The NYT's "Room for Debate" section asked a variety of people for positions on the UK's Great Firewall of Cameron -- a new rule whereby ISPs must slap an "adult content" filter on every Internet connection in the land, which is meant to stop everything from porn to gambling sites to "esoteric material" (whatever that is). I wrote one of the pieces, as did many others.
The companies that supply networked censorware turn a profit selling to dictatorships, like the United Arab Emirates, where network filters from American companies were used to suppress footage of a member of the royal family torturing a man and then running him over with a luxury car (the software also handily compiled a list of everyone who was trying to look at that video, which must have been useful for the secret police, whose boss was, coincidentally, the royal torturer caught in the video).
The companies repackage this software for use by Fortune 100 companies, libraries and schools, which must censor according to the terms of the Communications Decency Act – and now, for use by all of Britain's Internet service providers. In practice, the British law means shipping the nation's Internet traffic offshore for processing and surveillance by criminal regimes and their allies.
No one seriously pretends that this will stop kids who want to look at porn from finding it. But a regime of total, national surveillance in the name of protecting children serves an important political purpose. It satisfies the security syllogism: “Something must be done! I have done something. There now, something has been done.”
Can Free Speech and Internet Filters Co-Exist?
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Last February, Lenovo shocked its security-conscious customers by pre-installing its own, self-signed root certificates on the machines it sold. These certificates, provided by a spyware advertising company called Superfish, made it possible for attackers create “secure” connections to undetectable fake versions of banking sites, corporate intranets, webmail providers, etc.
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