"Our whole constitutional heritage rebels at the thought of giving government the power to control men's minds." Thurgood Marshall, 1969
My new adopted country has done some strange things and holds a few oddball beliefs that cause me to cringe, but whenever I look back at Good Old Blighty I'm amazed at the stupid that emanates from the kingdom. Given that most – well, many – Brits are reasonable and educated people, I can't understand how it perpetually gets the governments it gets.
In the news today is Andy Burnham, the Culture Secretary (even his name is Orwellian). His plan is to censor the internet to protect us from ourselves.
“There is content that should just not be available to be viewed. That is my view. Absolutely categorical. This is not a campaign against free speech, far from it; it is simply there is a wider public interest at stake when it involves harm to other people. We have got to get better at defining where the public interest lies and being clear about it.”
No one would take this utter bullshit seriously if Andy didn't drive it home by declaring we Have To Take This Step To Protect The Children. If you don’t agree, you must be a pedophile. And the pedophile is the boogieman of modern British morality tales.
It worries me - like anybody with children,” he says. “Leaving your child for two hours completely unregulated on the internet is not something you can do."
That's true. And no parent would do it, I hope, particularly as there are hundreds of programs and filters and parental controls you can fit on your computer to prevent your children from accessing sites you do not approve of. Programs that work by preventing the content from arriving on your own computer. Not ones that work by preventing the content from existing, or from arriving at anyone in Britain's computers. Or…wait:
“The change of administration is a big moment. We have got a real opportunity to make common cause,” he says. “The more we seek international solutions to this stuff – the UK and the US working together – the more that an international norm will set an industry norm.”
Make that anybody in Britain's and anybody in America's computers. Andy thinks big.
Do you want your access to information controlled by a man who says,
“If you look back at the people who created the internet they talked very deliberately about creating a space that Governments couldn’t reach. I think we are having to revisit that stuff seriously now."
- apparently quite unaware that the "people who created the internet" were the American Government and had nothing to say to about creating a space that governments couldn't reach?
Most of the comments on the Daily Telegraph interview with this idiot say either that Something Should Be Done but this isn't the way to do it, or say that his idea won't work.
Alas, it will work, if the daft sod can muster the political will to get it done. He does not have to go after the 1.8 billion websites, hosted worldwide and changing on a regular basis. He only has to tell the handful of British ISPs they are out of business if they don't censor their traffic. They will be happy to do so. The only business a regular ISP values is commercial business. eBay keeps itself clean. Google censors itself for China, so you wouldn't see any problems there. Amazon is nice. Your blog might not be nice, but an ISP doesn't care about your blog, or your need for blogs. Why should they care if you are no longer able to access Furry websites? Why would it bother, say, Tiscali if you were a young gay man who cannot find access to a safe sex website? And if a kid is looking up breastfeeding to learn more about what his mother is doing with his new little brother, screw him. He won't have any money until he's 18 so he doesn't need access to information. Think I'm joking? Facebook is in the news this week because of its ban on pictures of breastfeeding. Their definition of indecency is apparently a visible areola.
Australia is planning to ban thousands of websites. Only the other day an unelected British body made a decision about a picture of a 30 year old album cover, never declared illegal, suggesting that it damn well oughta be illegal. By some ill-thought out crapulousness of British law, it was in this body's power to stop almost all ISPs in Britain from displaying that picture (or in fact the web page on which the picture was displayed, largely concerning how controversial the image was). (Scorpions cover controversy). The government can do it, all right.
But, I hear someone say, surely Something Must Be Done? Hardly. There isn't that much legal 'harmful' material on the internet, anyway. Most things that are 'harmful' (such as pedophilia) are already illegal. In England (I don't know so much about Scotland) almost any activity you can imagine is either compulsory or illegal, so websites which display the latter are already subject to prosecution. Anyone in the wider world who has travelled to England to take advantage of suing under the most repressive libel laws in the western world, or who owns what is now being known as "extreme porn", or has considered posting on his or her website or blog any of thousands of proscribed topics, already knows that. New laws aren't needed to keep illegal content off the web.
The reason the British government wants to censor the internet is not because children are dying in agony all over its anarchic frontier. They aren't. The Won't Someone Think of the Children meme is getting old. The government wants to control the internet because it wants to control you. It has not changed its view since it asked the public if Lady Chatterley was the sort of book you'd want your wives or servants to read. It considers you a minor, a ward of the state. It believes you need its protection or there will be tears before bedtime. The thought that you might give or receive information it has not vetted is making it squirm in horror. It will be happy when you are required to have an ID card and you have to give the number and add your biometrics before you can visit the internet, and it will monitor your access the way it monitors your emails and your phone calls.
There's no question who is going to define what this useless twat calls the "wider public interest" – he is, with his pet think tanks of bishops and assorted young crazies. Your narrow private interest, your political party, your kink, your foreign cause, your children talking about their activities – will all be monitored and assessed by people who think free speech is dangerous.
Free speech is not dangerous. It is the only system that works