Is It Possible To Block The 'Bad Stuff' Online Without Also Stopping The 'Good Stuff'?
from the challenges dept
Rick Falkvinge points out that Sweden’s Minister for Foreign Affairs, Carl Bildt, is defending internet censorship in a recent editorial responding to the concerns of some internet activists (Google translation of the original Swedish), who he says just don’t “understand” the internet.
Bildt’s point is that you have to ban the “bad flows” online, or else you have “anarchy.” He claims that there are limits to free speech everywhere around the world, and it’s perfectly acceptable to block certain forms of “bad” speech. The problem here is that it’s not as easy as Bildt makes it out to be to distinguish “good flows” from “bad flows.” And it’s the sort of thing that is regularly abused by governments in promoting censorship. The Chinese government, for example, regularly claims that its Great Firewall is merely protecting citizens from bad or dangerous information. The problem that many people have is that governments given the power to dictate what is a “good flow” and what is a “bad flow,” usually can’t resist the temptation to take things that they just don’t like or which weakens their own power, and designate them as “bad flows.”
As we recently noted in discussing how infrastructure for freedom often looks exactly like infrastructure for piracy, distinguishing between these two things is not so easy, and almost any attempt to stop “bad flows” runs a serious risk of massively stifling important “good” flows as well. Separately, Falkvinge highlights that Bildt and others may be confusing freedom of expression and freedom of information:
As Niklas Dougherty writes, the key problem with Mr. Bildt’s reasoning is that he is unable (or unwilling) to distinguish freedom of expression from freedom of information. Freedom of expression can indeed have some limits, though always post facto. The most famous example is that you can’t shout Fire! in a crowded theater, but there are plenty of other examples: you can’t distribute military secrets, people’s medical records, et cetera.
However, the freedom of information is a different beast. This is the freedom to seek, fetch and research information and the expressions of other human beings unfettered, and has nothing to do with sending a message to any other human being. The freedom of information must be absolutely unhindered, with no exceptions. None. Not one. If you are cracking down on this, you are interfering with private correspondence and the right to partake of the ideas of others. Such behavior would also in sharp violation of the European Convention on Human Rights (article 8).
This is an important distinction, that I don’t think that many people think about or consider when discussing these ideas. So, even if you are going to segment “good” information from “bad” information, you also need to distinguish expression from information itself.