Last week, I was sent an article which suggested that the US’s Visible Intermodal Prevention and Response (VIPR) operations (or vehicle searches) was as effective a response to terrorism as flying billion-dollar B-2 stealth bombers above shopping malls were in eliminating bear attacks. I commented how in Britain, we were slightly more measured in our response to problems.
And then I heard about Lewisham East Labour MP Heidi Alexander’s Private Members Bill.
I don’t recall the exact moment when the vogue solution to social problems became censoring the internet. Or when it became acceptable for members of the British political establishment to call for technology to replace parenting. But clearly, there is a growing body of opinion that sees Big Brother as the new babysitter of choice.
Ms Alexander’s proposals concern gang violence, and suggest that courts would have the power to order internet service providers to “remove certain material which incites gang violence”. No definition of what may incite gang violence is offered. She highlights ‘sickening’ content, but fails to explain how such content is deemed acceptable by YouTube, which already has a system in place to ensure inappropriate content is removed. The proposals suggest the Police should have the power of take down, despite the fact that the UK authorities already have a process for asking for content to be taken down – and the number of videos removed is public information. (You can see the latest details here.)
This kind of approach can only lead to ever greater restriction on the freedom of speech.
As mentioned, YouTube already has a system in place to remove dangerous content, and an all-encompassing process of state-sanctioned censorship enforced at a significant cost to the digital economy is not the way forward. Viewing content that may be socially upsetting is not illegal, and it is certainly not the catalyst for social problems like gangs.
We are witnessing the first salvos of a moral battle being waged against civil liberties and online privacy. Using technology to censor legal content is not a substitute for parenting nor is it a quick fix for social problems.