It would appear that the government believes that the best way of ‘protecting’ young people is to shield them from ever accessing ‘inappropriate’ material online.
This is wrong for several reasons:
Despite your best efforts, all young people will at some point come across inappropriate things online
Any tool you use to block inappropriate sites will be a fairly blunt instrument leading to false positives
Blocking tools tend to lead to a false sense of security by parents, guardians and educators
Who decides what’s ‘inappropriate’?
The best filter resides in the head, not in a router or office of an Internet Service Provider (ISP).
I don’t want my internet connection to be filtered in ‘the best interests of my children’. I don’t want to be subject to censorship.
I’ve responded to the consultation. I’ve pointed out that their questions are sometimes unfairly worded. For example, I want to respond for one particular question that I don’t think ‘automatic’ parental controls should be in place in any households.
It’s about education, not censorship. Make sure you respond to the consultation, please!
We live in a small, connected world where ideas and policies flow from country to country. In particular, the so-called ‘special relationship’ the UK has with the US means that, effectively, whatever the Americans think is a good idea regarding big business often ends up being implemented (as far as is possible given European legislation) over here.
That’s why I want to bring your attention to the proposed SOPA legislation currently being debated in the US Congress. Ostensibly, the idea is to crack down on piracy and ‘protect’ citizens. The potential reality is very different, with websites and blogs like the one you’re currently reading potentially being censored for even linking to a blog that attempts to circumvent government filtering.
SOPA contains anti-circumvention language that would essentially allow for government control over essential privacy software such as VPNs, proxies, and even something as fundamental as SSH. SOPA also provides for an incredibly broad right of private action that would allow content owners to interfere with the operations of payment processors and social media services such as Twitter.
Every organization I believe represents our interests online is against it – the Electronic Frontier Foundation, Mozilla, Creative Commons, the Wikimedia Foundation – even YouTube, eBay and Paypal.
Please head over to americancensorship.org and do something about this. I’ll leave you with words from James Allworth from Harvard Business School:
[SOPA] contains provisions that will chill innovation. It contains provisions that will tinker with the fundamental fabric of the internet. It gives private corporations the power to censor. And best of all, it bypasses due legal process to do much of it.
We just love our unelected leaders in the UK. Not only did Gordon Brown get to become Prime Minister without being elected to the position, but Peter (now ‘Lord’) Mandelson has his fingers in more pies of government behind the scenes that I think most people realise. I always think of Gríma Wormtongue from Lord of the Rings when I see him.
And now, of course, Mandelson is ‘First Secretary of State’, an honorific title all but making him Deputy Prime Minister. Oh, and he’s also Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills as well as President of the Board of Trade. It’s a completecoincidence, of course, that his interest in the Digital Britain agenda (and ‘protecting’ intellectual property rights) was piqued after being wined and dined by David Geffen, co-founder of the Dreamworks studio with Steven Spielberg.
The Digital Economy Act
You would have thought that after all the scandal about MP’s expenses that Parliament would have cleaned itself up. Unfortunately the closest they get to this is a process called ‘wash-up’. Unfortunately, as Martin Bell writes in the Guardian:
This unfortunately has nothing to do with cleansing parliament from its many stains of corruption – more necessary now than ever. It is the term used to describe the negotiations between the parties to decide which bills will survive at the end of the parliamentary session and which will not. It is a secretive process, the modern equivalent of the smoke-filled room. Those taking part are the parties’ whips and business managers, plus officials from various government departments. Those excluded are the rank and file of MPs, together with independents and crossbenchers in the Lords. The wash-up is a stitch-up devised by and for the main political parties.
Government powers to cut off internet connections of those suspected in illegal file-sharing activities.
More government control over who can register .uk domain names and for what purposes.
As many commentators have pointed out, once the heavy hand of the State is upon you, the burden of proof will rest with you to prove that you haven’t been engaging in illegal activities. Proving that you haven’t done something is obviously a lot harder than you have.
Fortunately, there’s others who think like me. Not least the people behind both The Pirate Bay and the Swedish Pirate Party who have come up with iPREDator (named, ironically, after the PRED legislation in Sweden). It gives users a way of staying anonymous online.
How does it work? Via VPN (Virtual Private Network). Basically, they provide a tunnel through the internet and a proxy server through which to access everything online. You route your internet traffic through this and they guarantee not to spill the beans.
Why do I feel the need to cover my tracks? I’m not a massive user of Bittorrent and I’m certainly not engaged in any terrorist activities. But I do object to the State spying on me and potentially accusing me of stuff to shut down my internet connection. So I’m protecting myself.
In May 2008 I wrote a post entitled What is a VLE? In it, I discussed the ins and outs of various VLEs and linked it to an EdTechRoundup podcast in which I was a participant. I made a passing comment that compared one type of VLE to another. The company whose VLE product I did’t rate very well threatened me (via my school) with legal proceedings. 😮
The upshot was that I felt it was in my best interests to remove the ‘offending’ paragraph so as to not cause difficulties within my school. I replaced it with one that, in my eyes, was more damaging to the VLE vendor: that they’d almost forced me to remove any criticism (however slight) by referring to ‘legal proceedings’ in their communication with my school.
I’ve now added a disclaimer to my blog, saying that my opinions are not that of my employer (school or Local Authority). It does, however, bring up the issue of where the personal ends and the professional begins – and vice-versa…
Have you any experience of this? What was the outcome?