Friday, December 12, 2008

Strange arguments from supporters of Conroy's censorship proposal

The backlash against Senator Conroy's proposed Internet filter for Australia made the New York Times. Two supporters of the filter were quoted in it.

Clive Hamilton, described by the Times as "a senior ethics professor at the Australian National University and a supporter of the plan", said "The laws that mandate upper speed limits do not stop people from speeding, does that mean that we should not have those laws?.....We live in a society, and societies have always imposed limits on activities that it deems are damaging.....There is nothing sacrosanct about the Internet."

Mr Hamilton seems confused about the difference between a legal restriction like laws against speeding and a technological limitation like what's being proposed for the Australian Internet. This filter is not like passing a law - is Mr Hamilton not aware that child pornography is already illegal in Australia?

The correct analogy to Senator Conroy's proposal in the context of speeding would be as if the government started requiring all cars manufactured in Australia to be made in such a way that they could not go over the speed limit at all. Needless to say, no cars in Australia are made like this, and no car maker would ever accept such a stupid and technologically ignorant demand. I admit I don't fully understand the technical details that make such a thing unachievable in today's cars, but I trust the people who do understand when they say that cars need to be made the way that they're made: with the ability to let the user violate speeding laws. It is the task of the user, not the car, to respect the law and refrain from doing so.

And yet when the people who understand the technology that drives the Internet say that requiring an ISP to filter Internet traffic won't work and is a technically ignorant demand, their expertise is ignored because the answer "it can't be done", no matter how accurate and no matter how well-informed the person giving the answer, is not the answer that Senator Conroy wants to hear. And we get subjected to quotes from ethics professors who confuse the issue with inaccurate analogies.

The other supporter was the group ChildWise, who said filtering child pornography on the Internet would be "a victory for common sense". I guess ChildWise is still in denial about the (lack of) effectiveness of the proposed filter.

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