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Paul Robeson and the future of the internet

I blogged, somewhat sarcastically, about the proposed internet filters, earlier this week.

A good test of any proposed legislation is to ask yourself how it will work, and what else it could be used for.

In order for internet filters to work, the ISP will need to know who in each household is paying the bill and consenting to the presence of porn on their network. Now there are two ways of doing that.

Method one, logically, is to only ask for proof of age and identity from those who want to look at porn, with the default setting for porn being porn off.  The problem with this is that it makes changing from porn off to porn on a complicated process; imagine, say, a household where a child only visits at weekends and dad decides that he’ll turn off the porn on weekends rather than make sure his child has the appropriate porn filters on her phone, tablet and laptop.  If it’s not to be a protracted conversation each Monday morning when dad wants the porn turned back on, his ISP is going to need to age check and identify him at account set up, so that the switch back and for between porn and non-porn will be as seamless as possible.

So his ISP will have a sorted and clearly identified list of the account holder at every premises. In order not to break the law they’ll have to verify the identity of every customer – probably by checking the electoral roll and taking card details.

Somewhere in  tabloid land, a columnist will notice that part of the routine sentence for many internet related sex offenders is to ban them from owning computers. Currently it’s a difficult sentence to enforce.

If every ISP has to have a complete list of all its customers though, its a very easy sentence to enforce. It’ll seem logical too to extend the use of such bans for people who persistently use the internet for criminal purposes, like Phillip Shortman, whose track record goes back seven years or more. Who could object to such a sensible, practical measure?

Somewhere, in the back of my head, as I wrote this blog, I could hear the Manics, with James bellowing ‘No passport till 1958...’

Anyone want to guess how long it would be before bail orders banning offenders from using the internet were routinely circulated to ISPs?

When politicians talk about digital exclusion at the moment they’re usually calling for extravagant subsidies for rural broadband. How long before digital exclusion becomes a sentence used for those who offend.

Incidentally, as a postscript to this, I’ll add one comment on the outcry over the vile Tweets that some people have been sending to Britain’s most prominent banknote feminist.  There is a solution to such things. It’s called the current law. Anyone who has experience of the web will know how common it is in some forums for the outraged and offended to demand that others be banned, or silenced, in the name of their right not to be offended. The idea of digital exclusion as a sanction for offending is from the same school of thought.

Lest the serially outraged mistake what I’ve just said let me make it clear. The criminal law already deals with genuine harm and distress caused by malevolent and wicked individuals. Let’s not have the law extended one iota in the cause of giving Stella Creasy an easy headline or the chatterati any further protection from those who would argue with them in public.

In the interests of clarity I should also say that a banknote feminist is not the same as a banknote babe, which is, according to my daughter, a modern euphemism for women of negotiable affections. Wouldn’t want to offend anyone, would we?

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