Could Internet filtering cause more harm than good?

Could Internet filtering cause more harm than good?

Summary: Internet filters are in place in the UK and New Zealand, with Australia being another potential. But could these cause more harm than good? A controversial perspective

TOPICS: Browser

Countries around the world are steadily rolling out filtering systems which block citizens from viewing child abuse imagery. With the United Kingdom and New Zealand with independent filters in place, and Australia potentially soon after, Internet censorship is becoming common practice across the world.

What many don't realise is the true extent of governmental filtering across the web.

I take on two perspectives here. One, I am a godfather of two beautiful little children which I would gladly take a bullet for. Two, I worked albeit for a relatively short time in the child protection sphere. While children frankly drive me up the wall, my views and opinions on keeping them safe could well be considered controversial to the vast majority of Republicans and Daily Mail readers.

Australia is a tricky one. Because of their legislative power running through a two-chamber system, their present government cannot push through enough votes to secure the filter being activated. As of today, it is very unlikely the filter will go ahead until more votes are drawn in in the next general election, in favour of the Rudd cabinet.

But looking at the broad spectrum of governmental filtering across nations, the one and main reason these vast Internet filters seem to want to accomplish is the reduction in access to child sexual abuse imagery. All good and well, you would say.

From a professional point of view, paedophilia is an illness; a genuine psychological condition which causes a sexual interest in children, whereas a convicted child sex offender (CCSO) is a branding caused by a consciously committed offence against a child of a sexual nature. One is an illness and poses a potential risk to children, whereas the other is a branding of conviction caused by someone who acted upon their desires.

The two sides to these filters is firstly by reducing (with the aim of entirely removing) the chance of a citizen being exposed to child sexual abuse imagery, and the other is to prevent people seeking out child sexual abuse imagery to satisfy their urges. Both are preventative measures, but the latter is something which cannot be avoided without medical intervention.

The filter would not deter paedophiles or CCSO's from indulging in their desires. The World Wide Web has been around for nearly two decades, but anthropologically speaking in Western society, these crimes would have been accomplished without the aid of an international network of computers. In some areas of the world, what we would call crimes are societal normality's and even though we would be horrified to see it, their society dictates differently.

Point being, removing access to child sexual abuse imagery online would not deter those who are determined enough. Previous non-offenders could potentially seek out children in their determination to fulfil their need and drive the issue underground and away from law enforcement.

Even though every time a child sexual abuse image is viewed, it essentially perpetuates the abuse further, but one could argue that physically assaulting a child is somewhat in an entirely different league to the aforementioned.

This aside, Internet filtering around the world is far more widespread than the average user thinks. For example:

In the US, because of the First Amendment, Internet filtering would be considered a violation, whereas some would consider the DMCA an act of filtering to remove content which is deemed copyright.

So a simple question to ask you, the audience: could Internet filtering at governmental level cause more harm than good?

Because of Pandora's Box theory - once something happens, it can never be undone and is no doubt deemed to repeat itself in the future. Where does it stop? Should the Internet be entirely monitored and blocked to ensure the safety of its users? When is Internet filtering an abuse of governmental power, and how should it be regulated?

One thing is for sure, and that is the Internet cannot be open and fully accessible for everyone with what we see and experience in post-modern society.

Comment away. It will be interesting to see where this one goes.

Topic: Browser

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  • A rational blog from Zack

    A welcome surprise, but perhaps for once, in your area of expertise ;-)

    You've made some good points. Pedophilia is nothing new and before the Internet pictures, magazines, videos and films were used instead. Just as criminal, just as prosecuted, as are a number of people today for doing it on the internet.

    While this is the reason put forward for filtering, it's the actual filtering that's the problem. First there's the inconvenience of having your site wrongly identified (this has already happened in the Australian test). Next is the technical impossibility of preventing access to this material as there are plenty of ways to distribute encrypted material across the web or VPNs. However, the most worrying thing is the ease in which government can add other things to the list such as "terrorist" websites, government criticism sites, soft and hard core porn, religious, cults, and the list goes on until it finally reaches you.

    If you smoke or possess marihuana in some countries you can end up executed, a long term in jail, forced association with criminals or a pleasant afternoon in a cafe. Given the variety of behaviour that will be illegal in some countries, allowing any internet filtering is an invitation to cement chauvinism and nationalism and all the crazy things governments do in pursuit of their ideologies.

    I'm certainly not as paranoid about government as my American friends, but internet filtering is just too much of a temptation.

  • RE: Could Internet filtering cause more harm than good?

    Couldn't a savvy user get around filters using
    overseas proxies? And in the NZ case at least --
    implementation by IPs is voluntary. So if your IP is
    blocking certain sites, just change providers.

    Anyway, smart uses will always find a way to get
    around such measures. A waste of tax payers money in
    my opinion.

    • Not really

      The ISP's will be mandated to be involved, and you can't really get around that. Even if you use foreign proxies, there will probably be legislation to block that, and if not, I'm sure the ISP's will have ways to disallow access.
  • RE: Could Internet filtering cause more harm than good?

