It’s not all over the news any more, but that doesn’t mean it’s gone away. I’ve been pondering the Green Dam situation a lot recently, because – for whatever crazy libertarian reason – I find that I simply cannot agree 100% with its detractors.
Actually, I love the idea. This is one of the two areas in which I am in agreement with the Chinese Communist Party, the other being persecution of Falun Gong. (I should add, though, that my motives for both are quite different from the CCP’s.)
See, I find the “protect the children” brigade thoroughly tiresome. The Australians went as far as trying to implement ISP-level porn-blocking to “protect the children”. Apparently Kevin Rudd didn’t just pick up some Mandarin while he was in China. But “protect the children” is an international problem, not just antipodean.
So we have this group who opine that the Internet needs to be “child-friendly”, i.e. everything unsuitable for children should be removed. That’s going to make the Internet pretty useless. You wouldn’t expect adults to watch nothing except childrens’ television, would you? Or just read childrens’ books? Then why would you expect them to approve of a “childrens’ Internet”? I’m all in favour of not letting kids watch porn, but if that means that adults can’t watch porn too, then something’s gone awry.
Call me a cynic, but isn’t “protect the children” a badly-concealed excuse for skirting around the true aims of the campaigners? I have a measure of respect for good old-fashioned bigots who are prepared to be honest about how they just want things that they disapprove of to be banned. Compare that to the dissembling of a “Focus on the Family” type organisation which has exactly the same agenda but hides it behind their “for the children” rubric. And, of course, “for the children” is rebuttal-proof. You can’t argue against a measure that is “for the children”, or else you’re a vile child-hater. You approve of Internet porn? Why do you hate children!? Etc etc etc.
I’ve debated with a few of these types and asked why they don’t just take action to protect their children. The usual answer is that their kids are very well protected, but what concerns them more are all the other kids who don’t have the benefit of insane parents. And with that reasoning, they’ll continue their campaign to have porn blocked at the ISP level and make sure we all get nothing more taxing than Sesame Street on YouTube.
Hence, the logic of Green Dam was instantly attractive when I first heard about it. It’s the perfect solution: a content filter that is installed (or at least shipped) with all PCs, which will prevent the underage from stumbling on www.analmidgets.com, and which can be disabled or uninstalled by grown-ups with a tolerance for such things. It won’t shut the prudes up, but it might force them to admit the real reason for their complaints, and that makes them easier to debate. And critically, it moves the role of censorship away from the network and onto the workstations.
Of course, successful implementation relies on the software (a) not being filled with stupid security glitches that show a total lack of software quality control, (b) not being largely stolen from another company, (c) not being full of government back-doors (open source would be a sine qua non, I think), and (d) not being way, way too sensitive so that your applications are constantly shut down without warning just because you typed something slightly frowned-upon.
So: ten out of ten for the idea, but minus several million for the execution. I’m anticipating the release of version 2 of Green Dam with genuine curiousity. Of course, it will still be intrusive and flawed, but if it reduces the argument in favour of the Great Firewall of China even one iota, then it’s a step in the right direction.