Herald on Filtering Scheme

The Herald editorial:

With money granted in this year’s Budget, it plans to provide internet providers with Swedish-devised software that matches site requests to a “banned” list and reroutes the requests to a government computer. The internet companies would have to volunteer to take part, unlike in other countries where compulsory filtering of paedophilic sites is proposed. Consumers would, then, be able to avoid filtering if they object on principle to such restrictions.

Technology commentators have raised concerns that this scheme could be the thin end of a wedge by which the state seeks to “filter” other internet material or sites that it, later, deems unwelcome. They are right to be concerned. The public’s freedom to “seek, receive and impart information and opinion of any kind and in any form” is protected by section 14 of the Bill of Rights Act.

Yet even that law recognises there can be reasons to over-ride that freedom. Reducing the demand for, and profits from, material depicting child sexual abuse would surely qualify in the public mind as one of them.

A tightly targeted, voluntary scheme including most internet providers is better than a compulsory regime. Those deciding what cannot be accessed must themselves be regularly reviewed to ensure the scheme stays strictly on track.

As I previously blogged, I would look to have the Auditor-General’s Office regularly vet the scheme against its publicly stated mandate.

On balance, because of the gravity of the offences against children, and the prevalence of the problem, with 26 convictions in this country in the past six months for collecting or distributing child sex abuse images, some restriction seems justifiable. Limited censorship is the lesser of two evils.

The expert advice I have is that the filtering scheme will not stop the hard core offenders. They trade in chat rooms, Usenet groups etc and will use overseas ISPs if necessary to get around any filters.

What the scheme *may* do is help prevent those “curious” about child from acting on their curiosity and end up breaking the law. Some of those go on to get “addicted” to  such images and become professional traders etc.

So no one should think the filtering scheme will make a massive difference to the demand for illegal material. However that is not to say it won’t make some difference – and as the Herald says you have to weigh that up.

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