    I think yes or likely is the quick answer, regardless whether it has happened or not. Definitely prevents some harm, but can it do harm in the process? duh...
    • Some would say a double-edged sword?

  • Don't really care what you call it . . .

    Don't really care what you call it - "illness,"
    "branding," whatever. If somebody has done that kind
    of stuff before, they need to be kept away from

    I dunno what to think. On one hand, I like to advocate
    freedom and I like to keep government out of most
    things - but on the other hand, there's really no good
    reason for [i]anybody[/i] to be looking at that stuff.

    If somebody is a criminal, I'd be permanently
    filtering their connection, no doubt about it. They
    gave up their rights when they decided to violate
    somebody else's rights.
  • RE: Could Internet filtering cause more harm than good?

    Why stop at child pornography?
    It could be the thin edge of the wedge, next stop government opponents.
    I would like to get all pornography off the sites I go to though.
  • Sounds like a witch hunt....

    Every one (who is sane) wants and desires to protect children from these sick individuals. And as it has been pointed out once someone gets it into their head that it is ok to filter content, for this well intentioned idea, then it may be a good idea to start filtering other things as well. I don't like to use slippery slope connotations, but seeing how filtering one for the common good, could lead to other things being filtered.

    People are right to protest this in the countries that this is being put in place. Criminal sexual misconduct is a policing matter, and should be conducted as such, through investigations and sting operations to get these people off the streets.
    • But you are placing western cultural norms ...

      ... on the backs of billions of people from other cultures.

      In some cultures, incest is not frowned upon. In many, the suppession of women is not frowned upon.

      We might abhor these practices but do we really want to police every culture in the world to impose our own cultural norms on them?
      M Wagner
      • mwarner - Your argument is based on a HUGE assumption

        mwarner - your argument about imposing western
        cultural norms assumes that just because
        societies differ, they are automatically
        equally good and it is therefore wrong to take
        actions that favor one culture over another. I
        submit that you are well-meaning but mistaken.
        Not all cultures are equal. Some, or at least
        some elements, ARE better than others and it is
        a cop-out to pretend that is not so. While you
        can argue about the age of consent, forced sex
        with children is wrong no mater what a given
        culture permits or encourages. Slavery is
        wrong even if there are countries and cultures
        that permit it. I happen to believe that
        western society gets a lot of the big stuff
        right, like favoring freedom v. tyranny, even
        though reasonable people can differ about the
        details and some of the definitions.

        I see nothing wrong with imposing some of our
        basic cultural norms on societies that fail to
        do so. After all, part of the reason for world
        war 2 was that the west wanted to impose its
        cultural norms on Nazi Germany - saying that
        genocide is wrong even if Nazi culture approves
        of it.

        Having said all of that, I am very wary of
        giving governments (even relatively benign
        ones) the power to control the flow of
        information on the internet. Power tends to be
        mis-used. It is possible to aggressively
        police the mis-use of the internet for the
        distribution of child pornography without
        giving governments a stranglehold over the flow
        of information. If we permit filtering for
        this purpose, what is the logical argument to
        prevent filtering for the prevention of any
        other harm and any other violation of law. The
        next step after that is preventing what one
        government or one bureaucrat perceives as a
        social or political harm. Yes - I believe in
        the slippery slope argument. I would not
        support filtering without a very strong showing
        that the lack of filtering is causing great
        harm that cannot otherwise be avoided. Until
        that is demonstrated, I'm opposed.
        • HUGE assumptions

          Interesting. You propose the idea that his argument is based on a huge mistake, yet yours is too. You defend Western mores as though they were cast in stone. They're not... any more than Sharia law is for Islam. I think the comparison between religion and culture is valid, since they are both based on your environment and education and with little semblance to daily, human realities.

          First, I do believe that filtering will do more harm than good. No country, government or religion has ever succeeded in legislating morality... and when they try, everyone loses their freedoms. I understand the argument that says we have to sacrifice some freedom to combat "X" (terrorism, communism, drugs, pederasts... pick your favorite... and trendy... enemy). To a certain extent, it's true. But since the West (East, North, and South) has no real, fundamental or objective education concerning the world and the associated cultures or "social imperatives", we have a problem. No one, in any country, knows... uncontestably... what "good" or "right" is. (And please don't assume that any temple, mosque, or church anywhere in the world has a clue. They don't.)

          Second, as has been mentioned previously, in some places in the world incest and even the marriage of young children together or with much older partners is considered "correct" in the local culture and/or the religion. This is not a moral problem... it may be a psychological problem if the children involved are not completely indoctrinated by their culture or religion. Otherwise it's no problem at all. (We are all products of our environment. Theirs is theirs and ours is ours.)

          In short, I find your idea that "the West" and Western values are somehow superior, to be flawed. You rationalize your values in the same way that Islamic fundamentalists rationalize theirs: We know better; we have "the Word"; we are "Chosen". "We", the West, haven't had a civilized history as long as any of the others you've cited. They have a right to respect, even with the ups and downs. We are the pig-headed adolescents compared to the evolution of their cultures.

