One of the best things about the Internet is that it allows virtually everyone with a connection to have a voice, or almost everyone. Anyone who happens to live in a country with very strict Internet censorship guidelines may find that their voice is not welcome and that they may be cut off from the world at large or even worse. While few people do not know that China often takes flak for its ‘net censorship, what some may find surprising is that countries people tend to associate with freedom are now following suit. Countries such as Australia and France are now publicly unveiling plans to censor the content of the Internet, at least on a selective basis. While France may serve as the butt of many American jokes, keep in mind that the French people have staged violent uprisings against their own government over issues relating to civil liberties in the past, though it seems unlikely that any lives will be lost over the idea of Internet censorship in either country. The fact is that a significant portion of the residents of Australia and France actually seem to support government-run Internet censorship.
Could the United States be one of the next countries to introduce Internet censorship? Possibly, as the entire concept of ‘net neutrality is not well understood by the average person. Those who enjoy broadband have a vested interest in following online censorship, but not everyone is looking for a truly open Internet. Some, especially those with more traditional values, may actually welcome censorship as it is not entirely possible for them to avoid objectionable material with the technology in place today.
Australia and Censorship
The Labour Party of Australia has really gone against the proverbial grain by repeatedly attempting to pass a ‘net censorship bill in much the same way that Democrats in the United States have repeatedly tried to launch a public health care system. The problem is that neither those on the left nor those on the right in Australia have seemed inclined to sponsor such a program until just recently. In 2009, the Australian Communications and Media Authority Act (ACMA) was launched on a trial basis to see what legal saber rattling would do. After all, the RIAA’s flurry of litigation seemed to work well against file sharers for a while and other examples from other countries seem to bear out the idea that citizens and businesses respond to legal threats. Of course, the RIAA eventually adopt other tactics to achieve their goals, but the point is still valid: a little litigation scares the masses into compliance.
The ACMA essentially is more or less a government run and operated blacklist that sites hosted in Australia are not allowed to link to. Additionally, Australian ISPs are required to filter traffic in such a way that content deemed inappropriate is shot down while in transit from one computer to another. While that does not sound horrible or dangerous yet, it is a slippery slope. After all, who sets the standards for what is and is not offensive? But there is also a bigger question: how can one censor the entire Internet? China certainly tries, but offensive material still slips in and out even with a massive government infrastructure and complete control of local telecoms.
France’s Route to Censorship
The French Assembly passed an Internet censorship bill that was not dissimilar to the Australian bill, but the major difference being that the bill is not being adopted tentatively. In the case of France, the bill is expected to become a permanent fixture in French government and society. What this might mean for models and/or producers of adult content in France is unclear, as is the situation for France’s legal sex industry.
Is Censorship Practical?
The additional processing power and network capacity required to manage ISP-based filtering may require substantial upgrades on the part of service providers and/or those that own extensive networks. Whether government incentives would make such a feat financially feasible or not is anyone’s guess at this point in time, but there may be a silver lining to an otherwise ominous looking cloud: more hardware means more money in the economy and more IT administrators.
Could The U.S. Follow Suit?
The million dollar question is whether the U.S. will jump on the Internet censorship bandwagon in any meaningful way. There are some strong arguments that the United States needs to take a more active role in securing the Internet, especially in light of recent security and preparedness reviews by third parties hired by the government. In short, the U.S. is very dependent on the Internet, and stands a lot to lose by leaving it unprotected from a security standpoint. Will getting these security holes plugged require a country-wide firewall similar to the Great Firewall of China? If so, would censorship be part of the package in the U.S. too?
These are certainly questions to ponder, but one thing is clear: in light of security breaches, it is probably only a matter of time until the ‘net in the U.S. becomes hardened and protected. When they happens, the censorship debate is almost certain to heat up. It does not matter which side of the argument one happens to be on, there is a good chance that the future of the Internet might be changing rapidly. Will that change be for the best? It is hard to say, and no two people are likely to agree to what they consider ‘best’ in this regard.
The good news is that protecting citizens from unwanted pornography and content might help reduce crime, but then again Internet censorship might do nothing or even cause an increase in crime. The Internet is still a place where people are exploited every single day, and a little protection might be nice. As so-called state sponsored hackers continue to breach corporate security and businesses lose personal information due to malfeasance, the public may actually cry out for protection even if that same protection comes with censorship that not everyone will agree on.