Tuesday, March 18, 2008


When do we defend censorship?

The StarIn a first year Philosophy course, I remember studying logic. As my youngest child is preparing to graduate university next month, you'll forgive me for reminiscing to my class more than 30 years ago. One of the principles was using an existence proof in order to disprove a tautology.

An example: Your friend claims that all sports cars are red. But then you see a bright yellow Corvette. You must conclude that either a Corvette isn't a sports car or the statement isn't true. We'll leave the debate over cars to another time - I just want you to get the idea.

This week, Michael Geist writes in the Toronto Star that Business in the hotseat over Net censorship.

In reading the article, I sensed an implicit hypothesis that all forms of internet censorship are bad. I disagree and I will use my Philosophy of Logic class to counter the statement.

Subject to appropriate checks and balances, the overwhelming majority of us agree that child exploitation images should be censored by ISPs. And the vast majority of Canadian internet service providers do just that using Cleanfeed.
With China now boasting the largest number of Internet users in the world, the uncomfortable reality is that hundreds of millions of global Internet users face some level of censorship. That leaves governments and business in the hotseat, since routing around today's Net censorship will require far more than a technological fix.
With Cleanfeed, we can see an existence of a counter-example to the tautology that 'all network censorship is wrong'. I disagree that there is an "uncomfortable" reality of hundreds of millions of users facing some level of censorship. I have asked before why we believe there should be a digital loophole for illegal content.

Internet censorship, sanctioned - and perhaps even required - by our own national laws, is a reality. Why should we be more uncomfortable with it than with censorship of any other medium? Perhaps Canadians may find greater discomfort that researchers are working to find ways to access illegal content, as described in the Star article or as I described a couple years ago.

We know there is at least one form of content being blocked that our own democratic society deems to be justifiable. Shouldn't the discussion include examining the criteria for applying limits on content?

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Excuse me, but papers can publish anything they want. If they do publish something illegal they will get in trouble with law, and paper, most likely, will be removed from stands. But there is no one standing over editor's shoulder to tell him what can and can't be published. Why do you need technological measure to censor internet content when you have other legal tools?
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