I heart Hillary

In an address to the Newseum yesterday in Washington DC, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton explored the importance of internet freedom.  The position of the United States was spelled out very clearly:

We stand for a single internet where all of humanity has equal access to knowledge and ideas. And we recognize that the world’s information infrastructure will become what we and others make of it. Now, this challenge may be new, but our responsibility to help ensure the free exchange of ideas goes back to the birth of our republic.

Hillary Clinton, I’d like to introduce you to the dishonourable Stephen Conroy.  He likes long walks on the beach, and slowing down Australia’s internet access because he’s awful scared that we Aussies are going to get into bestiality and stuff.

I mean, we ALL acknowledge that “when it comes to curious kids with technically-adept mates and plenty of time on their hands, or desperately secretive pedophiles trading their nasties, the filter will be nothing but a minor inconvenience.”

But today I was just so pleased to see this debate return to the sphere of philosophy, rather than technicality.

Yes, I oppose the filter because it will slow the internet down.

Yes, I oppose the filter because it is a wate of time and money to implement a scheme that anyone can bypass if they are so inclined.

But, above all of this, I agree with Hillary, and applaud the United States for taking such a hard line on the restriction of the free exchange of ideas.

Colin Jacobs today put it nicely when he explored the Australian Government’s self-serving media release which took Clinton’s comment that “all societies recognise that freedom of expression has its limits” and spun it so fast that it made me dizzy.  Jacobs republished Clinton’s comment in context, and it is worth reposting them here:

Now, all societies recognize that free expression has its limits. We do not tolerate those who incite others to violence, such as the agents of al-Qaida who are, at this moment, using the internet to promote the mass murder of innocent people across the world. And hate speech that targets individuals on the basis of their race, religion, ethnicity, gender, or sexual orientation is reprehensible. It is an unfortunate fact that these issues are both growing challenges that the international community must confront together. And we must also grapple with the issue of anonymous speech. Those who use the internet to recruit terrorists or distribute stolen intellectual property cannot divorce their online actions from their real world identities. But these challenges must not become an excuse for governments to systematically violate the rights and privacy of those who use the internet for peaceful political purposes.

OK, so she’s probably talking a little bit more about China than she is about Australia here, but as a teacher in a NSW public school, I have seen how horribly wrong a well-intended filtering system can turn out.

FACT: People in charge of filters get it wrong.  Anyone who’s ever had to deal with government agencies like Centrelink know that the system can’t be trusted to make no mistakes.  Carbon-based errors abound.

FACT: Filters are not sensitive enough to ambiguous content. The classic example in schools is the filtering of sites relating to the book Moby Dick.

FACT: SLOPES ARE SLIPPERY! And I don’t trust our government to decide what’s best for me considering decisions that have been made relating to euthanasia, gay marriage and abortion laws.

Senator Conroy’s report was released last December, just in time to spoil our Christmas break.  I’m so glad that an antidote has come today in the shape of Hillary Clinton to bolster our cause in time for Australia Day!

  1. #1 by Simon Borgert on January 22, 2010 - 5:22 pm

    Kelli,

    This is an excellent post and a very good summation of all that is wrong with censorship of the internet. Free choice is the cornerstone of what our society is based on. I have fond memories of visiting the people standing on soap boxes in the Domain, Sydney – Web 2.0 is the new way of doing the same thing – with potentially a much larger audience.

    My first teaching job was in a boys private school that had the first wireless network in Australia (second laptop school. It had no internet filtering (saving the running his eye over a list of visited sites). it worked on a system of trust and education – quite successfully. This is what I believe we should be doing in our schools and with our countries access to the internet

    #nocleanfeed

    • #2 by Nathan Eldred on January 23, 2010 - 12:45 am

      I was one of those first students. It opened us up to a world more exotic than the stories of our older brothers and I’ve grown up morally open with a keen interest in the outside world.

  2. #3 by Troy on January 22, 2010 - 5:27 pm

    Freedom of choice, individual decision, the ideal of a democratic society is based upon debated like these. The Kevin Rudd led Federal government is, like previous Federal governments, trying to please too many people at one time. The federal level of government continues to suggest freedom of choice for parents, via providing a website comparing schools based upon a once a year narrow written exam, the same policy should also apply here.
    Love the post…OK, so she’s probably talking a little bit more about China than she is about Australia here, but as a teacher in a NSW public school…Try researching breast cancer…hideous.

  3. #4 by Tomaz Lasic on January 22, 2010 - 5:31 pm

    Good post Kelli

    Been thinking about something for a while… and then I read Why is Google Afraid of Facebook at ReadWriteWeb (recommend) and your post.

    The most ancient of filters, the human network, is the third major filter that is increasingly gaining prominence, alongside the two institutionalised and glorified ones: the market (Google as an example – much for their algorithms, you throw enough money at your website and it will pop out on that all important first 20 hits), and the state (China, Iran, Conroy ;-) … ).

