Free Speech != Supporting Criminals

Tonight’s cov­er­age of the inter­net cen­sor­ship debate on Insight (and the sub­se­quent chat, which was … intense — I got quite a few com­ments in, and responded to by the guests!) fea­tured a lot of the pro-​clean-​feed side argu­ing that being against the black­list, or in sup­port of free speech, is to be in sup­port of crim­i­nal behav­iour. (You can review the chat here)

This asser­tion needs to be torn to shreds. It’s a straw man argu­ment.

I/​we are directly opposed to the pro­posed inter­net cen­sor­ship for a vari­ety of reasons:

  • We hold that peo­ple should be able to make their own choices, within the frame­work of the law…
  • … but Gov­ern­ment man­dated cen­sor­ship should never be a part of the frame­work of the law
  • We under­stand that you are inno­cent of any crime, until proven guilty in a court of law
  • The abil­ity to speak freely, do research and come to a con­clu­sion are an inar­guable neces­sity of any democ­racy — no mat­ter the sub­ject, no mat­ter how odi­ous, there are legit­i­mate pur­poses for not restrict­ing access to most (if not all) con­tent (how do researchers at the ANU, hypo­thet­i­cally, study the preva­lence of ille­gal mate­r­ial if they can­not access it?)
  • The pro­posed clean feed does not block the most com­mon routes taken by crim­i­nals for dis­trib­ut­ing their rep­re­hen­si­ble mate­ri­als (p2p shar­ing, pri­vate non-​web file­shar­ing sites, email, etc.)
  • The pro­posed clean feed CANNOT block all meth­ods of access, because the world has encryp­tion; it will always be pos­si­ble to dis­trib­ute infor­ma­tion freely (regard­less of the legal­ity of that material)
  • Expe­ri­ence in Den­mark, Fin­land, South Korea and Thai­land has shown that while fil­ter­ing sys­tems may ini­tially be intended to stop ille­gal mate­r­ial, they are soon used to stop legal mate­r­ial too
  • The leak of the ACMA Black­list has shown that Aus­tralian author­i­ties are not up to the task of admin­is­ter­ing and main­tain­ing the black­list, which con­tained sev­eral erro­neous entries (and there­fore blocked legal material).

A gov­ern­ment is just a group of peo­ple, as fal­li­ble as any other. We do not trust them to make the deci­sions about what we can/can’t view on the Inter­net on a day to day basis, using tax­payer dol­lars; as cit­i­zens, we believe we have the right to self-​inform and self-​educate.

Crim­i­nals, mean­while, should be bought to jus­tice as swi­fly as pos­si­ble. All the money being spent on this flawed inter­net cen­sor­ship scheme should be chan­neled to law enforce­ment agen­cies who can track down, con­vict and pros­e­cute (in a court of law) crim­i­nals of every stripe. We should do every­thing we can to sup­port their efforts with­out censorship.

If the clean feed must go ahead, make it optional. Give par­ents the abil­ity to sign up at an ISP level — which will be harder (but not impos­si­ble) for the kids to get around. Make ISPs men­tion the opt-​in feed at reg­is­tra­tion time and give peo­ple the power to opt in/​out at whim. Adver­tise it — edu­cate the par­ents — pro­tect the chil­dren of par­ents who want that pro­tec­tion to come from the gov­ern­ment, and give all other par­ents the right to make their own par­ent­ing choices.

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