The Department of Internal Affairs (DIA) and ECPAT want to filter our Internet so as to block websites that depict the sexual abuse of children (often called ‘child porn’):
A filtering system to block websites that host child sexual abuse images will be available voluntarily to New Zealand internet service providers (ISPs) within a couple of months, Internal Affairs Deputy Secretary, Keith Manch, said [on 16 July 2009].
As I mentioned in a long blog post yesterday, I’m not sure what I think of this proposal. While I don’t in any way condone such websites I’m not sure that this kind of censorship is appropriate or effective.
What I do question is why and how, given that in New Zealand public opinion is so totally against the sexual abuse of children, there are so many men who seem to think it’s OK.
It’s not like this child sexual abuse is some kind of grey area. It’s not some ‘legal’ nitpicking involving 16 year olds and 15 year olds. It’s not as though all parties involved in the activity are adults, with supposedly the power to choose for themselves what they’re doing.
Apparently these sites depict adults using children who may just be babies. In a society that totally condemns such activity, how can men possibly think it’s OK to visit such sites, download images, and I suppose, movies?
So long as they think it’s an OK thing to do, I suspect we won’t be able to stop them. The authorities censor printed materials and films, but I’d bet books, magazines or movies still enter the country through the mail. If we install filters on the Internet, these guys will surely still find ways around them.
In fact Thomas Beagle explains just why Internet Filtering Doesn’t Work:
…as I’ve found out more about how the filtering will work (see the Technical FAQ), I’ve become increasingly impressed with just how useless it is. The DIA’s proposed internet filtering system is not going to stop the people who want this material from accessing it.
He goes on to explain the points below:
- It can’t intercept encrypted web traffic (https).
- It can’t intercept file sharing, email, chat, instant messaging or anything other than unencrypted web traffic.
- Adding new entries to the filter is a manual process.
- The filter will only be used by some ISPs.
- A motivated person can easily get around the filter.
The proposed filters will block sites whose addresses we don’t know (for obvious reasons). For all we know they may soon extend their scope and block sites that don’t contain child sexual abuse at all. They may also block sites that oppose it, or raise awareness about the exploitation of children or discuss entirely different issues such as adult pornography, or sexual health, or censorship.
We’ve seen that kind of scope creep before in other areas of life.
It seems as though the money being spent on installing and maintaining filters could be better spent on other methods of dealing with the problem.
I don’t know that I oppose censorship though, and I think this is a complex and fraught issue. I’m interested to read the discussions on this topic, and welcome reasoned discussion in the comments here.