The Internet Censored - Again

An Australian court ruling this week may have profound repercussions worldwide. The online publication news.com.au reported that on Tuesday the Australian High Court "ruled mining businessman Joseph Gutnick could sue business news publisher Dow Jones for defamation in a Victorian court." It is pause for thought.

Free speech has been a fundamental tenet of the internet since the beginning. By virtue of it being owned by nobody, nobody could monopolize it either. Or so we thought. Then came legislation. Like so much legislation, an apparently small opening for an apparently altruistic reason ends up opening the flood gates. At least for that reason, the internet should remain legislation-free. But what about the children, you might ask? Well, there are copious laws already. Catch the perpetrators and sentence them, but leave the medium alone. Indeed, the internet as a medium may provide plenty of clues towards solving these crimes.

In recent months the legislative snake has revealed its suffocating intentions, something many of us had anticipated years ago. But this new court ruling is an unexpected twist. Think about it. If a single judge in a remote courtroom can leverage a major publisher on the other side of the globe, what can any court not do? There is no recourse. Any of us is open to suit merely for saying what we think. George Orwell, take a bow.

By extension, any media provider or producer would also be liable in this way. The litigious possibilities are endless. It just happens that internet connectivity is truly global, where radio and television (not to mention the print media) are somewhat restricted in scope. So the issue of international libel and the rest, perhaps long awaiting an opportunity, now has a fulcrum.

Understandably, some still cannot discount the seeming benefits of legislation, and others may argue that certain crimes cannot be stopped any other way than by regulating the internet. But it's not really about altruism or solving crimes. As so often happens, it's about power. Governments do not own the internet. It seems difficult to see how they may rightfully legislate it. Perhaps it is worthwhile to consider what the so-called internet really is. It is countless private and public networks connected together. Now, if you own a piece of it, you should be totally free to make any rules you like as to its use, as any good system administrator in fact does. But if you do not own that piece, then where do you suppose you gain the right to make rules about it? You don't.

It's a little like income tax, and happily there is a movement in the United States to reverse it. Income tax has been an institution for such a long time that most people instinctively want to pay their taxes. Yet they rarely consider that it wasn't always this way. How did income tax arise in most countries? By force. Simple.

In my school days, an individual who acted this way was labeled a bully.

Or how about the plethora of U.S. federal programs? Each member of Congress pledges to uphold the American Constitution, yet nowhere in it are programs such as pension, welfare and medicare authorized, which consume unimaginable amounts of money. So how do they do it? They hijack the authority, stealthily, of course. Whether you think any particular program has merit or not is entirely beside the point. It is simply unconstitutional. At best, the question becomes whether or not the constitution may be ignored in favor of a perceived higher good.

As for the children and the internet, there are several good initiatives and blocking software packages out there to help keep out the bad stuff. But much of today's mainstream news and programming would have earned a pornographic label just a few short years ago. No software will block that. Here is where the value of good parenting enters. Children receive the tools they need to discern the bad stuff themselves, and choose to switch it off. One wonders what kind of childhood some media producers must have had, given what they produce and broadcast today. I'm thinking of prime-time sitcom television shows in particular, in case you were wondering. In any event, internet censoring is not the answer.

Once the first little internet law was passed, the precedent was set. Once legislation is in place, it's practically impossible to get rid of it later. With draconian internet and other privacy laws looming, particularly in the shadow of present-day security concerns, it is internet users, private citizens, who stand to lose the most. If international libel suits gain a foothold - the precedent is already set - then we may well see a mass exodus of media companies from the internet soon.

Or, more likely, we may begin to notice that news begins to take on a certain denatured quality about it.

Ciao.