Another couple of months, another bout of Internet censorship ideas. This time from two sides simultaneously. And it used to be so swell!
RSiUN from the dead
A year ago a representative of the Association of Employers and Employees of Bookmaker Companies has said…
It’s a very simple solution. A register of illegal gambling websites is created. Internet service providers are then obliged to block access to these websites from within Poland. In the opinion of our association such a solution is an effective gambling policy enforcement tool – and thus, an effective way to fight illegal gambling.
In the opinion of the undersigned the Esteemed Representative hasn’t the faintest idea about the topic. I would gladly invite him for a coffee and explain why such a solution is nowhere near being “simple”.
And we could live it at that – as, for instance, just another case of “somebody person can’t into Internets and thinks that filtering will solve all problems”… if only the Ministry of Finance didn’t get inspired with the enlightening quote from the Esteemed Representative, and start pondering rising RSiUN from the cold, cold grave.
What’s RSiUN anyway?
Rejestr Stron i Usług Niedozwolonych (“Register of forbidden websites and services”, yes, the name is that good), an idea of the very same Ministry of Finance, floated years ago, to combat illegal gambling. Once the word had gotten out about the idea of introducing what can only be described as network core-level Internet censorship, a huge activist- and NGO-led campaign has been waged against it in the media and the public mind.
Finally, then-Prime Minister Donald Tusk (whom you might remember from being the Polish Prime Minister during the anti-ACTA debacle some years later, and today the “President of EU”) has agreed to meet “the Internet community”. After several hours of a live-streamed meeting a decision has been made to kill RSiUN off.
Today, the idea returns. In the words of minister Kapica:
I believe that at some point we will find ourselves in a situation where we will be able to convince public opinion that blocking illegal gambling websites does not interfere with political and human rights.
I, on the other hand, believe that our elected representatives and other authority figures could learn a thing or two from time to time; heck, they could even draw conclusions from history (either recent, or more ancient). I’m afraid, Dear Minister, that we are both a bit naïve in our faith.
Meantime, in the parliament
I must, however, do justice to Minister Dmowski, who during yesterday’s session of Administration and Digitization Commission of Sejm reported on results of last year’s public consultations on United Poland’s splendid “right to Internet without porn” idea.
I had the pleasure of listening to that report in person, and I heard, among others, that:
- education is the crucial tool and should be the main mechanism used to support parents in assuring the right level of parental control over children’s Internet usage;
- parental filtering software is available for all software platforms;
- technical solutions should complement, not substitute, parent actions; and should be implemented on end-user devices only;
- introduction of filtering mechanism requires introducing Internet usage surveillance – that could be dangerous (the word “China” even appeared);
- content-based Internet use surveillance is incompatible with EU laws, which states that legislator cannot impose a requirement of that kind on telecommunication companies (in Great Britain the government got around this rule by not regulating on it, but still pushing the telcos in a way that they “self-regulated” accordingly);
- there’s an obvious problem with defining what exactly constitutes pornography;
- the cost of creating an efficient and reasonably effective filtering system would be astronomical and not possible to bear particularly by small ISPs;
- obvious issues arise regarding freedom of speech and of access to information;
- mechanisms like these require constant upkeep, which means further, regular costs;
- overblocking is a problematic issue (what about paintings containing nudity? biology materials?);
- blocking of certain content is incompatible with net neutrality, while the Polish official stance on that is that Internet should stay neutral;
- any filtering mechanism can be neutred, children will get around them, British filter is being circumvented.
To this slew of reasons why Internet
filteringcensorship is a bad idea, Mr Mężydło added a couple:
GIODO’s doubts about such ideas;
- Czech and German experiences with filtering, where it was later cancelled.
Mr Mężydło, I must admit, won my heart with by stating that (due to the fact that children learn fast how to circumvent UK porn filters)…
Cameron is raising a generation of hackers.
So there is a silver lining of Internet censorship after all!
Children defenders mount an offensive
Could it be that years of arguing against Internet censorship finally reached the hearts and minds of our beloved leaders? Nah, that would be boring! Thankfully, we have our heroic defenders of children. It’s always about the children, isn’t it!
Mr Sosnowski lead the charge, albeit still on-topic – saying that “pornography is a problem” and that in Great Britain some effort has been undertaken to handle it, and what can we do to follow suit? It might be possible to talk to Mr Sosnowski and explain a few things.
This definitely is not the case, however, with Mrs Hrynkiewicz and Kempa (the latter being the very author of the draft resolution).
Mrs Hrynkiewicz straight out accused the Ministry of dodging responsibility, and the Sejm Office of Analysis (authors of a not-entirely-pro-censorship, but entirely fact-based, analysis of the project) of incompetence or being outright biased (with the government being so hostile towards the opposition and the parliament so entirely controlled by the government… not).
Madam Member exceptionally astonished
Main point of the programme was without a doubt Mrs Kempa, who turned out to be “exceptionally astonished” by Minister Dmowski’s report, as “Minister Boni used to lean in the exactly opposite direction”. I, for one, am exceptionally astonished with that statement, as having taken part in a number of meetings about similar and related topics I drew an exactly opposite conclusion (possibly stemming from one meeting in particular, where Mr Boni essentially put his foot down and stated that “we’re not here to discuss censoring the Internet, we are looking for a different solution to this problem”).
Might this discrepancy be somehow related to the fact that one of us wasn’t present on those meetings?
