Wednesday, August 5, 2009

And I Thought Our Government Was Insane

Let me tell you a horror story about creeping totalitarianism moving under the disguise of protecting people.
There is a government that told its people that it was going to protect them from child pornography. To do this, it would implement mandatory internet filtering nationwide, but there is no efficient way to filter specifically for child pornography. It is self-evident that most websites dedicated to such criminal activity do not blatantly advertise the fact. Using obvious keywords would only block the tip of the iceberg, at most. Instead, the government will use an official blacklist and block all sites on that list that are rated as Refused Classification (more on that RC rating shortly). There is a rather severe shortcoming to this method though. The vast majority of sites on that list with an RC rating have nothing to do with children at all. In fact, as a tangent to their “protecting the children” motif, the government in question has adamantly refused to allow any video game ratings higher than 15+ (that is, content suitable for those 15 years old and above) and thus any video game that is not appropriate for children is automatically classified under the RC rating.
Do you start to see where this is going?
To stick with the tangent for a moment, this same government recently banned the sale of all RC games in stores nationwide. These games could still be legally purchased through official download sites (many game companies offer their games in digital formats as well as the traditional boxed variety), but they could not be carried on any “brick-and-mortar” store shelf, with stiff fines for anyone caught on the wrong side of the law. Enter the internet filtering scheme. You know, the one that was supposedly for the purpose of blocking child pornography? Guess what. It has been officially announced that this filtering program will be used to extend the brick-and-mortar ban to include banning online sales of these same games.
It keeps getting better.
There is a specific subset of video games commonly called MMOs (those of you who are gamers, please have a little patience for those who are not), which stands for Massively Multiplayer Online. These are online games with lots of people logged in to play together in virtual worlds that continue to exist whether or not any specific player is present. These games are not traditionally rated in the normal sense because their content is not static. Most MMOs do receive what we in America call the “T for Teen” rating because most MMO publishers do try to keep their content teen appropriate, but there are constant additions to any MMO, making any true rating impossible. The government we are discussing has always exempted MMOs from its ratings classification system (meaning they did not receive an automatic RC rating just because they could not be formally rated) because it was just obvious to do so. Not any more. The government decided recently to slap these games with an RC rating, meaning that it is now illegal to sell them in stores or online and, once the new filters are fully in place, it will be impossible to play them at all, even for people who purchased the games when it was still legal to do so.
Do you remember where we started? It was something about protecting children, wasn't it? So how did we go from there to telling grown adults that they cannot play World of Warcraft or Second Life?
This has not been a fictional, scary What If scenario. It is really happening right now. Contrary to what you might be thinking, we are also not discussing China or Iran or some other such place where everyone assumes such government overlord behavior to be the norm. This is happening, even as you are reading these words, in Australia – modern industrialized nation, one of our allies, and supposedly one of the bastions of modern democracy.
People like me, people who say, “Be careful what power you give them because they will abuse it,” are often dismissed as being paranoid or extremist or pick your pejorative, but I couldn't make this stuff up if I tried. When I first started hearing about this some months ago, I dismissed it as some nutjob in the Australian parliament making a lot of noise that wouldn't amount to anything in the real world, but I was wrong. Obviously I'm not paranoid enough! I didn't think it was possible that anything this stupid, this creepy, or this blatant could possibly gain any traction in one of the top democracies in the world, but it's happening. The Australian government has already rolled out the pilot program in nine ISPs across the country and they are discussing tripling the size of the blacklist. What's worse is that they have publicly admitted that they have no success criteria in place for the pilot program. They have started “testing” this with no fixed goal, no means of measuring whether or not it works! The only thing they're testing is how much strain they can put on the filtering software, how many sites they can add to the blacklist before the whole thing explodes.
If you think this has nothing to do with you because you're not a gamer – well, if you're that myopic, you shouldn't be voting in the first place, but seriously. This kind of thing affects everyone! Think about it. They started a censorship program with one stated goal and now they are brazenly announcing that they are tacking on a whole list of things that have absolutely nothing to do with that goal. It doesn't affect you because you're not in Australia? Really? Are you that foolish? Do you honestly believe that you have a different breed of politician in your country than they have in theirs? I know I don't believe any such thing. I know that the politicians we have in America are just as crooked, arrogant, and power mad as the ones they have down under. I'm more than a little concerned at what nasty ideas our nutjobs might get if the Australian nutjobs actually get away with this.
I am of the opinion that a sufficiently tortuous punishment has not yet been invented for those who would abuse children. However, I will run the other direction from anyone who uses the phrase “protect the children” or any of its variants. I can almost guarantee you that the person who says that is getting ready to point a gun at your head, shove a hand in your pocket, and add new locks on your life. Locks for which you will not possess the keys. You cannot protect children by treating adults like children and you certainly cannot protect children by treating everyone like criminals. Those children will grow up eventually and then they'll be criminals, and then what was the point?
This is how tyranny grows. People foolishly grant power that should not be granted because it seems like a good idea at the time, and then that power expands until it no longer resembles what it was and no one is quite sure how it happened. It's happening there and it can happen here. The only cure is for people to wake up and realize that the danger is real. Tyranny is not a thing of the past and it is not something that only happens “over there”.

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