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!