The Good, the Bad and the Ugly of Internet Censorship
The Papua New Guinea Office of Censorship has announced a K4 million plan to filter pornography for internet users in the country. The aim is to protect children from being exposed to dirty pictures and videos thanks to the Classification of Films, Publications and Online Services 2014. However, while it is a noble idea, there are many things that need to be considered before taking actions.
In this post, I look at the pros (good) and cons (bad), and the potential for abuse (ugly) this censorship program could have on ordinary Papua New Guineans.
Let me begin by acknowledging that access to the internet has allowed easier access for children to view pornographic material. Today, children old enough to operate a smartphone are at risk of being exposed to pornography on the internet, and introducing a system to filter such content will provide some form of protection. However, it does not eliminate the chances of them viewing to 100%. Let me use my own experience as an example.
The first time I came to view pornography was in high school. A school mate had cut out some images from a magazine somewhere and kept it in his wallet. I think he got a kick out of showing the images to us.
At the time we had no access to internet and mobile phones were the size of bricks and very expensive. Yet, pornography had somehow found its way to us. While a filtering system or program is installed, it does not guarantee a 100% that our children are safe.
Another concern is that unlike human reasoning, a computerized filtering system is unable to differentiate between sites. This may mean blocking access to sites for genuine research purposes. For example, the keyword ‘sex’ or ‘breasts’ could trigger a number of pornographic websites; however, among them could be genuine medical sites with publications relating to the keyword.
In Great Britain, a scheme to have ISPs filter and make web access child-safe has resulted in the blocking of some business and sex abuse charity websites, according to The Guardian. However, there is an option to turn the service on or off.
This proves that censorship could greatly limit access to potential information that could be used to facilitate organizational and individual development. On the other hand, it could also help law enforcement agencies curb on the growing concern of cyber-crime and online bullying.
Now, while I believe there should be some form of internet filtering, I am aware of the potential abuse of such a system could pose on civil rights. The system used to filter pornographic content could be easily manipulated to monitor individuals and businesses of interest.
In 2013 a Canadian human rights group, Citizen Lab, published a report titled “Planet Blue Coat: Mapping Global Censorship and Surveillance Tools” revealing that a number of countries with human rights abuse were actively using American-made internet surveillance on government and public networks, and not only for content filtering. Syria is one such example.
In 2007, the Syria banned Facebook claiming that the social site promoted attacks against the government. It also filtered other social sites like Twitter and Youtube and then stopped in 2011. However, soon after internet was cut off. This has happened more than 10 times since 2013 and the government has blamed terrorists.
So while pornography is the Office of Censorship’s main concern, the filter could also be used to restrict access to political blogs like PNGBlogs, PNGExposed Blog and other website that individuals or regimes could find threatening; violating our basic human right of free speech and freedom of expression.
Personally, I believe internet censorship is a necessary to enforce our own laws and regulations especially with the access of illicit material. However, I am very concerned that this technology could be abused by those in authority.