In case you’ve stumbled on this blog from the far reaches of the Internet, it will help you to know that it’s a blog for my Masters in Communication Technology COMM 506 Using/Managing Communication Networks course.
This week in COMM 506, we learned about cyber-surveillance and control. It made me angry. I quite possibly messed up my weekly assignment by ranting about the UK’s pornography (and violence and file-sharing and political) blocking laws, which you can read about here. The government is applying these changes for the good of the people, especially the children. “I want to talk about the internet, the impact it is having on the innocence of our children, how online pornography is corroding childhood,” said Cameron in 2013. But is it for the government to decide what a person views online?
It seems that censorship develops in countries in small steps. It’s all about protection. It tends to start small. It tends to start with efforts to protect the innocence of children by banning books like:
- American Psycho, by Bret Easton Ellis (banned in the Australian state of Queensland; now available for those 18 years and older)
- Brave New World, by Aldous Huxley (banned in Ireland and Australia in the 1930s not because of its social criticism, but because of sexual content)
- The Lonely Girl, Edna O’Brien (“Banned in Ireland in 1962 after Archbishop John Charles McQuaid complained personally to Justice Minister Charles Haughey that it ‘was particularly bad’“)
And Canada may not actively ban books, but we have a history of challenging books and banning them in schools:
- A Jest of God, by Margaret Laurence (A novel that depicts the unhappy life of an elementary schoolteacher in small-town Manitoba. A classic. I read it in high school. It made me think about the world differently.)
- Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, by Mark Twain (Classic novel set in the southern United States.)
- And Tango Makes Three, by Justin Richardson and Peter Parnell (Children’s book about penguins. This story is great, but it’s about two male penguins who adopt a baby. In a country where gay marriage and adoption is legal, it’s obvious why this book would be challenged. (?))
- Canadian Poetry: The Modern Era, by John Newlove, editor (Anthology of Canadian Poetry. There’s probably some sexuality and free thinking in here; if it goes as far back as FR Scott, there is also criticism of the government.)
- Jeremy Thatcher, Dragon Hatcher, by Bruce Coville (Fastasy novel. As far as I’m concerned, Bruce Coville is a genius, but I bet lots of people think dragons are of the devil.)
- Who Is Frances Rain?, by Margaret Buffie (Winner of the 1988 Young Adult Fiction Award from the Canadian Library Association and an American Library Association Notable Book.)
What frustrates me about these challenged books is that parents absolutely have the right to prevent their child from reading anything they feel is inappropriate, for whatever reason. But they don’t have the right to impose their beliefs on other people’s children. And that is exactly what governments are doing by installing filters and surveillance.
When I was in elementary school, there was a big kerfuffle about one of our readers that had Halloween stories in it. Apparently someone (I’m not sure if it was at the school board or just the school level) decided that witchcraft had no business being in a reader for a Catholic school.
The stories were about kids dressing up.
Canada’s Internet is reasonably free of censorship and surveillance for the time being. Here’s a list of things we can do on the Internet that can’t be done in other countries.
In Iran, you can check out Buzzfeed if you’re bored, but you can’t go on Facebook, and forget about Reddit. Cute Overload is blocked, but you can get your CBC news, so don’t take your nonsense, memes, and cute animals for granted.
In North Korea, only authorized people are allowed to use the real Internet. Everyone else has to use the tightly controlled intranet called Kwangmyong. All the information on it is government-approved, so we know they’re not getting tongue-in-cheek imgur images like this:
In South Korea, “indecent websites” are blocked, like websites about gay and lesbian issues. If you’re concerned about LGBT rights, keep your concern in Canada. I wonder if this means the Buzzfeed Quiz that determined which gay icon I would have brunch with would also be banned? I got Andy Warhol. I was pretty excited. But not in South Korea.
In Turkey, you can’t listen to SoundCloud, a European site that streams user-created music. And, of course, Wikileaks has been banned for years, so good luck trying to find out what has been banned until you click on it. (You can be charged for Internet crimes in Turkey). Turkey has recently introduced a new law that will permit the government to block any website within 24 hours without a warrant, and requires ISPs (Internet service providers) to track all user data. Protests are on going.
We don’t protest much in Canada, though we do complain. This website lists 50 websites that are blocked in Canada, not because of censorship, but because of restrictive copyright and content-purchasing laws. Remember that awesome skit on Saturday Night Live last night that you MUST share with your co-worker? Nope.
Canada, it’s time to protest now, before our challenged books become banned, before our surveillance law passes and turns into censorship. We must protest before our government takes the next steps toward control. Our government may not be purposefully blocking websites, but they do intend to watch us, which is the first step to censorship.
Protest here against web surveillance. Because can you imagine an internet without cats?