposal is near-sighted, attacks the symptoms rather than the root causes of these problems, is based on shoddy understanding of social psychology and the way the internet works in general, and is highly unlikely to get passed in any sort of proper parliamentary bill in the first place. It’s exploitative grandstanding, a big clumsy haymaker of a shot fired at what Cameron thinks is an easy target but what is in fact anything but. It’s an example of just how clueless government is as to the day-to-day of the dark corners of the internet.
Read the original article here.
Of course, it’s not really about pr0n at all. Ravey Davey Fuckboy PM’s censorwall will also block “violent material”, “web forums”, “esoteric material,” and more. SHOCK FUCKING HORROR. If we let this shit fly we call all stop calling ourselves people and consign the human experiment to history. It’s robot time.
UK PM David Cameron and Claire Perry say that they plan on forcing Britain’s ISPs to have a “default-on” censorship app for every connection in the UK. But the UK Open Rights Group have been talking with whistleblowers from the ISPs that have met with the government’s censorship grandees, and they report that the censorware will come equipped to block an enormous swath of legal Internet content, and unless you untick the boxes, this will all be censored for your Internet connection:
Do you want to block
☑ violent material
☑ extremist and terrorist related content
☑ anorexia and eating disorder websites
☑ suicide related websites
☑ web forums
☑ esoteric material
☑ web blocking circumvention tools
You may be saying to yourself, hell, how are they going to be able to sort out which websites are unacceptably pornographic, let alone which sites are “smoking” related? That’s a damned good question, and the answer is “with the broadest brush possible.” Huge chunks of the Internet will be effectively unreachable, and which sites go into the censorship bucket will be decided upon in secret, by unelected employees of big corporations, like China’s Huawei. Sure, you can untick the box if you want, but as David Cameron’s advisors will tell you, defaults are powerful and most users never change them.
More from the Open Rights Group here: Sleepwalking into censorship
Good article on Cameron’s “it’s about saving the children from pr0n” – cover story here.
Christine Lagarde’s flat raided by French police
IMF chief’s residence searched amid inquiry into her handling of €285m payout to Nicolas Sarkozy supporter Bernard Tapie
Brendan O’Neill, writing for Reason.com:
What country has just sentenced a man to eight months in prison for wearing an anti-police t-shirt, and another man to three months in prison for telling an “abhorrent” joke on Facebook? Iran, perhaps? China? No, it’s Britain.
Something has gone horribly wrong in Britain in recent years. The birthplace of John Milton (“Give me the liberty to know, to utter, and to argue freely according to conscience”), and John Stuart Mill (“Every man who says frankly and fully what he thinks is so far doing a public service”), has become a cesspit of censoriousness.
The frequency with which the police and legal system now throw into jail anyone judged to have committed a “speech crime” is alarming.
On October 11, Barry Thew, a 39-year-old man from Manchester, was sentenced to eight months in jail—eight months!—for the crime of wearing a t-shirt that said, “One less pig — perfect justice”.
He donned the t-shirt just a few hours after two police officers were shot dead in Manchester, on September 18. Some members of the public took offence at his flagrantly police-baiting tee, complained to the cops about him, and before you could say “Fuck da police” Thew was being found guilty of committing a Section 4A offence under England’s Public Order laws—that is, he “displayed writing or other visible representation with the intention of causing harassment, alarm or distress.”
On October 8, Matthew Woods, a teenager from Lancashire, was jailed for three months for—get this—writing jokes on his Facebook page.
Currently, a five-year-old Welsh girl called April Jones is missing. Woods decided to make some jokes about this, writing on FB stuff like “Who in their right mind would abduct a ginger kid?” and “I woke up this morning in the back of a transit van with [a beautiful girl] — I found April in a hopeless place.”
Funny? No. Criminal? Apparently, yes. For telling these tasteless jokes to the infinitesimally small number of people who can see his Facebook page, Woods was found guilty under the Communications Act 2003 of sending “a message or other matter that was grossly offensive.”
The judge described Woods’ “crimes” as “abhorrent.” I find the state’s imprisonment of a teenager for telling jokes infinitely more abhorrent than Woods’ sad stab at creating lolz.
