Why I Am Against Proposed Pornography Filters
POSTED BY Kirgy April 28th, 2012 : 4 COMMENTS
“One third of children age 10 in the UK have viewed pornography online.”1 This shocking fact causes a unanimous outrage among the British public. As a Christian I am against such exposure to children, but I am equally against the proposed plans to filter our internet.
How is it that our children are being exposed to such sexual material? What can be done about it? And what seems most important right now; who should take responsibility? These are the key questions in the debate against filtering our country’s internet. It seems to be very much a story of child protection verses the Internet Service Providers (ISP). I, however, think there is a much bigger and fundamental right at stake here.
The proposed solution being pushed by several activist groups, including safetynet,2 is to introduce government legislation which will force those companies providing the internet to block access to pornographic material to any UK home, unless they op-in to have access to it. The theory is that this solution will prohibit children accessing such material unintentionally, and therefore we can protect our children’s innocence and the psychological damage such material can have on young children.
The safety and protection of children in this country is paramount. As a Christian, I am totally in favour of filtering the material that is exposed to children. We need to safe guard children from such things that simply are not good for them. However, there equally are some fundamental issues that need to be addressed.
Centralised Abuse of Control
One problem with the current proposal lies with the structure of the web. This is a quite technical section, if it will go over your head, skip to the next section. But I would encourage you to read through this. The censorship that is being invoked will infringe the way you access the web.
Contrary to many people’s understanding of the web, there is no centralised point. If you wanted to shut down the web, there is no master switch. The web isn’t what in computing is known as a star-network, rather it is a “web” structure where every computer connects to every other computer. This set-up is what is known as “peer-to-peer” or P2P. This structure is what enables the web to remain running. It is why when one website goes down, every other website stays up. The world wide web was made, purposefully, to be decentralised.
Sir Tim Berners-Lee, the inventor of the internet dreamt of a world where information could be exchanged freely through a standard that all computers could understand. He dreamt of a gobal system where the random connections could be linked together through “hypertext” or what is generally known as a web link like this. He chose to do this because if there was any kind of centralised structure, it would lead to abuse of power. If all someone has to do is grab, dominate or destroy one computer and that would give them control of the web, then they can gain power and dominion over others.
So you may be asking where I am going with this. The point is ever since the creation of the web, there has been a political and economic struggle to dominate the web. The decentralised structure liberates the people. It is uncontrollable. The intention is that such power is in the hands of the people. The power of decentralisation is what lead Egypt’s recent uprising to overthrow the shackles of oppression. Services on the web such as Twitter was the uncontrollable fuel to civil liberty. To control the web is to control freedom. To control freedom, is to invoke slavery. To invoke slavery is to remove free will. Free will, even sinful free will, is a liberty God Himself even allows.
How then is it even possible to place some kind of censorship on the web? This raises a point of technicality, but I’ll keep it simple. Every computer on the web has a unique number known as an IP address. When you pay your ISP money every month for internet access, that essentially, is what your paying for. An IP address allows your computer to be spoken to; without an IP address you cannot connect to the internet. Everything that goes through the internet on your computer, therefore, goes through your ISP. This is semi-centralisation. It is “semi” because there are many ISP’s. It is “centralisation” because many connect to one ISP’s.
This is an problem, because the web was made to be decentralised, therefore when something is centralised it breeds opportunity for control, and is susceptible to abuse. In the case of internet censorship, it give grounds for our internet to be filtered by our ISP’s.
A Confession, and Bypassing Proposed Filters
As a theology student my Bible College has a filter on the network in place that they see as a good measure in order to help students be protected from unintentional, and intentional access to pornography among other things. This is justifiable because every student that attends the college agrees to a set of Biblical and College principles regarding sex before marriage and that in relation to exposure to pornographic material.
However, as some of the English may know, these same filters exist on mobile phone networks. The issue is they don’t always work the way you want them to. At my College I had heard through Facebook that there was an underage girl who was hired by a Strip Club in my local town. A student provided a link to a local newspaper documenting the story online. When trying to access this the filter system automatically read the terms: strip club, sex and underage and blocked the content to my browser.
This is the fundamental problem with the proposed system. In a perfect world where every website could categorise themselves explicitly as pornographic or non-pornographic, one could easily filter content. However, instead systems rely on filtering access to sites based upon key words and scanning the content of the page before it is shown on the users computer.
Being a server geek, my simple solution was to encrypt my traffic through my own server. Creating what is known as a tunnel. This activity is against my College policy, however, my concern for my civil, social and democratic liberty was far more important than College policy. The College, unintentionally, has decided to censor my freedom of speech. This is a fundamental right of any democracy. And I believe, it is a fundamental right of any human being. Even Christians. Yes, even God agrees. Why else would He allow mankind to sin? Why else would we need redemption? It should be every single individual’s right to choose what they can and can’t say. To remove this on the web is to oppress and censor freedom of speech.
Sir Tim Berner-Lee in his book Weaving The Web gives a great example of how this centralised filtering measure could deeply infringe democratic liberty. Say a government creates a campaign website. On this website they were able to determine what interests and character traits your possessed. Of course this would be very difficult under the non-centralised structure of the internet. But if centralisation did exist, and in particular, government controlled centralisation through access to web traffic, then the government could tailor the web page as it is requested, to meet a user target audience. For a Christian not in support of same sex marriage, government policy in support of same sex marriage would be omitted from the website. However, for homosexuals, this policy would be seen on the website. This filtering technique would dramatically damage our democratic election process.
I’m in support of protecting the children in our country. I am personally against pornographic material, especially on the internet. I am absolutely in favour of industry, as well as government and parents protecting our children from such exposure.
However, I am against any form of censorship of my right for free speech. If our democratic society is going to function, we need to be able to view and access without hindrance content that some may find offensive. As a Christian I am concerned that if such censorship legislation were to be passed, it allows opportunity for other activist groups to proposed blocking of material that I may wish to access. This could include issues on homosexual marriage, radical views on ethnic equality etc. It doesn’t mean I will accept these views, nor will it mean I like that they were said; I may not even access such material. But if we are to take away people’s right to speech, we are taking away their free will. Taking away their free will is an act even God himself does not do. It is a fundamental human, and Christian, right to speak and act freely.
There is so much more that can be said, especially in regard to biblical basis of freedom, responsibility of individuals for others, and the Church’s role within a secular democracy. Those points will have to wait for another day. This document may change to clarify statements made in the future.