Thursday, June 12, 2008

Britain Moots Internet Regulation

It's hardly surprising from a government that thinks it knows best about everything and tries to control the electorate accordingly, but it's now mooting applying televisual standards to the internet. Excuse me? Is it not bad enough that the corporatisation of the internet is already introducing massive unwanted, unnecessary controls? Are the freedoms which the internet allows, and the likes of which have never previously been known, to be sacrificed for the sake of inhibiting truly dangerous content? Isn't that backward? Then again, this is the government that is so clued up on technology that they think ID cards are a good idea.

Except of course they have a point. The genuinely good on the internet would hardly be touched, if at all, and it would take a brave or foolish person to say that the continuing explosion of objectively dangerous and wrong internet pornography shouldn't be somehow stopped, but there's also huge swathes of grey area, which would likely be trampled by such regulation. The internet has the levelled the playing field for diversity more than any previous technology. We can understand the full spectrum of people's cultures, sexual behaviours, private lives, most personal and uninhibited thoughts. Of course this has opened the same door wide open to child abuse, fundamentalist violence, neo-Nazism and bullying. Should all those things be allowed to occur freely when we aren't remotely comfortable yet at mediating our relationship with this technology?

Of course not, but the absence of regulation also gives us the ability to question whether our national laws and national ideas are sound, by being able to see everything about the way everyone else does things. That in my mind is a freedom we mustn't even accidentally give up, driven by moral panic or not. So do require ISPs to block child porn - it's been a mystery to me why that hasn't been done for a decade or more; it's not like some places don't do it. But don't throw the baby out with the bathwater - blocking Flickr in the Middle East has been a retrograde step, and forcing national filters on that site (which ostensibly doesn't harm anyone), for countries as close as Germany is completely wrong. For the rest we need better intelligence, better ISP, website and governmental intelligence, taking a close look at the individual cases which might cause damage to young people (for this is surely the point of regulation?) or others and deciding case-by-case what needs to be tackled and how. Big governmental decisions on this subject tend to lead to undesirable outcomes.

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