Wednesday, November 20, 2013

With Freedom and Liberty for Some, Sometimes.

I know, I know, the senate scandal had some interesting things happen this afternoon. But, as I started this post prior to those revelations, we'll talk about this first and senate tomorrow or so. 

Somehow, I have ended up on the mailing list for Conservative MP Joy Smith; I would assume this blog has something to do with it, but who can say for sure. As such, I was treated to today's media release on her inviting a known "pornographic expert" to Canada to speak on the perils of internet pornography.

Smith made some news earlier in the year, as one of the MPs in Canada that lauded the UK's "opt-in" requirement for citizens to be able to access internet pornography. In a nutshell, the UK plans to put an automatic block on access to XXX rated websites; in order to view them, a person would have to call their internet provider and opt in.

Naturally, this has raised a great deal of privacy concerns; with some people going as far as to suggest that a list of "opted in" citizens could be used for nefarious means. (Say in an election campaign; or even perhaps to deny someone a job because they are known to be on the list.)

While those are extreme examples, I would point out that our health records (especially in Saskatchewan) continuously are found in dumpsters, alleyways, street corners, etc; and the concept of such a list falling into public knowledge does exist. Heck, there's even just the occasional 'office snoop', as we've seen with celebrity health records in the US, who is just curious to see what's there.

It also doesn't begin to scratch the surface of the real problem, in that an opt in list is about as effective as a magic rock for keeping away tigers. Opt in lists sounds good to people who don't know the first thing about technology; it's something that sounds effective and foolproof, but is far from.

An opt in list would work likely based on the user's IP address, the means that is used by your service provider to identify your computer. But there are dozens of free, online proxy services at reroute your traffic under a different IP address. These services can be both through your web client, or through a standalone program, and would most likely circumvent the opt in ban.

After all, a proxy can be used to set your traffic as coming from another country ( in the way some enterprising Canadians do to allow themselves access to American Netflix movies and services such as Hulu), so your IP could appear from a country that has no such opt in requirement.

These services are not hard to find, nor do they need a computer science degree to understand. And much like when I was in school, there will be the one kid who knows how to do these things and passes that information along to other students. This is part of the real problem, in that parents are not staying up to date with technological advances.

I self taught myself a computer at 12, with a bit of help from school computer courses that used Macs instead of my home PC; and a lot of trial and error gave me a pretty decent understanding of how to use a computer.

The next generation is even better at it than I was at that age; and I would expect this trend to keep continuing. 

Parents have at home options, such as 'nanny blocker' software that blocks keywords and access to certain sites. Again, for a technologically savvy kid, it won't stop them. Neither will an opt in ban, for the reasons we already discussed.

Older generations, like Joy Smith, see this as a solution to a problem they don't fully understand. While neglecting the fact that those who do understand it, already have seven ways and then some around their solution. 

There is one thing that actually does work, that no tech savvy kid can get around: parental supervision. Keeping computers out of bedrooms, and in public rooms of the house, for example. While that may not stop kids from accessing pornography completely, it's the only real solution, and it requires an effort by parents.

It's also never been fully enforced. That lesson has been around since the advent of home computers, yet I've very rarely seen a computer in an open space for parents to keep watch. Ultimately, it is only the parents who can enforce this kind of rule in their own homes; as legislation will only prove costly and ineffective. 

Or to borrow a phrase from the Conservatives around the gun registry; it criminalizes legal users, and doesn't prevent any crime.

Which brings me to the level of cognitive dissonance that continues to exist in Conservative caucus members and their supporters. The right has always demanded that the government stay out of their lives and bemoaned the creation of the nanny state. 

Yet, conservatives are quick to call for stricter measures and tighter bureaucracy then "left wing"counterparts. You cannot be the party that calls for social libertarianism and decreased government, while also being the party that wants to increase bureaucratic regulation or restrict the free action of others.

As stated, this is the kind of monitoring that does not work well against the tech savvy; of which, children are amongst (especially when compared to parents and grandparents). Direct parental monitoring is cheaper, and far more effective. 

If the conservatives want to protect children from the horrors they might find online, they should give parents the means and the know how to do so. Let's increase tech literacy for adults; let's encourage computers in open rooms, not bedrooms. 

Harper said at the Conservative Convention that they put money and decision making into the hands of real child experts "mom & dad", in reference to the child tax credit; well the same is true on this issue. It's time to let mom and dad watch their children, and expect mom and dad to stay up to date on technology and how their children use it. It will be far more cost effective, and far more effective in general in the long run.

1 comment:

Scott said...

There is one other point, which I somehow over looked in the initial post. Rather than edit, we'll add it here in the comments.

Another problem with this filter technology is who determines blocked content. Photo sharing sites, suck as Flickr, Tumblr, Instagram, and others are not necessarily classified as pornographic; yet, pornographic content can, and does, exist on them.

Would blocking technology cause a blanket ISP ban on these websites, requiring businesses and homes who use them to share 'legitimate' photography, to opt-in?

Even sites like Facebook and Twitter can be used to provide links to content found on these sites; would a block then have people needing to opt-in to use these services?

Hell, even Blogger maintains pornographic blogs. As such, would bloggers such as myself, need to opt-in in order to continue to blog?

There is further concern that this will be a shotgun, not a scalpel, and content will be blocked based on other means.

It's not just as simple as identifying certain websites; as there are numerous social based platforms that are capable of delivering pornographic content, but aren't exclusively for that purpose.

And once you start blanket filtering sites like blogger, tumblr, instagram, flickr, facebook, twitter, etc...You start to run into the real issue with censorship: ultimately, someone is making a judgement call on what needs to be included.

A ban/filter would apply to more than just pornography; as evidenced by these social media sites. As such, we start to run into some very relevant freedom of speech of issues.

If blogger gets put under the blanket of the filter; how long until blogs like mine, and others, need opting into?

There is even recent concern that the UK is already using this filter to target 'extremist' websites (as dubbed by the government) to prevent UK citizens from accessing them; despite lack of pornographic content, in spirit of the bill.

It's a dangerous path, and the first step towards a level of censorship we can't afford. Harper and company have already counted a lot on the 'apathy' and 'willful ignorance' of the electorate to keep them in power despite ethical breaches.

Imagine how much easier that would be if there were no dissenting voices to their presented spin.