Internet censorship is about more than SOPA/PIPA
Thank you for your concern over SOPA/PIPA. I find your attitude towards online censorship puzzling, however.
Friends in the UK, your internet is almost certainly *already being filtered*, thanks to the Internet Watch Foundation (mission statement: THINK OF THE CHILDREN). We have not passed anything like SOPA/PIPA (forgetting the Digital Economy Act for a moment, which certainly had its own serious problems, but did not mandate censorship), yet almost every Internet Service Provider in the UK “voluntarily” implements the IWF’s block-list, and the theoretical option to switch providers to avoid their filtering is not open to many. The group is opaque, unaccountable, unelected and incompetent — Wired wrote an excellent article on it in 2009.
And friends in the US, you who have actually managed to convince at least 10 senators to withdraw their support for PIPA, what is *your* fixation with the law? Needless to say, a legal action is not de facto a moral one, and government and corporate censorship has been going on (legally!) for years. SOPA/PIPA are nothing but the finishing touches to a years-long project to normalise online censorship: Immigration and Customs Enforcement regularly “seizes domain names” (read: censors websites), often without justifying the move in front of a judge — sometimes blocking the wrong site entirely, for months at a time (Google for “Dajaz1 ICE” to find out more). And today, with an unprecedented sense of dramatic timing, MegaUpload.com has been shut down by “prosecutors in Virginia” (nothing to do with the Universal Music Group lawsuit against MU, honest!).
It’s fantastic to see so many people engaging in a political issue, but it’s absolutely heart-breaking that your reactions have been to get behind a campaign grounded in asking the politicians to fix it. Who, exactly, do you think passed the DCMA or Hadopi laws, and who do you think wrote SOPA/PIPA? Who set up the IWF, or ICE? Who laid the framework for super-injunctions in the UK (think “Trafigura” not “Ryan Giggs”)?
Spread the word about online censorship that’s *already happening*. Don’t forget that many of the organisations (with the honourable exception of Wikipedia) blacking out yesterday against corporate control of the internet are themselves large corporations, and the law-makers agreeing with it are as likely to change their minds as soon as the world’s back is turned.
We cannot trust our representatives to take care of this issue for 363 days of the year: we let them, and they’ve failed. Don’t give them another chance.
– this was first published as a Facebook note to some of Carl’s friends.
i have only just noticed this iwf censorship when typing the dark side of the moon ideo into google.
this clearly is an eu globalist organisation which is allowed by right to run roughshod over the government and human rights legislation with impunity.
how do i know that the people running this organisation and its many “partners”, who it sends the blocked sight url’s to, are not themselves part of a paedophile ring who are using this smoke screen to access internet child porn with impunity?
it wont be very long before this site and others like it are closed down as they are getting very brave now and acting with complete blatant autonomy. they are no longer even trying to conceal their total control agenda.
the sad thing is that no one in the uk has the wherewithall to lift one bloody finger to stop them.
when i post on an internet forum about the, effectively,compulsory mmr scandal and the correlation with autism my virgin internet becomes very slow then disconnects for about 5 hours.
In pure human rights terms, censorship, including that of Newzbin, is better handled by courts than by private bodies. There are benefits such as transparency and appeals: legal balance can be struck in a court. However, that doesn’t make censorship a good policy, it just makes it less likely to be used disproportionately.
On the IWF, I would add two things. Most people don’t want to view child abuse images; therefore they are likely to tolerate censorship, or even be grateful that they won’t come across these images. The number of people wishing to avoid the censorship is small. The incentive to circumvent it is absent except for a very few individuals.
Thus, unlike most other sorts of censorship, it has some ability to “succeed” without making the targets of censorship look like victims. Compare this with copyright, or extremist sites, and you have a very different picture.
On the other hand, there is a significant chance that “blocking” child abuse websites reduces the incentive to find the actual criminals distributing the images. This argument was put forward in Germany by victims of child abuse, who felt that censorship would lead to the authorities failing to track down child abusers. They won the argument in Gernany. Censorship can be argued to reduce the pressure to create international agreements on take down of such sites.
