August 15, 2013

The Wall Street Journal - The UK's Doublespeak on Internet Freedoms

Ben Rooney in the Wall Street Journal here, called up the UK for government for its contradictory remarks on Internet freedoms. Ben Rooney made a first observation: 
"Here are two conflicting opinions about Internet censorship. Can you guess which government said which? You can chose from the following: China, the U.S., and the U.K. First: Democratic governments must resist the calls to censor a wide range of content just because they or others find it offensive or objectionable. Second: Put simply, there needs to be a list of terms—a blacklist—which offer up no direct search returns.
He then answered his rhetorical question: 
"It is a trick question. The U.K. government said both. The first was by Foreign Secretary William Hague, speaking at the Budapest Conference on Cyberspace in October 2012. The second was by Prime Minister David Cameron in July 2013 at a U.K. children’s charity event." 

Rooney explained further:
"Mr. Cameron was referring to U.K. government plans to block Internet search terms related to child pornography. In the same wide-ranging speech he outlined a voluntary agreement with Internet Service Providers to implement opt-out net filtering for U.K. homes, but with a threat of regulation if they don’t toe the line."
Then a little talk on the changing UK economy and its goals to become leading tech centre:
"The U.K. has backed London as a tech centre, has changed its fiscal policy to promote tech investment, and has built an award-winning digital team to transform government services. But at the same time, it has flirted with domestic policies that conflict with its aims to promote a free and open Internet."
Ben Rooney explained why it could be bad for Britain to take a hardline attitude on the Internet:
"Dominique Lazanski is head of digital policy for the Taxpayers’ Alliance, a group campaigning for lower taxes. Earlier this year, in a paper for the Adam Smith Institute, a free-market think tank, she wrote: “The biggest problem with any suggestion of website blocking is that it puts the U.K. in the same place as Russia, China and other authoritarian sites. In July last year, the Russian parliament passed a law that allows for the blacklisting of websites for ‘child protection.’ This would empower the Russian government to block websites of political dissidents, but there is little different between the content of that proposed law and what the [U.K.] Department for Education is consulting on currently."
Rooney gave an example of how a hardline attitude can embolden hardline regimes:
"During the 2011 London riots, Mr. Cameron told Parliament the government was investigating stopping people using social media in times of unrest, a move that was welcomed by the People’s Daily, the official newspaper of the Communist Party of China. The plans were quickly dropped."
Ben Rooney commented on the rhetorical divergences:
"Ms. Lazanski said the contradictory positions the government was adopting was a symptom of a divided government. “There are serious conflicts in beliefs across government,” she said. “They cannot agree on domestic versus international policy. This is very frustrating for the Foreign Office. It is driven by the family groups and organizations."
In full here.

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