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Censorship is never out of fashion

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Bell Canada joins Google as the latest to hop on the censorship bandwagon, although not for reasons of political correctness. With Bell it is about money, which is a small mercy. Apparently people want to leave the regulated system (Gasp! Shock!) and get free stuff.

Says the CBC:

Canada is a safe haven for internet pirates, Bell Canada says. The telecom giant wants the federal government to fight back by blocking Canadians' access to piracy websites and stiffening the penalties for violations.

"People are actually leaving the regulated [TV] system, not just because they want to watch Netflix but because they want to watch free content," Rob Malcolmson, Bell's senior VP of regulatory affairs, told federal politicians last week. He was speaking at a government hearing in Ottawa on NAFTA negotiations.

According to Malcolmson, this is how the website-blocking plan would work: an independent agency, such as Canada's broadcast regulator (the CRTC), would create a blacklist of sites that allow people to download or stream pirated content like movies and TV shows.

Internet service providers, like Bell, would then be required to prevent their customers from accessing the sites.

"So you would mandate all [internet providers] across the country to essentially block access to a blacklist of egregious piracy sites," said Malcolmson. Canadians made 1.88 billion visits to piracy sites last year, according to Bell.

 

See! The government made us do it!

It takes only a few decades on this planet to realize that bad ideas like this have legs. The architecture of censorship will not stop at commercial piracy. Inevitably, the forces that want to repress free discussion will be after sites on the basis of hate speech, that highly elastic category which tends to the suppression of all points of view that challenge the hegemony of left wing values. These have erupted out of academia and now appear to be infecting the private sector. Hate is what we define it to be, and making sure that "we" have the power to censor all thought not approved by us is the prime goal of politics for some. "Stereotypes" - yes I am promulgating stereotypes of left wing attitudes. If I were in Google I would be fired for thought crime, as James Damore was.

Censorship is not coming from the Office of the Inquisition these days, it  has been coming from Human Rights Commissions. Same effect, different official religion.

Judicial review may make this architecture of censorship more legitimate, in the eyes of many, and may moderate its effects, but once the mechanics of censorship are established, targets will be found.

This reminds me of Denton's Second Law of human behaviour: There is a fixed amount of intolerance in society; its targets are  periodically redistributed.

That means that in some eras (Communist Russia, Nazi Germany, Counter-Reformation Spain) there is One Big Arch-Enemy, in others the targets are so spread out through society and there are no common grounds by which to identify thaem, so that very few are selected for repression. A liberal society will have a lot of intolerance - smoking comes to mind -  but most forms of intolerance can be practiced by everyone against everyone else on a variety of rationales. Intolerance in that case never amounts to a coherent political program.

But when the architecture of censorship meets the wave of illiberal thought that constitutes most modern discourse, prepare for the Spanish Inquisition, in modern and progressive guise. And your local ISP will be the first line of repression. Thank you, Bell. You never fail to meet my expectations.

 

 

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Timothy Denton is a lawyer by training who practices principally in telecommunications and Internet policy and domain name issues, with a strong concentration on explaining what the technology is and what it means.

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Guest Friday, 15 December 2017
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