Children exceptionally attacked
Regardless of her exceptional astonishment Mrs Kempa was still able to defend children in earnest. After all:
Today’s discussion clearly shows how it is possible to use heavy guns against small children
And what would these children do had there been no Mrs Kempa and her broad chest to defend them? Who would defend them from “corporate interests” (in the mind of Mrs Kempa represented on the meeting by Mr Mężydło), and from the Ministry of Administration and Digitization, just looking for ways to weasel-out instead of looking for solutions (can’t expect Mrs Kempa to find a solution that does not exist, after all).
Consititution exceptionally abused
Mrs Kempa, as a lawyer, was also able and willing to dissect the much-used Article 54 (Section 2. of the Polish Constitution), called upon by members of the Commission more sceptical towards censorship:
- The freedom to express opinions, to acquire and to disseminate information shall be ensured to everyone.
- Preventive censorship of the means of social communication and the licensing of the press shall be prohibited. Statutes may require the receipt of a permit for the operation of a radio or television station.
Undoubtedly this article has to be read in the context of (here Mrs Kempa wasn’t so sure – was it Article 32, or 33? I kindly submit it’s Article 31, point 3, also in Section 2):
Any limitation upon the exercise of constitutional freedoms and rights may be imposed only by statute, and only when necessary in a democratic state for the protection of its security or public order, or to protect the natural environment, health or public morals, or the freedoms and rights of other persons. Such limitations shall not violate the essence of freedoms and rights.
Interesting how differently accents can be laid in this article. Mrs Kempa accented the “public morals” bit, while I usually put more pressure on “necessary in a democratic state” and “shall not violate the essence of freedoms and rights”.
Companies exceptionally profitable
Perspicacity of MRs Kempa allowed her to see clearly through the dirty game of filtering detractors; obviously their main reason to oppose filtering is protecting profits of companies involved.
What companies? Well, Mrs Kempa was not kind enough to indicate them unambiguously (or, at all). One can only assume it’s either huge telecommunication companies (of which I am a well-known fan and supporter), or porno business (tracking them hand in hand with Twoja Sprawa Association).
Perhaps I should finally bill my business principals?
Internet exceptionally dangerous
Curiously, Mrs Kempa switched camps for a minute there. An oft-used argument against introducing Internet censorship in any extent is the fat that it can be used and abused to block other content, the extent and scope can and will be broadened to include more and more categories.
British pornfilter, for instance, now blocks so much more than porn.
Mrs Kempa stated that today we may be talking about
filtering on-line pornography, but the next step would be to consider filtering censoring violence; next up, then, would be hate speech.
It’s interesting on several levels. For one, take how Mrs Kempa goes from something hard to define (and hence to create a good filter for) towards things that are even harder to define. Then – I am not entirely sure if Mrs Kempa really wants to introduce hate speech filtering, taking into account that mere months ago she was against introducing anti-hate speech regulation in the parliament.
Children exceptionally in need
For God’s sake, let’s not wheel out heavy guns against children!
…Mrs Kempa concluded, and I started pondering proposing 250EUR for each and every child of less than 16 years of age in Poland. Wouldn’t it be a better solution for the kids themselves? The idea is almost as absurd as Internet censorship, costs are probably similar, but I have a feeling it would have a much better outcome for the kids. Plus: there are no constitutional or human rights-related issues arising here!
Internet filtering proponents will not propose such an idea simply because they understand the absurdity of it in our economic reality. We can’t afford it, and we know it. Should I start stomping my feet and throwing a tantrum about how they are “wheeling out heavy guns against children”?
There are less absurd ideas, though. How about properly financing orphanages and youth hostels? Or finding the money to provide an ample amount of hot meals for children from poorer families? For a hungry child, a hot meal, I presume, might be a bit more interesting a proposal than “porn-free Internet”.
Why won’t Mrs Kempa channel her interest and time in the direction of effecting actual positive change for orphans? My guess is she is well aware that parents that are not interested in their children’s future might not be interested in voting for her even if she does.
A more cynical person might come to a conclusion that Mrs Kempa, simply put, thus inaugurated her electoral campaign. Not me. I believe it’s all really about children’s interests, after all – she might not have heard about orphanages yet. Maybe it’s time to tell her about them?
After five years of attending similar meetings and explaining to people over and over again why Internet censorship is an idea so bad, it actually has the word “censorship” in the name, you can get a bit tired. It was possible to kill RSiUN; to defuse the children protection directive implementation ideas; to generate some knowledge and understanding in the Ministry of Administration and Digital Affairs… and yet time after time somebody gets the bright idea and there we go again.
Draft resolution could have been killed yesterday, in first reading. It came through, instead (for killing it: 9 members of the Commission; against: 9 also). Next session in December. Depressing.
Sejm’s website contains a stimulating quote (from Polish Constitution of May 3, 1791):
All authority in human society takes its origin in the will of the people
Let us be inspired! You can use these letters (in Polish) to Minister Kapica and to members of the Administration and Digitization Commission. And here are the addresses should one wish to send these:
Jacek Kapica Podsekretarz Stanu Ministerstwo Finansów ul. Świętokrzyska 12 00-916 Warszawa, Poland
Poseł Andrzej Orzechowski Przewodniczący Komisja Administracji i Cyfryzacji Sejm Rzeczypospolitej Polskiej ul. Wiejska 4/6/8 00-902 Warszawa
Want more? You can send letters directly to members of the Commission, here’s the list, you can find addresses of their Member of Parliament bureaus on Sejm website, for instance here for Mrs Kempa, here for Mrs Hryniewicz, and here for Mr Sosnowski.
Need a letter directly to Mrs Kempa? Happy to provide, too!
And if that’s still not enough, you are heartily invited to support the Panoptykon Foundation. Members of Parliament receive salary for their work out of our pockets, activists usually work pro publico bono.