PICS and intellectual freedom FAQ

Charles apache at
Sun Aug 3 15:30:10 PDT 1997


A link in the PICS FAQ that Declan posted was to The Net Labeling
Delusion. For anyone interested in the relationship of PICS/RASCi
and censorship I recommend reading this article in detail. It presents
a very interesting case for censorship by stealth and argues that since
blocking software will block unlabeled sites that mandatory-voluntary
labeling is unnecessary and unjustified. It also examines some
possible motives on the part of government for advocating such
mandatory-voluntary censorship schemes.

For the full text see :

Here is a snip from the introduction..

Protection or Oppression

The developers of PICS say it's an infrastructure which facilitates
voluntary labelling  and selection of Internet content.  They promote
it as "Internet Access Controls  Without Censorship". Its advocates
say it's nothing to do with censorship and can't  assist the
censors. Meanwhile, PICS has achieved its original objective: to
provide an  alternative to government censorship legislation, that is,
to provide instead a  technological means of facilitating censorship. 

Governments, finally beginning to comprehend the difficulties of
blatantly censoring the Net, are becoming enthused about filtering
technology. Service providers, desperately hoping to place themselves
out of reach of over-zealous governments who would hold them liable
for material they carry, are demanding their customers rate and label
all their material. 

Ironically, an increasing number of the original proponents of
filtering software are becoming much less enthused as a host of new
issues arise. Filtering programs and labelling look set to become
privatised censorship disguised as consumer information backed by
government coercion. 

This document does not propose that PICS systems and third party
filtering software should be entirely black-banned by Net users. It
does, however, suggest that parents and other consumers should
ascertain what type of information is, and is not, being blocked and
that filtering advocates should be extremely cautious about
unreservedly promoting these systems as the saviour of the Net. 


What are filtering programs and rating/labelling systems?
Labelling has nothing to do with censorship, does it? 
   What is censorship? 
   What is labelling? 
   Labels are just tags, helpful information, surely? 
   Book in libraries are labelled, is there a difference? 
   Are book reviews similar to labels? 
   So, is labelling censorship or not? 
Is labelling likely to become compulsory? 
Will labelling protect children from harmful material? 
Do governments have a legitimate interest in enforcing, or encouraging,
Why would governments seek to enforce labelling? 
   The alleged reasons
   - To protect children
   - To enable electronic commerce to reach its full potential
   The other agenda
   - Censorship by Stealth: making publication too difficult, costly
   and risky
   - Banning access to the rest of the world
   - Facilitating future changes to censorship laws
   - Being seen to be doing something
How would governments enforce labelling? 
What's wrong with compulsory labelling anyway? 
What's wrong with the RSACi Rating System?
Voluntary labelling is a good idea, isn't it?


Indications are mounting that labelling of all content will be made
mandatory in Australia.  

Claims that all material, particularly material unsuitable for
children, must be labelled in order to protect children are
technologically ignorant at best, insidious at worst.

Unilateral action in Australia will increase costs in the burgeoning
on-line multimedia industry here, and may force many sites off-shore.

Compulsory labelling will restrict quantity and quality of information
as a result of: 

   the complexity, unsuitability and inadequacies of some, probably all,
   rating systems similar to RSACi 
   difficulties associated with lack of technical knowledge 
   overly cautious ratings because it is too much effort, or to avoid
   potential complaints, or to purposely seek to undermine an enforced
   lack of time and/or staff to rate material 
   financial restraints 
   unwillingness to enter into complex legal agreements with ratings
   unwillingness to provide personal information to ratings organisations
   which can be used for, or sold to, mailing lists etc. 

Compulsory labelling will force content providers to: 

   self-censor in accord with someone else's value system 
   place themselves at greater risk of complaints regarding legal material
   because of the many shades of grey inherent in rating systems.

Compulsory labelling enables governments to achieve censorship by
stealth as well as facilitate future more censorious laws whilst
claiming non-censorious intent.

Compulsory labelling achieved by government coercion of private
enterprise enables government to avoid all responsibility and
criticism for resultant problems and difficulties.

Voluntary labelling of material which is suitable and intended for
children will provide a child-safe environment.

Rating services have the potential to influence community views and
attitudes to a greater extent than either existing broadcast media or
uncensored access to the Internet.  

Rating organisations must be required to publicly disclose concise
details of rating criteria and value systems to ensure consumers can
ascertain what is, or is not, blocked. 

- -- 
   .////.   .//    Charles Senescall             apache at
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>::::::::::\\\     Finger me @bear for PGP PUBKEY      Brisbane AUSTRALIA
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