British Re-Invent The Wheel—and Fail

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To our British cousins:

You needn’t have bothered.

When your Prime Minister David Cameron announced his intention to “protect young people” by requiring your ISPs to impose mandatory internet filters on their customers, we Americans already knew what was going to happen.

See, we tried that a long time ago, and it failed miserably—just like you are now. Our Congress proposed its first such internet filtering law all the way back in 1995, and has frequently attempted to control material “harmful to minors,” even criminalizing “virtual child porn” involving no actual children. And to receive federal funding, American libraries and universities must install computer blocking systems (some of which block this blog, by the way), whose blacklists are protected corporate secrets.

Back then, many of us predicted the results—that filters would be over-broad and disruptive. Not surprisingly, sites were blocked that refer to breast cancer, sexual orientation, and rape. Congressman Dick Armey’s site was blocked, as was Middlesex County’s. And was blacklisted because it described teams for “boys under 12.”

Your British attempts to censor the internet are creating the same results. One of your ISPs blocked access to the website for Glasgow’s St. Mary’s Cathedral, the blog of its provost. A second ISP blocked access to charity sites including ChildLine, the NSPCC and the Samaritans. Other websites blocked include the British Library, National Library of Scotland,you’re your Parliament.

And your best unexpected blocking of all is the site of Claire Perry, the Member of Parliament who campaigned so prominently for the new law. How’s it feel, Claire? Oh, your site is legitimate and shouldn’t be censored? That’s how the owners of every single other site being blocked feel. When simple imagery is concerned, danger is in the eye of the beholder. Some would say that a legislator who doesn’t trust democracy or British adults is pretty dangerous.

Even if internet filters could be perfect—which they can’t be—their use is still a problem in democratic countries. Democracy demands the free flow of information. Democracy demands that government trust its people. Democracy demands that people, not the government, decide what they want to access themselves. Internet filters are domestic terrorists.

I’ve been in countries with mandatory internet filtering, like China. And I’ve just returned from Burma, where until just 2 years ago they didn’t bother with filters—they just regulated who could own a computer and a modem. Do you want to be in the same censorship club as China and Iran?

My British cousins, if you want to protect young people, address the real dangers they face: texting while bicycling, texting during school, texting people instead of learning how to talk to them, watching sports instead of playing them.

And did I mention texting while bicycling? It’s the single most dangerous junior high-school activity in America. I’d never let my kid play high school football, but its danger pales in comparison to the dangers of driving while texting—which at least 1/3 of American kids do. What’s the British data on this?

Porn? Yeah, kids learn the wrong stuff about sex from it, but there’s a great, non-censorship approach to that problem. It’s called parenting—talking to kids about sex. Apparently, you British need more of that. I know we Americans do.


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