So it’s happened again. Every time law enforcement anywhere gets the ability to censor websites, it always gets applied overbroadly, way beyond the original prescribed scope, and each and every time somebody exposes that, the same law enforcement uses their censorship powers to cover up the neglect in their own transgressions.
Censorship is a very controversial topic in many legislatures. The copyright industry has long pushed for websites containing child abuse images to be censored from the net at the ISP level, with the ulterior motive that such a censorship regime could later be expanded to also encompass sites that the copyright industry doesn’t like in general. (Yes, really.)
Child abuse imagery is one of the few things that do cause censorship of the net to actually happen, which can be observed in country after country. And every time such censorship has been instituted, the list of censored sites has itself been declared secret (as, it is argued, it would otherwise be a directory of illegal material). Then, inevitably, it leaks, and turns out to have barely no illegal material at all on it (low single-digit percent), but tons and tons and tons of fully legal material that has been illegally censored for years without oversight or transparency.
The next step from law enforcement is as predictable as the motion of a grandfather clock: add the exposure of their own neglect and crimes against freedom of speech to the censorship list, effectively censoring freedom of the press that exposes abuse of power. This has happened in many countries:
In Finland, when Internet activist Matti Nikki exposed the censorship list as being basically just a violation of rights, with the vast majority censoring ordinary legal material, the exposure site was itself added to the censorship list to prevent transparency into the abuse of power. The Finnish Supreme Court recently confirmed that this was an appropriate move; that censorship of abuse of censorship is okay, as long as – wait for it – the motive is to protect children.
In Sweden, a similar list – when leaked – was publicly ridiculed after it was discovered to censor, among other things, the Korean Bonsai Growers Association. (No, there really is nothing but small pretty trees there.) Again, law enforcement tried to have the list – and their neglective abuse of power – censored. (The list is still secret.)
And now, in Germany, the same thing again. Techdirt writes how the German government tries to censor publication of its list of censored websites, and it’s the same story again.
Censorship is really never the answer. Maybe it worked in the past. But if it ever did, it doesn’t anymore. One thing that’s been constant throughout history, though, is that people have used and abused their own powers to maintain their own power, and in particular, cover up their own mistakes.
That’s why it’s a horrible idea to give anybody – anybody – the power to censor the Internet, which in this day and age means the free press, the right to assembly, and free speech. What you’ll get is a first rule of Censorship Club, which says you don’t talk about Censorship Club.
Fortunately, VPNs and similar technologies can circumvent censorship easily where its reason isn’t justified or justifiable, such as when law enforcement tries to cover up their own abuse of power.