Censorship And You

October 19, 2011

Political Theory

As the Internet becomes more and more a part of our lives, the rules which govern its existence become more important. I sense from many governmental figures a lack of understanding of Internet-related issues and of the impact of their actions. For example, a judge attempted to censor a website by removing its DNS records, and Australia and the UK dabble in filtering. (Not to mention China!) Many questions are raised: are there some things which the government is obligated to censor? If so, what things, and who determines when content falls into those categories? Should censorship lists be open to review by the public? Is it even technologically possible to censor in a robust way?

My opinion is that it is not a government’s place to censor content. However, this gets difficult very quickly – what about classified information such as that on informants or military operations? If made public, such information could lead to significant harm. That said, I get the impression governments can be somewhat hasty with classifying something as not for public eyes. A review process seems important to counter error and corruption/expansion of purpose, yet paradoxically involves allowing access to the very things it exists to deny access to. The robustness of the filter is relevant – if it’s easy to get around, it may draw attention to what it intends to hide. To be robust, it would have to be able to read all information, which – in addition to being incredibly difficult/impossible to implement – has massive security and privacy implications.

Is a communication medium which resists censorship a bad thing? For example, during the London riots, there were questions as to whether BBM, Twitter, and Facebook were to blame for not actively policing messages, or for their reluctance to aid law enforcement’s efforts against their users. (The latter in Twitter’s case at least.) Do common carrier protections apply for these platforms?

The underlying question I see in this is whether affording people privacy is dangerous. Projects such as Freenet exist to provide a censorship-resistant platform for communication. They allow terrible things to be communicated, yet is it worth it to attempt to stop it? My thought is that while communication technology can certainly be used for harmful things, the alternative of attempting to restrict communication is worse. Worse in not just that restriction stifles discourse (1915 wasn’t too long ago; what was once unthinkable can become accepted), but that the effort can result in harm without even achieving its goals. If a communication medium is open to the complete inspection and control of a government, things that aren’t allowed there will move elsewhere, and those that still use it will be left without privacy or an area for open discussion. I believe that censorship does incredible harm to the maturation of opinion and understanding, and has significant detrimental effects on privacy and other civil rights. How about you?

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2 Comments on “Censorship And You”

  1. finkelbr Says:

    Freedom of speech, freedom of speech, freedom of speech. I absolutely disagree with the US government censoring the internet. I agree with you when you say that this is not the governments place. Many websites already have privacy protections, the ability to block your information, and many other tools to make sure that your information stays secure if you so wish. It should be up to the user of the internet and the owner of that domain to decide what is censored and what is not. There is no reason for the government to decide for me what I can and cannot post on a blog or who I can or can not give my personal information to over the internet.

    I do not think that the military informant situation is plausible. The government has certain software and security for the sole purpose of keeping all of the classified information secure. This information is not just on the world wide web avaialble to all who google it. I beleive there would be no “hastiness” with the obvious censorship of this type of information because as american citizens we want this information to be censored.

    If the government were to start putting restrictions and censors on platforms such as twitter and BBM people would no longer have much interest in using them. These platforms are so attractive because they allow you to say what u want, whenever you want, to whomever you want. The censorship of these platforms would, in my opinion, take these platforms out of business and upset the citiznes due to their infringment on their freedom of speech.

    I couldnt agree with you more when you say “censorship does incredible harm to the maturation of opinion and understanding, and has significant detrimental effects on privacy and other civil rights”.

    • Steve Dougherty Says:

      I don’t quite follow your point on military informants – can you clarify? Are you suggesting leaks don’t happen? I don’t think it’s safe to say that because “American citizens” want something censored it should be done – who is to judge what the citizens want?

      > If the government were to start putting restrictions and censors on platforms such as twitter and BBM people would no longer have much interest in using them.

      I hope this is true, but I don’t know if it actually is. My thought is that many people don’t much care until it affects them, or may agree that the government should work to silence troublesome voices. I lack perspective on this as I haven’t lived in other countries, but it occurs to me that censorship does occur on the internet at large: ICE will seize domain names without court order. While there are networks such as Tor, I2P, and Freenet which provide means to fight censorship like this, it does not seem to have affected Internet usage overall.

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