Perhaps as importantly, the infrastructure that the IWF use is now being used for other blocks, such as the Newzbin block. Court-ordered censorship can be put in place through the “Cleanfeed” system. That was something people argued would not happen – but it has.
One other lesson to learn though is how we learn to avoid censorship. Newzbin, for instance can be reached by using the web address https://www.newzbin.com on a BT broadband account, even though http://www.newzbin.com is blocked. This is because the https link encrypts the web address part of the request.
Other blocks, based on IP addresses, can affect multiple sites so are not used. This means the censors must choose between potentially blocking innocent sites, and using a system that can be trivially evaded.
The worst part of this is that we tend to accept censorship if it can be evaded. But that would be a severe mistake. Allowing the state to get into a habit of censoring for the majority while an educated minority continue to access censored sites is deeply unhealthy.
I’ve also added some more of my thinking to http://greenpirateuk.blogspot.com/2012/01/sopa-is-bad-but-censorship-is.html
Good point re International Law. I was also meaning maybe our foreign policy should focus on prosecuting owners of these websites in other countries. As opposed to blocking it all in this country and putting our fingers in our ears pretending we’ve done enough?
I tend to agree with the ORG on an IWF that is open, transparent and publicly accountable- but the focus should be on encouraging other countries to stop/prosecute the abuse happening in the first place.
Jim, thanks! The Open Rights Group has done some amazing work documenting and communicating about UK censorship online, and I stand fully corrected about the DE Act.
One thing I haven’t managed to ascertain from the site, though, is ORG’s position on censorship more generally (or, even more generally, its position on government involvement in the internet). Your “Lessons and questions for the IWF” post (2008, http://www.openrightsgroup.org/blog/2008/lessons-and-questions-for-the-iwf) seems to suggest that the IWF would be fine if it had judicial oversight and greater transparency — this seems to conflict with your position on the “censorship” page you linked to: “censorship is a poor public policy”, etc.
So what’s ORG’s suggestion, then? Should content on the internet *ever* be censored, and if so, by whom, and how? Bear in mind that censorship is not just blocking / filtering; it also includes legal action (e.g. injunctions related to libel claims) against the producers / publishers.
The Green Pirate, I mostly agree with you, but I think the idea of “international law” is a dangerous one to rely on. Currently, “international law” is a euphemism for countries bullying other countries into enacting the laws they want; riffing on the “copyright” theme, read up about the “Anti Counterfeiting Trade Agreement”, or the widely-publicised US bullying of Spain over anti-piracy legislation (http://boingboing.net/2010/12/03/wikileaks-cables-rev.html).
I think there is something of a natural limit on censorship created precisely by the *lack* of “international law”; the only things that would be almost completely unavailable online would be those that every country in the world independently outlaws the production of.
Absolutely agree. Was about to mention the Wikipedia block by the IWF, but you beat me to it!
Surely international law should focus on shutting down and incarcerating those that are producing this kind of material, rather than blocking it? Blocking isn’t preventing the abuse happening, and those that desperate are probably using a proxy anyway.
Thanks Jim. For those who are interested, we had a lovely account of internet history and regulation a few months ago, here: http://brightgreenscotland.org/index.php/2011/05/on-internet-history-and-regulation/
UK censorship is certainly a big problem. The Digital Economy Act did in fact include extra censorship powers, but these haven’t been enacted. Ofcom said they were unworkable.
We are aware of proposals to censor “terrorist” websites, under PREVENT, and for default censorship of “adult” material by ISPs. “Adult” blocking affects websites on mobile Internet today. Frequently, these blocks are on completely innocent sites: if I use a combination of words like adult, sex, dick 2011, dick of the year, oil, virgin, innocent; these may trigger a block on this site. The terms “sex” and “ride” in a sermon appeared a church website blocked recently.
Censorship is a fashionable proposal – especially as the government can encourage “voluntary” arrangements, or “opt out” regimes, and claim that censorship is not taking place. We have more information here:
If you come across censorship on mobile networks, why not report it to us on http://www.blocked.org.uk/