Monday, December 29, 2008

Roping The Wind

You have to love the naievity of politicians. Sometimes they are just so cute that all you can do is laugh at them. Of course, this same "endearing cuddliness" is also exactly the reason why they should not have anywhere close to the levels of power they believe they have, but that is a different matter entirely. Actually, it's this matter, that we are going to laugh at - I mean discuss today.
Andy Burnham, who is identified as something called a "culture secretary" in the United Kingdom, has stated a desire for the UK government to tighten controls over the internet, reining in a chaos that was actively designed to be outside of government control. To make matters even more amusing, Mr. Burnham intends to get together with President-elect Obama and work toward making it a transatlantic operation. Apparently Mr. Burnham does not believe that Mr. Obama - America's first black President taking over during a financial crisis that is scaring the hell out of the rest of the world - has enough on his plate.
You might be wondering why I find this so amusing. Doesn't every new administration claim that they are going to make the internet a safer place? Of course they do and it is always in the name of "making it safer for children", that favorite magic phrase that is supposed to automatically confer propriety and unassailability to any proposed plan. The problem is that the plan itself is utterly impossible. The internet cannot be made safer except by the act of actively hunting down those who use it for illegal purposes, a process that both America and the UK already follow. The fact that much of the illegal activity takes place in countries where neither America nor the UK has any say in the matter does not make the task any easier.
The reason I am laughing is because the proposal being discussed is to use a movie-style ratings system on all English language websites and to have that ratings system administered by individual service providers. Apparently Mr. Burnham is unaware that there is somewhere in the neighborhood of three times as many websites on the internet as there are people on the planet. Would anyone like to even consider retroactively rating all of those websites? Add in the simple matter that it takes less than five minutes to establish a basic website and it is pretty easy to see that the logistics alone make this a task that would send Hercules fleeing in tears.
Not only are their billions of websites, there is not exactly any shortage of service providers. I would actually consider paying good money to watch the attempt to get even a representative sampling of them into one room to hash out how they are going to administer this ratings system. That would be the comedic event of the year, at the very least.
Let's make matters even more complicated, shall we? What qualifies as an individual website? Is it everything under a single domain name? Everything under a particular subdomain? Is this blog one website or are the individual articles each their own website? With the possibilities that exist to this question, who would have the authority to decide? Who would even want the headache of deciding?
There is, however, ample reason for not laughing. The fact that this task is impossible does not guarantee that the politicians won't try it. The fact that even suggesting the idea is proof that Andy Burnham shouldn't have anything to do with internet regulation does not mean that he won't. Those of you in the UK who might read this would do well to take note. We, in America, got the unmitigated disaster that is the Digital Millenium Copyright Act precicely because people who knew nothing about digital technology or copyrights still thought it was a good idea to write sweeping new regulation covering those fields.
Attempting to rate the internet makes about as much sense as attempting to rope the wind but absurdity has never stopped politicians. Unfortunately, it is we who end up having to live with the messes these idiots create. Imagine what would happen to today's global economy if there were suddenly major internet disruption because of monkeeing politicians. Keep that nightmare in mind if you hear any of your politicians discussing this idea.

1 comment:

  1. I think the UK should go for it! Seriously, think about a second. The governing forces always forget to make sure that ALL of their own offices are sent memos.. things are constantly changing. Wouldn't it be amusing to sit back one morning and find that the entire UK sewage maint. system collapsed because they forgot to rate the websites the office uses BEFORE the "rating blocker" went into effect? Or, better yet.. the websites that the schools use for communication... the list could go on and on, but still.. plenty of entertainment for those of us watching the morning news.. unless those sites were blocked...