The New Zealand government has now implemented its promised Internet 'filter' and has thus triggered the predictable fury of the country's Internet libertarians, but it's a hard row to hoe. By Ian Scales.
In fact the system has been filtering away in New Zealand since the beginning of February, after a series of trials over two years; a fact that has served as a focus for further fury because - by avoiding a start date - the government has brilliantly blunted any chance of a rallying point forming for direct protest action.
And by running the thing in advance it has also partly wiped away fears that it would prove grossly (and counter-productively) inefficient and would create havoc (it clearly didn't because nobody knew it was on). Clever old government.
But the filter is still objectionable on a range of grounds.
From the obsessively techy observation that what is supposed to be a distributed and highly resilient system (the Internet) is now dependent on one or two central points of failure which will introduce problems into the network upsetting applications and so on (which hardly sounds like a killer argument); to the fact that content is filtered without the public being told in detail what's been expunged (doesn't happen with conventional censorship); right through to the real nub of the philosophical discourse - which is that filtering content in this way is just plain wrong.
No ifs or buts. It is not up to Internet Service Providers to filter on behalf of users because it's not their place - the Internet is (or should) be owned by its users and run as a open system. End of.
Nice try, but all this is trumped, of course, by those two magic words: 'child' and 'pornography'. It's very hard to argue from any sort of position of strength when your utterances must be prefaced by a ringing disavowal of child pornography, preferably backed up with a claim to multiple female parenthood.
But the problem is that once you have a filter in place, the thing will creep on. It will, from now on, be that much more easy to institute other filterable content types as the government spotlight falls upon new wrongs that must be righted.
Pro-terrorist literature, for instance. Who could be against filtering that? Racism, self-harm, Scientology, Britain's Got Talent. It's all objectionable and it all arguably in need of filtering - especially Britain's Got Talent.
And once we get used to filtering, will anyone bother arguing about it again?
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