Tuesday, 30 December 2008

Internet censorship. Beware the bogeyman

Remember over a decade ago when some UK towns were discriminated against by America Online's email profanity filter? The Scunthorpe Problem, as it came to be known, also affected Penistone and Lightwater (I have never heard what they made of Cockermouth).

More recently, in 2008, Dr. Herman I. Libshitz, a retired radiologist in the US, had difficulty in registering his family name as an email address with Verizon. In his own words:

"Verizon could use my name in the phonebook. They could use my name to bill me. Lord knows they cash my checks with my name on it," Libshitz says. "But somehow, as an e-mail address, it wasn't good. That offended me. I told them it was fine when Uncle Sam wanted me to be in the military"
Eventually, with a newspaper reporter's help:
"They condescended to let me use my own name as an e-mail address. Wasn't that gracious?" Libshitz remarks.
Next into the fray next comes Andy Burnham, the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport who continues to try to impose such misguided censorship. The Telegraph reports:
He [Burnham] is planning to negotiate with Barack Obama’s incoming American administration to draw up new international rules for English language websites.
Giving film-style ratings to individual websites is one of the options being considered, he confirms. When asked directly whether age ratings could be introduced, Mr Burnham replies: “Yes, that would be an option. This is an area that is really now coming into full focus.”
Who will do the rating? Who will judge that my humble light-hearted blog is forever condemned because I use the word Scunthorpe or call someone a rassclat? The Telegraph continues:
However, Mr Burnham said: “If you look back at the people who created the internet they talked very deliberately about creating a space that Governments couldn’t reach. I think we are having to revisit that stuff seriously now.
Oh Mr. Burnham, remember on the 12th November last when you addressed the Internet Advertising Bureau?
We’re a long way from the John Perry Barlow Declaration of the Independence of Cyberspace in 1996, where he declares

‘the global space we are building to be naturally independent of the tyrannies you seek to impose on us. You have no moral right to rule us nor do you possess any methods of enforcement we have true reason to fear. Your legal concepts of property, expression, identity, movement, and context do not apply to us.’

Perhaps you should read all of what John Perry Barlow set down rather than cherry picking.

Its only a short read: A Declaration of the Independence of Cyberspace, but I can cherry pick too.
You are terrified of your own children, since they are natives in a world where you will always be immigrants. Because you fear them, you entrust your bureaucracies with the parental responsibilities you are too cowardly to confront yourselves. In our world, all the sentiments and expressions of humanity, from the debasing to the angelic, are parts of a seamless whole, the global conversation of bits. We cannot separate the air that chokes from the air upon which wings beat.

In China, Germany, France, Russia, Singapore, Italy and the United States, you are trying to ward off the virus of liberty by erecting guard posts at the frontiers of Cyberspace. These may keep out the contagion for a small time, but they will not work in a world that will soon be blanketed in bit-bearing media.

Your increasingly obsolete information industries would perpetuate themselves by proposing laws, in America and elsewhere, that claim to own speech itself throughout the world. These laws would declare ideas to be another industrial product, no more noble than pig iron. In our world, whatever the human mind may create can be reproduced and distributed infinitely at no cost. The global conveyance of thought no longer requires your factories to accomplish.
In conclusion, I'm not sure whether to call Andy Burnham a Scunthorpe a Penistone or a Lightwater, but like too many politicians these days he sure is a Cockermouth.


Mark said...

Great article that one, with good humour. I would like to mention a couple of places that might fall onto the internet censorship desk, There is Crapstone down in Devon and, a particular favourite of mine, the small hamlet of Bellend near Kidderminster.
Happy new year

Andy Holroyd said...

Of course Bellend, and it's close to Redditch, lovely place!