There is a huge public discussion on internet pornography. Whether we realise it or not, porn is a very large (read profitable) part of the internet. Censorship is being considered and lots of organisations are calling for governments to variously protect children, filter porn, provide regulation etc.
Worthwhile organisations like the Australian Family Association have posted articles calling for an urgent mandatory filtering of pornography at a national ISP level and make statements like this Every Australian has a fundamental right to access the internet free from pornography and extreme violence.
While I completely agree with the intention behind these statements, they fall short in a number of areas.
The first area where these ideas fall down is the actual concept of censorship and responsibility.
If we pass the responsibility for censorship to a government then individuals have effectively abdicated their own responsibility in these areas. Now porn that gets through is the governments fault not the individuals. Clearly this is faulty reasoning. Additionally this hasn't worked with print and film censorship and is not what government's role in society should be. A secondary question about censorship is who censors the censors? There are darkened rooms where people sit and watch X rated (and worse) movies now for the purpose of censorship now. These people have become deadened and de-sensitised to what they see and read.
A second and more technical problem is the actual desire for a National ISP controlled filter. Ignoring the censorship questions of what is and isn't censored and on what basis legitimate sites that are accidentally banned can object etc. there is the actual technical difficulty of doing this. The well meaning people who have made these requests for national filters have ignored or simply don't understand the actual structure of the internet. (Not counting the recent incident of the $84 million internet filter the government built that was hacked in 30 minutes by a 15 year old school kid.)
The internet was designed to be a self replicating, automatically re-routing non single point of information for the American Military in the case of a massive strike against the continental states. The WWW or World Wide Web actually is a subnet of the internet. Porn sites operate and exist using the same DNS (Domain Name Server) resolution as any other website. To create a filter would mean being able to hold in a database references to every single website (probably impossible) and categorise and limit them some how (humanly impossible). Filters must therefore rely on "rules" that filter content based on specific words, etc. Legitimate sites can be trapped by these - think breastfeeding advice websites, sexual abuse help websites, etc. Of course these rules can also be outfoxed. A simple and easily understood example is the recent rise in SPAM utilising images to contain the text that would normally be blocked by a text based rules spam filter. Spoofing websites to appear to be other than what they appear to be is simple, and easy to do. Simply Google "proxy web servers" to see how the "great wall of China" (the largest attempt at censoring individuals access to the internet - short of actually turning it off as Libya has done) can be easily bypassed. The ingenuity of individuals is that there is always going to be a way around any filter that is created.
I think that personal integrity and self regulation by individuals and families with open discussion about the problems, training and education about how to avoid problem areas of the internet are far more practical and realistic solutions.
I have only discussed two problems with these attempts to "filter" the internet. There are many more. I think the worst problem is actually a lack of education and training. This article titled The Dark Side of the Internet published recently illustrates the level of "scare-mongering" that is happening, and also further illustrates the wrong understanding of the internet, and in my opinion an incorrect methodology for resolving the issues. Strange for an organisation that takes a strong stance on issues like abortion and civil unions.
Rather than encouraging our children to "clean up their digital dirt" before applying for jobs, and using the internet anonymously as scared timid people, we should teach them to be open and active participants in communities. In the same way we don't allow pedophiles and other sexual predators to take over our local parks and force us into hiding for fear of them, parents and communities can take back their parks and force the predators into hiding instead. This has happened in a park near our house where the community as a whole had enough of the activities of a certain minority of people using the park for clandestine sexual activity. The toilet stall doors were removed by the council, the park undergrowth cleaned up and local organisations began using it actively. It is no longer a hang out for gay men looking to pick up.
In the same way we can shame these predators who would target our children out of the community and social networking websites and let them know in no uncertain terms that these places re off limits and their activities will not be tolerated. Digital signatures are very hard to mask completely against all forensic detection. People who use these sites for wrong purposes can be tracked down and convicted.
Lets not be scared of the internet. Lets rejoice in the friends and communities and the people we have met and made online. Lets teach our children to share in a digital world that will be the richer for their presence. Doug and Cathy are two people who are doing that.
Looking forward to some feedback on this one! What are your thoughts? Add your comments below.