    It is the convergence of the three that we will have to negotiate more and more. Each can support, supplant and overcome each other, even if crudely and brutally sometimes. And that is the honest conversation we need to have with those we elect, buy from/sell to and connect with, hopefully with less of the useless spin of ‘this is to protect our children from online predators (even teacher ones!)’ (95% of cases of abuse happens by family (friends) … where is the outrcy, where is the filter!) or the promised e-hippie digital nirvana where everyone is happy (as English teacher you’d know Beckett’s “we are happy, what do we do now?” line).

    Scuse the ramble & welcome to the mess, Hillary is on the ball (and so are you by the looks of it :-) …)

    I look forward to sharing a glass of wine with you one day … soon. :-)

    Take care

    Tomaz

  4. #5 by kmcg2375 on January 22, 2010 - 5:34 pm

    Troy, I also found, doing a unit in English on Video Games, that the students couldn’t do any research at school because sites in the entire category of ‘Videogames’ were banned.

  5. #6 by Alexander Lucas on January 22, 2010 - 5:47 pm

    Kelli, Brilliant article! :)

    I agree 100% and have been always against mandatory filtering. There are march 6 protests and I will be attending the sydney one :)

  6. #7 by kmcg2375 on January 22, 2010 - 5:55 pm

    Absolutely Tomaz!
    Thanks all for the tweets/retweets too.

    It’s a tough topic because I keep finding myself thinking about parents that I know who are seriously gung-ho and all for filtering the internet to protect their kids. I feel like such a meanie sometimes, basically fighting for a philosophy and a system that keeps some very wrong content online.

    But, at the end of the day, the protection argument is bunk. It’s far more important IMO to educate children to be discerning readers/viewers of all types of media, not just online.

    And I always recall sitting at my friends’ kitchen table with her young kids, surfing YouTube for videos of The Wiggles. One video changed halfway through to incredibly scary footage of vampires from the film The Lost Boys. It was very disturbing. Lesson: it is just not possible to block everything that is going to be disturbing to children on the web, because that category is very, very large indeed. Parents who are concerned about this should be monitoring their children’s internet use from within their own home, not trusting the job to the government.

  7. #8 by Rageeb on January 22, 2010 - 6:11 pm

    I couldn’t agree more with your last point about this being a slippery slope. Over time the criteria for the filter will grow as the more and more groups lobby for what they perceive as ‘offensive’ to be filtered.
    On the topic of China though – Google are making a stand for freedom advocates:
    http://www.telegraph.co.uk/technology/google/6977627/Google-will-quit-China-unless-web-censorship-ends.html

  8. #9 by Shani on January 22, 2010 - 7:06 pm

    Our school had Charles —-ens appear on an internal Moodle page yet didn’t block pornographic pictures when a student of mine was completing a project of how various cultures viewed body piercings. I’m sure you can imagine some of the pictures she found!

    Actually, I swing on this argument a little. I have been in the frustrating position of a few students constantly checking out the surf online (where they really wanted to be) even though most of the students were happily engaged in the lesson. I was in a room that was hard to move around and hard to see screens.

    The first time this happend was in Yr 12 Economics. My intial reaction was to request the website to be blocked: http://www.coastalwatch.com/camera/cameras_large.aspx?cam=3300&state=NSW&t=6:46:04%20PM&camName=Mona%20Vale (showing the closest beach to our school). But then he brought in surf magazines, used his phone, etc, etc. At least the PC method was less distracting to other students. The boy’s parents supported my efforts to complete the work he constantly missed in class, which he did under the watchful eye of his Dad. It was brought to me, I approved it and he promptly threw that work in the bin. The holidays before the HSC he spent at his brother’s servant quarters on a beach in Vanuatu with a mate from the same class. Frustrating to say the least.

    The second time was a Year 9 boy in Commerce. When the site was blocked he just looked at photos of himself surfing he kept in his personal network folder at school. When I showed interest in his extra-curricular activity and consequently had a lengthy discussion about his surfing, he was more inclined to limit his wave watching. Loosely related, the class celebrated when his cousin won a medal in sailing at the Beijing Olympics. He was (is) such a keen surfer he kept his school (uniform) shorts really low, exposing most of his underpants, to hide his tan mark from the boardshorts he wore surfing. He complained the compusory school belt didn’t have enough notches. I brought a leather punch to class and fixed that one. The whole class, including the student, had a good laugh at that. But isn’t it funny that he’d rather expose his underpants than his tan mark!? That was two years ago and even though I haven’t taught him since we’re still friendly.

    Generally I am supportive of a lack of censorship but then a tricky situation arises in class and doubt enters.

    Cheers

    Shani

  9. #10 by Nathan Eldred on January 23, 2010 - 12:50 am

    America has a lot of censorship built into their society and Australia’s stance on several legal issues is different.

    However, if Australians want to fight censorship, they should fight for a Constitutional Bill of Rights so these types of laws can never be valid in this country.

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