In January, Digital Rights Ireland filed a Freedom of Information request with the Department of Justice asking for all documents dealing with Internet Blocking by ISPs. Of 57 documents that were relevant, 28 were held back. These include correspondence discussing the disastrous implementation of a similar filter in Australia and minutes of meetings held with telecommunications and internet providers. Minutes of meetings with a group called Watchdog International were also withheld.
I oppose any implementation of an internet block on personal, professional and moral grounds.
As an IT professional, this proposition strikes me as an ineffectual move by a technically clueless government. Ireland has been selling itself as a haven for high-tech industry for nearly 20 years now, and we have done well with such tech giants as Microsoft, IBM and Dell setting up here. We also play host to several of the largest internet players: Google, eBay and Amazon all have offices in Ireland. All of these companies understand the importance of a free and open internet. Google has been outspoken against the internet filter in Australia, and recently pulled out of China because they refused to filter search results at the behest of the Chinese government. At a time when 500,000 Irish people are unemployed, and we are trying to sell ourselves as a “knowledge economy”, we cannot afford to make such a clueless move.
Secondly, any filter would be ultimately ineffective. There are more than 10 billion web pages. If a person were to look at one page per second 24 hours a day, it would take them more than 31 years to look at each page. And thousands of new pages are being added every second of every day. Trying to administer a list of what sites are allowed and what sites are not allowed would be a literally impossible task. Add to that, the fact that the nature of the internet is such that it works around blockages. There are countless ways of subverting filters and barriers. A filter would be – at best – an inconvenience to someone determined to access banned content.
Personally, I don’t like the idea that anyone can tell me what I can and cannot see. From the subject matter of some of the witheld documents, it is clear that the ban would be brought in with the aim of stopping access to child pornography. This is an admirable goal, but inevitably the remit of filters such as these get expanded. In Australia, the Internet filter was brought in under the auspices of protecting children, but was later expanded to filter websites about euthanasia, racism and even some video games.
Filtering the internet is censorship. Censorship is the hallmark of tyranny. It is the last recourse of a government that no longer trusts its people. It has no place in a free and open democracy. I realise that this sounds a little dramatic, but once a filter is put in place, it is a simple matter to expand its remit and add to the black list.
Finally, I am appalled that these conversations are taking place in private. Watchdog Internation is a vendor of internet filters to governments. They represent their own interests and not those of the Irish people. The minues of these meetings tell us who approached who in for these talks.
Now more than ever, Ireland needs to be an open society. Too often recently have we been reminded of the consequences of making decisions behind closed doors. If this proposal is being considered for implementation, then it needs to be discussed in public. The Irish public must be allowed have their say. I for one will be saying no.
As a constituent, I request that you oppose any legislation relating to any filtering of the Internet by the Irish Government or by third parties.