Charles Richardson writes:


Not content with his failure to resist the government’s attacks on free speech, Kim Beazley yesterday emerged with his own grand plan to force internet service providers to pre-filter content.

As usual, the justification offered is the need to “protect” children,
this time from violent and p*rnographic material. Since adults will
still be able to get access, it is argued that their right of free
speech isn’t infringed.

Firstly, this isn’t true. The burden on adults is not insignificant:
they would have to apply to get unfiltered content, which presumably
means someone in the regulatory authority would have a file of people
who requested access to p*rn – wouldn’t that be a useful thing at
election time? Imagine if adults had to put themselves on a special
register in order to receive material from a particular political party
– would anyone seriously suggest that wasn’t a restriction of free
speech?

But secondly, even if they just apply to children, measures like this
are dangerous because they involve the government making judgements
about what to “protect” against. Why s*x and violence but not, say,
religious fundamentalism and holocaust denial? Some combination of
politicians and ISPs would have to decide what’s beyond the pale and
what isn’t.

And this is not just an academic concern. European regulators, for
example, are frequently mystified by the American attitude of tolerance
for “hate speech” but extreme puritanism towards s*x. Malaysia’s
government, as reported this morning, wants to ban criticism of Islam. And China,
of course, uses internet filtering on a huge scale to avoid “misleading
the general public or exerting an adverse impact on social and public
order.”

If any such scheme is introduced, it’s a fair bet that regulators will
err on the side of caution and ban anything that might be
controversial.
Free speech will be the loser. And of course nothing is as threatening
or subversive as the idea that we should treat children like
responsible human beings.

Peter Fray

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