Internet Censorship in the US? Or Just Law Enforcement?

by David Lane

It would seem that George Orwell might have been more prophetic than we perhaps gave him credit for. Currently, our televisions cannot watch us, but at the rate things are progressing, it is only a matter of time. After all, most PCs now come with web cams and certainly 90% of cell phones.

But what is becoming more alarming than the proliferation of closed circuit television cameras is the increasing trend of legalized Internet censorship. Now you might think I was talking about the crackdowns in China or perhaps North Korea and Iran, and there is no question that these governments, as part of their modus operandi do filter the content of the Internet that is available to their citizens. In this case, however, I am talking about democratic countries, like Australia, the United Kingdom and the United States of America.

I first started paying attention to this after an episode of Search Engine (Podcast #10, The Great Firewall of Australia). I have blogged about this issue in the United Kingdom and have been following what I thought was a ludicrous attempt by the Commonwealth of Kentucky to seize the domain names of those companies related to on-line gambling. That was until earlier this week.

Two things caught my attention. First was a resurgence of an earlier proposal in the UK to collect all emails, very reminiscent of the FBI’s Carnivore program. But what really got my attention was a series of letters from the State of Minnesota to ISPs, directing them under law to block access to these sites by customers located within Minnesota. These sites are systems to be used for the transmission of gambling information..

Now, I am not a lawyer, but it does not take a lawyer to see that that is a pretty broad catch bucket. Are we talking about blocking sites to online magazines that tell you where gambling is legal? Are we talking about sites that sell poker chips? Are we talking about the gaming available on cruises to the Caribbean?

Clearly the intent is on-line gambling, but that is not what the words say. The ramification is much broader and has much deeper consequences. For example, what is to prevent a state from issuing this sort of letter blocking access any other topic that might be illegal in that state? I have broached this before when talking about the Pirate Bay decision. While I can understand the State’s position, at what point does this become a violation of free speech – at least from the prospective of the Constitution of the United States.

These trends, misguided in my mind, to use technology to prevent access to other technology, never work the way they are intended. What bothers me more than these letters being issued is that someone thinks these sorts of measures are necessary and right.

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