This article is from the June 2012 issue of Total Politics
If the definition of insanity is trying the same thing repeatedly and expecting a different result, then the internet is certainly living up to its reputation as the source of all insanity.
In recent weeks we’ve had the Home Office’s rehashed attempt to monitor what we do online, Claire Perry’s report calling for a mandatory filter, and a court ruling forcing ISPs to block a well-known site that, in part, was based on sharing links to copyrighted material.
The intent behind each of these policies is laudable – so why has Big Brother Watch condemned them all? Simple. They do not, and cannot, work without absolutely everything we do online, content and all, being monitored 24/7. And even then it’s probably likely the real harm will be driven underground to communications channels impossible to monitor.
Want to know how to evade any of these policies? Ask a 14-year-old how they get to Facebook on school PCs, where it should be ‘blocked’.
Technology and the internet has already transformed our lives, but we risk throwing that progress away if, when trying to tackle problems, we fail to properly assess the solutions being proposed.
Rather than understand the root of the problem or question the feasibility of solutions, the desire to ‘do something’ has overcome sensible policy-making to a catastrophic degree.
Unintended consequences are a fact of life, but to make policy in wilful ignorance of them is not only disheartening but is nothing short of dangerous. Yes, the internet does pose challenges, but they existed long before 1998. Overcoming them was not easy before the internet, and it’s not easy now, but in seeking to do ‘something’, let’s not allow our politicians to legislate anything before they understand how, and if, it’ll work.
Nick Pickles is the director of Big Brother Watch