The Internet has revolutionised the way we live, and with the passing of time we grow more and more dependant on its very existence. That it could spring up independently of governments and big business lead many to believe that the Internet could bring the world a new type of freedom. Now we have reason to think again……..
We send emails, blog, chat, do our banking, organise our travel, engage in social networks, enjoy numerous forms of entertainment…..the list is endless.
While we go about our lives on the Internet, we need to be conscious of the threats that exist, and take steps to protect among other things our identity, privacy and communications. VPN service providers play an important role in helping you protect your life on the Internet. We have discussed this in previous blog articles.
Beyond the sinister threat from individuals with criminal intent, we would like to explore in greater detail the growing threat to our Internet freedoms from government sponsored initiatives. Traditionally we have thought of countries such as China and Iran as examples of countries looking to block Internet freedoms from their citizens. But there is a creeping menace that is developing in so called liberal democracies.
There is clearly a role for responsible governments to play in protecting its citizens from harm. But we see a disturbing trend in how this mandate is being used to restrict individual freedoms on the Internet. And the main issue we see is not what is necessarily being targeted now by 'Internet filtering' systems, but how they will morph and be applied into the future……..who will hold the keys? what will be done with information gathered? where will it be stored? how secure is the storage?
In the United Kingdom, the Digital Economy Bill was rushed through parliament in the evening of the 10th of April 2010. Is remains only to be approved by the House of Lords. In short, it gives the government the power to force ISPs to block access to any sites its deems necessary, and block access of individuals to the Internet entirely. Cynically it could be argued that MPs have come under significant pressure from global media companies to push this legislation through. But the wider implications of this bill are frightening.
In Australia, the government recently said that it would pass laws to block access to some Websites. The prohibited material includes child pornography, bestiality, incest, graphic "high-impact" images of violence, anything promoting or providing instruction on crime or violence, detailed descriptions of the use of proscribed drugs, and how-to information on suicide by Websites supporting the right to die for the terminally or incurably ill. A poll in the Sydney Morning Herald showed 96% opposed, and 2% in support. This is obviously not a display of support for the list of prohibited sites, but a resounding condemnation of a system that threatens freedom of information and expression into the future.
Wikileaks reported a leaked list of sites supposed to be included in the Australian filtering scheme. They included online poker sites, YouTube links, regular gay and straight porn sites, Wikipedia links etc.
In New Zealand, the government has quietly introduced an Internet filter and has been placing pressure on ISPs to implement its use. On the 1st of February 2010, the filter was reportedly turned on. David Zanetti, and spokesman for Tech Liberty made a very valid observation, "It establishes the principle that the government can choose to arbitrarily set up a new censorship scheme and choose which material to block, with no reference to existing law"
In the European Union, a Directive on 8 June 2000 about e-commerce revealed the first threat to freedom of expression, by making ISPs responsible for the content of websites they host and requiring them to block any page they consider illegal when informed of its existence. On the 29 of April 2004, the European Parliament approved the IPR Enforcement Directive. The Directive covers remedies available in cases of IPR breaches. Unfortunately, this directive has spawned new laws in member states that pose significant threats to Internet freedoms. As an example, Swedens IPRED law that went into effect on the 1st of April 2009, requires ISPs to store individual users traffic data. While not censorship, it perhaps points to a worrying EU direction on Internet freedoms.
The moment systems and laws are put in place to facilitate censorship, they sow the seeds for the eventual erosion of our human rights and individual freedoms. They will always be open to abuse and misapplication.
Jeremy Bentham was an English philosopher that lived from 1748 – 1832. He said something that is as true today as the day he uttered these words;
"As to the evil which results from a censorship, it is impossible to measure it, for it is impossible to tell where it ends."
We would value your thoughts and updates on cases of Internet censorship.
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