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The ghost of Trevor Rogers lives

29 May 2020

I suspect there are more than a few Aardvark readers who have been online long enough to remember the attempts that former MP Trevor Rogers made to censor the internet here in New Zealand.

At the time, Trev wanted to introduce all sorts of draconian restrictions that, he claimed, would save innocent Kiwis from being exposed to the darker sides of the Net. Child porn and other stuff, he claimed, was far to commonplace and would corrupt the minds of regular folk.

I won't for one minute try to contemplate exactly how Trevor became an expert on the scope and scale of "bad stuff" on the internet but he certainly was fanatical about it.

Nor would I dare comment on his own ethics and morals, even in the wake of the TGR Helicorp scam he ran a few years back

This is because, as we know, and as I mentioned in the Aardvark Forums yesterday, politics has become a synonym for hypocrisy these days.

Now however, the move to "protect us" from the internet has resurfaced and there is pressure once again to introduce filtering that would screen out "harmful" or "objectionable" content.

This RNZ story discusses InternetNZ's view that such filtering ought not involve a legal framework that threatens the rights of Kiwis.

Yes, we've had this argument so many times before and it has also played out in countless other countries...

Who defines "harmful"?

Who defines "objectionable"?

Who is the arbiter of what people should be allowed to see or say and what they should not?

Where are the protection mechanisms to avoid over-reach by those in control?

For example, who's to say that a government led by party A might not deem that party B's doctrines or statements are "objectionable" or "harmful" to the national good?

When does "protection" of the public good become little more than carefully disguised suppression of free speech?

Now I'm not saying that we ought to leave the doors wide open for kids to browse that which is truly (and legally defined as) "objectionable" material... but I do think we must step *very* lightly when it comes to restricting the individual's right to say and read/view content that might *subjectively* be deemed as harmful by others.

How many members of a religion have died at the hands of religious zealots of differing faiths who deemed their preachings to be "harmful" for instance?

Then there are the technical issues which caused all manner of problems in Australia, where sites as harmless as one run by a dental surgery was blocked because of a semantic error in the filters.

Then there is the issue of safe harbour? Will any government that decides to become the arbiter of what's safe and what's harmful actually take responsibility if they (deliberately or inadvertantly) allow damaging content to reach innocent Kiwis via the net?

Of course they won't -- just as they won't accept any liability for losses associated with wrongly blocking content that could cost businesses a small fortune in these days of increased online shopping.

Whenever you have this "all care, no responsibility but backed by law" attitude to things, injustices will arise and nobody (except the affected parties) will give a damn. Is that really what we want?

It's already illegal to download kiddy porn over the internet -- in fact it's already illegal to download any material that has been deemed "objectionable" so why do we need more laws?

A good analogy is... it is illegal to drive at over 100Kph, even on the open road -- so do we make it illegal to sell cars that have a top speed in excess of that? No we don't. We simply tell people... if you speed and get caught you will be fined or prosecuted.

So why should the internet be any different?

We don't give our kids the keys to our cars and we also have the ability to "opt in" to filtering that will likewise keep them safe but, as adults, we ought to be responsible enough to drive safely and keep well away from the "objectionable" content that would get us in trouble.

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