          So, let's stop looking for all the "evil" things on the Internet (like pederasts). They were among us in the same percentage decades (probably even centuries) before the Internet existed and they'll be here 100 years from now. The percentage of pederasts hasn't changed compared with the population, they've only accessed the internet and found new technology like everyone else. The need to keep our children safe hasn't changed, only the methods.

          I, for one, don't want laws to protect my kids (the people who make them aren't up to the task), but prefer to keep myself informed, "wander" anywhere on the Internet, and use what I learn (from reasoned, verifiable sources) to teach my kids to do the same thing. And I'll teach them to respect other cultures even when someone calls them "wrong".

          Oh, and BTW, the US government didn't care about the genocide in WW2. (What did Americans care if Jews, homosexuals, and other "non-conformist" groups were eliminated? They were all liberal communists, right?) They knew 2 years in advance and only did something when their own business and shores were threatened. In that order.

          End of story.
          • Some errors of assumption

            While I wholeheartedly agree with your position on the issue, as someone who has traveled the world for many years, I have to disagree with a couple of points you made. I apologize if you think I am nitpicking.

            However... philosophically you are correct in assuming that different cultures hold different beliefs, often in the area of how to treat fellow citizens. In many cultures, some of these distasteful practices do exist, but your presumption of indoctrination breeding acceptance isn't necessarily true. Just ask the little girls who are subjected to clitorectomy. Sure, some will say it's their duty, but given the choice, would they choose this path? Would child-brides choose THEIR path? Despite indoctrination, I believe enough would NOT choose to follow so as to make certain practices questionable. This is not to impose western morals on anyone. Are we really pigheaded adolescents? Our culture did not come from the void.Perhaps western morality is simply an evolutionary step away (ahead?) from other cultures.

            This of course does not apply to all behavior, but there are certain things that virtually all cultures agree on. And if not all, then certainly most. And in the international arena, majority opinion wins in the end. We do not need to accept the behaviors in some cultures just because it's their culture. Do they accept ours? Usually they WANT ours.

            Having said this (because I like to hear myself rant), I applaud your position on the internet policing issue. It would be an easier fight if more people were as well-educated...
      • It's not the police though

        It's the government. Forget dictatorships to some extent. The citizens elect in the government based on the vast majority of political and cultural views, therefore a majority consensus of opinions. Those fall to the government to represent those views of the majority of society, and therefore imposing their norms (which society impose on the government) is appropriate, to some extent. It comes back down to the voters. A change in opinions or norms and a change in government - and that change in government could turn off the filtering system. Does that make sense? I feel it was a complicated answer :)
      • Other cultures don't really matter

        When it comes to one country's filtering of content, what another culture finds acceptable doesn't matter. The Germanic culture finds depictions etc. of Nazi stuff horribly offensive. Fine, they filter that. But elsewhere it is not, and thus, is not filtered. So cultures that do not mind having Nazi stuff all over the 'net can still get their Nazi stuff.

        What I find odd is that a few years ago, everybody was up in arms about Google and Microsoft working with the Chinese government to filter search results in China. That was terrible then, that G & M would acquiesce to the evil Chinese. But when western nations do it, it's okay, cause it's "for the children".

        Censorship is censorship, period. A rose by any other name will smell just as sweet - and have just as stinging thorns.
      • Western Cultural Norms be Damned

        Any culture that represses or abuses any subset of its people is doomed to become a relic of history.

        There is no escaping that abuse of children or repression of women is unaceptable and anyone who postulates that it is acceptable under the guise of a non-western cultural norm deserves to be denegrated as a betrayer of humanity.
    • Philsophical Question

      What is the difference between "I don't like to use slippery slope connotations, but seeing how filtering one for the common good, could lead to other things being filtered." and "I don't like to use slippery slope connotations, but seeing how creating one criminal law for the common good, could lead to criminalizing other things (like voting against the mayor)"?
      I am not being sarcastic, I don't know how to apply any rational standard, nor do I want a lawless society. My only hope is that we can trust the lawmakers, even though this has often failed.
      • The difference is...

        At least here in the US, each state has a constitution, one of government does not control everything. It would take a concerted effort to do away with electing officials as you propose. It would take the city council, the county courts, the state courts and other governmental bodies all working together, not to mention the US courts as well. The separation of powers prevents this kind of thing from happening. But when you have a single agency determining what is and is not filtered, well, those checks and balances are removed - which will lead to abuse...Patriot Act anyone?
        • Your only right in principle

          Face is the states have been reduced in authority to large counties their constitutions are irrelevant in real world practice. Otherwise the marijuana acts in California wouldn't have been overturned.

          Don't be too proud of the US the 1st amendment is just as irrelevant we just like to delude ourselves into thinking it's actually supported when that's actually not the case.
          • That kind of proves my point

            The feds stepped in and said "hey, this is contrary to fed law - you can't do that". Same with a city council eliminating elections. The feds step in and say "Hey, you can't do that, it is against the US constitution." So, you see how the checks and balances work?
  • Censorship is Censorship is Censorship is Censorship.

    Censorship is a great evil that should be prevented at all costs. Why? Because censorship is the taking away my right to chose what to see, hear, and think.

    The risks of the slide down a slippery slope toward a "1984" type of government oversight is too great. We must NOT let our defenses down for one second.