Thursday, March 11, 2010

Censorship started in secret

For the past few months, Thomas Beagle of TechLiberty has been using the OIA to excavate the Department of Internal Affairs' proposed internet filtering scheme. While they haven't been able to gain access to the list, their scrutiny has resulted in greater oversight of it through the appointment of an "Independent" Reference Group (which doesn't include ISPs but it still better than nothing), and an assurance that the filter wasn't going to be started up until DIA had made a public announcement on the matter.

DIA lied. The filter is already running. It has been started up in secret. DIA denies any subterfuge, but the PR advantages of avoiding a public debate and imposing a fair accompli are obvious.

We should not be doing this. The experience overseas - for example, in Australia - has shown that such filters invariably suffer from mission creep and are abused for political purposes (including to censor criticism of the filter itself). While our government assures us that won't happen, they've already demonstrated that their assurances are worthless. But in addition to that, there's the blunt fact that filters don't work. They are trivially circumvented by those seeking objectionable material, meaning that they simply impose risks (and costs) for no purpose. They're a pointless waste of flops, convincing only to the sorts of dead white males who don't understand computers who currently make our laws.