Could online censorship be rolling down a slippery slope?
Efforts in the United Kingdom to protect children online have some feeling concerned about the state of Internet freedom in the country.
When it comes to freedom of speech, there are going to be opinions that not everyone agrees with. Be them conflicting ideas on race, religion or the government, there are always a variety of different view points. Some of them can be quite offensive, however, in many western countries, they are generally allowed to be spoken none the less. For instance, the American Civil Liberties Union has defended the Ku Klux Klan in the past so that the group was allowed to participate in the Adopt-A-Highway program in Georgia.
The point is not so much defending one opinion or the other, but allowing everyone to have a voice. Though limiting these attempts can sometimes seem well intentioned – the opinions of the Ku Klux Klan are extremely racist - the act of doing so can lead down a path that could create an environment that is too encouraging of censorship.
UK's potentially slippery slope
This is what many people are growing concerned about across the pond in the U.K. Writing for Forbes Magazine, Emma Woollacott explained in an opinion piece that the country could be "sleepwalking" toward online censorship. She examines the statements that Eric Schmidt of Google made with regard to Internet censorship ending in the next decade through better encryption technology, however, she warns that for this to become the case, countries throughout the world will need to want to stop it.
However, Woollacott feels that this is not necessarily the case in the U.K. There has been a lot of commotion recently regarding Prime Minister David Cameron's plans to introduce filter that would block pornographic content for Internet users. This is aimed to making the content harder for children to see as they can only be removed at the users request. Also, the government has set aside 1.5 billion pounds to go after child abusers on the dark web.
The problem with these measures, according to Woollacott, is that these actions will not do all that much actually preventing these kinds of activities from occurring but merely act as rhetoric that the government is trying to stop it. She points to other actions that the government is taking online, such as the blocking of extremist sights, especially ones about Islam.
She argues that an entire population can rally around stopping child pornography (despite these efforts possibly being unsuccessful) but when the same tactics used to block these sites are applied to other issues like "extremist" sites, the population becomes more compliant with blocked sites in other areas of the Internet.
Writing for the International Business Times, Ghaffar Hussain argues that the actions that are being taken to prevent child pornography should not be applied in the same way to stop these extremist sights. In the former case, child pornography and abuse is already illegal, while websites that discuss or promote extremism offer much more merit.
Hussain argues that these kinds of sights can expose individuals to ideas that run counter to their own that could perhaps promote better understanding. Further limiting such view points would limit freedom of speech all together, where as child abuse is not considered a form of speech. He also explains that the creation of counter-extremist content would be far more productive and cost-effective than outright blocking these sites.
When it comes to going after illegal activity on the Internet it is important to distinguish the nature of the activity that is occurring. Though they are clearly different issues, the measures to stop extremism and child pornography in the U.K. are too similar for people to ignore.