These are only the most recent incidents of people being banged up for saying “grossly offensive” things. Last month, Michael Coleman, a member of the right-wing British National Party, was given a suspended eight-month prison sentence and 240 hours of community service for using the word “darkies” on his blog.
He blogged about what he stupidly considers to be “the difference in personality, perceptions and values of people of darker races and ourselves” and said Britain’s current immigration policy amounts to “darkies in, whites out.” For this, for expressing his petty prejudices on a little-read blog, he was found guilty of racially aggravated harassment. The politician who brought the case against him said his crime was to express views that are “not acceptable to the overwhelming majority of local people.”
Social-networking sites are being subjected to the most stringent censorship. In July, a 17-year-old boy was arrested and questioned by police after he sent insulting tweets to British Olympic diver Tom Daley. The 17-year-old was spared jail but was issued with a “harassment warning.” In March, a 21-year-old student called Liam Stacey was sentenced to 56 days in jail for making crude jokes on Twitter about a then very ill footballer called Fabrice Muamba.
Last year, following the summer riots that rocked many English cities, two young men were jailed for four years for setting up a Facebook page called “Smash Down Northwich Town,” a reference to the town in Chester where they lived. The page was all about how cool it would be to have a local riot. No one accepted their invitation to riot, though; there was no “smashing down.” Yet still the two men were convicted of a public order offense, criminalized for being fantasists effectively.
I guess we should just be grateful that The Clash were never banged up for likewise giving voice to riot fantasies in their 1977 hit “White Riot”: “I wanna riot, a riot of my own.”
Now, the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS), the body responsible for prosecuting crimes in England and Wales, is holding a series of meetings to clarify the law on tweetcrimes and FB misdemeanors, and to decide when it is legit, and when it isn’t, to bring criminal charges for trolling or inflammatory speech online.
I can save it a bucketload of time by telling it right now when charges should be brought against web-users for speech-based affrays: Never. Ever.
Speech is either free or it isn’t. And if it is, then that means everyone must have it—not just nice people, but also nasty people; not just the right-on, but also the racist; not just well-educated judges who use their free speech to spout BS about how abhorrent certain jokes are, but also immature tweeters, Facebook saddos, and unpopular bloggers who use their free speech to insult minorities or make bad gags about missing girls.
Granting the state the power to determine what is abhorrent and what is acceptable, which thoughts may be expressed publicly and which may not, is a dangerous game. At the moment, the state might “only” be locking up racist joke-tellers or teenage buffoons, but who knows who else might fall foul of today’s self-styled shapers of public morality. Blasphemers, perhaps? Queen Elizabeth-bashers? Sexist porno makers?
Allowing the state to determine the rightness and acceptability of words and ideas doesn’t only lead to gobsmacking levels of censorious authoritarianism—it also robs us, the public, of our right and our responsibility to work out what is true and to challenge what feels like dross in the arena of public debate. As John Milton put it 350 years ago, “Let Truth and Falsehood grapple; who ever knew Truth put to the worse, in a free and open encounter?”
The most worrying thing in Britain right now is the rise of the idea that individuals may be rightfully harassed and punished by the state if they hold views that are “not acceptable to the overwhelming majority of people,” as was said of the racist blogger.
That’s the end of eccentricity right there, of any element of danger and daring in public discourse. If being unpopular is seen as a sufficient justification for being arrested and put on trial, then who will ever dare put their neck on the line and say controversial, offensive, properly interesting things? The top-down enforcement of thought-policing doesn’t only mean we will see fewer racist ramblings and less teenage stupidity—it also means there’ll be less intellectual risk-taking, and a stifling culture of back-watching conformism.
Besides, society has no right to punish people just because the overwhelming majority of people don’t like what they say, as John Stuart Mill argued decades ago: “If all mankind minus one, were of one opinion, and only one person were of the contrary opinion, mankind would be no more justified in silencing that one person, than he, if he had the power, would be justified in silencing mankind.” Absolutely. Free all Britain’s tweeters, t-shirt wearers, and bloggers now!