Will no one think of the adults!

Well, what a busy few weeks we have been having with t’Interweb and censorship.

First, we were treated to a storm in a teacup over ISPs trying to block WIkipedia’s article on a Scorpions album  which resulted in access to the site becoming generally problematic (IP addressing issue; I’m sure anyone who really cares about the detail already knows about it).  I’m not particularly interested in this discussion about whether the image did cross the line – it’s the impact of the ISP actions which I am concerned with here. The point I want to make relates to the prevention of access to uncontroversial information for a number of random people.

Then our ever geeky Home Secretary decided it might be a good idea to set up a system to monitor all emails, telephone calls, texts and browse history. Through a private firm. That bodes well, given our government’s in-depth understanding of IT generally and IT security in particular. Although the European Commissioner for Human Rights remains unconvinced, the old worry wart. Anyone would think that this idea alongside the police DNA database add up to either a sinister world plan, or possibly an opportunity for major wide-scale identity theft – although I could always delete my DNA and get a new set. Oh, wait, no I couldn’t. Now I remember, that’s one reason why it’s a bad idea – along with centralised ID cards.

Then we had Facebook banning pictures of mothers breast feeding. This one just left me completely speechless. Completely.

Now, we have the government trying to control what we look at on the web. There is an excellent article with further discussion here. I was particularly taken with the idea of them approaching Obama’s (IT-literate) new administration. Anyone care to bet on the Americans keeping a straight face in that conversation? It’s ill-conceived, impractical and unnecessary, and clearly the brain-child of someone for whom the Internet is a Foreign Country.

It’s like a time warp. Or have I moved to China and not noticed?

Back in the late 1980s I worked for a charity that communicated with staff behind the Iron Curtain. We used Fidonet, a bulletin-board based system, to send messages and the state authorities were sufficiently unaware of IT at the time not to be able to (a) fully intercept and (b) translate messages. It didn’t stop them trying occasionally, of course, but they were ill-equipped for the task, and messages tended to get through regardless.

Now things have moved on and IT systems can monitor communications for us. That’s how the various pieces of nanny software work. This has coincided with increased Internet usage and the rise of irritants such as viruses, spam, phishing and identity theft.

And I can choose what I allow and don’t allow.

Because I am an adult.

Andy Burnham, the Culture Secretary, appears to know nothing about the Internet, the issues around freedom of expression or the ability of individuals to make decisions for themselves.  If his bright idea comes to reality, and I can only view sites suitable for children, what happens to a whole range of sites that the Moral Crusaders wouldn’t approve? Will I still have access to sex education (because I believe my kids are entitled to know what is what, and which bits cause what, more importantly), to political debate (which might not agree with the government of the day), dodgy humour (and there are plenty of examples of problems around different interpretations of what it means to be funny) and ideas outside the mainstream.

"There was of course no way of knowing whether you were being watched at any given moment. How often, or on what system, the Thought Police plugged in on any individual wire was guesswork. It was even conceivable that they watched everybody all the time. But at any rate they could plug in your wire whenever they wanted to. You had to live—did live, from habit that became instinct—in the assumption that every sound you made was overheard, and, except in darkness, every movement scrutinized."
George Orwell

Let us not forget that no matter how well-meaning the current administration is, once this kind of approach is accepted, there is no going back.

And, I am an adult.
 

For more information, see the Open Rights website – while you still can.

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