The Threat of Digital Incompetence — Censorship Codified Into Law

Today, I read an article on the TOR routing service. The article was a piece of sensationalist, badly researched, idiotic crap. The article accompanied a television show in which several people speak on the The Onion Router. These people have little to say on what TOR actually is, but they seem to have it clear in their minds that it should be prohibited. In their minds the service is a breeding ground for all kinds of illegal activities. The routing service is consistently misnamed as The TOR Network, which only adds to the confusion.

The scariest part of the whole thing is when the programme’s creator interviews the Dutch parliamentary member Khadija Arib. She is asked on her thoughts on child pornography being distributed by users of TOR.

Her answer [Dutch translation mine]:

I have never heard of the TOR network before, and I’m shocked. I will ask justice minister Opstelten to crack down on it.

Because it can not be such that we think up laws and regulations and there’s still a possibility to abuse children in another way.

There it is again: Child Pornography, the magical words that together with the eponymous Terrorism are the munition of scared, unknowing politicians who seek to censor that which they do not understand. These arguments (assuming you can consider single-termed moral deadlocks arguments) always pop up in discussions on Internet regulation. They seem to be the evilest things of all, something that has to be prevented at all cost. So these politicians, not hindered by any knowledge of informational infrastructure, think up a law. “This law will make the tubes of the internets a safer place for everybody.”, so they believe.

Instead, through lack of understanding by the legislators, the law restricts users. All users. Even those for whom this law wasn’t even intended. I have yet to see a single example of the opposite. This happens always with power and freedom shifting away from citizens, and into the hands of large institutions. (Governments, companies, you name it.)

As user Mozes.Kriebel in this comment thread on the article wittily put it [Dutch translation mine]:

Child pornographers buy bread at the bakery. Therefor, I want the government to prohibit all bakeries.

But this has gone on long enough, it is not funny anymore, it is not a joke. As Joshua Kopstein puts it: It’s No Longer OK To Not Know How The Internet Works. As long as politicians don’t take the time to understand the basic infrastructure of the internet, this problem will persist. Political incompetence is already rampant, we don’t need these people meddling in something that has been working and evolving perfectly fine on its own for the past 40 years.

The Internet is a fundamental part of our modern world. It provides millions of people with a means to live. It provides education, knowledge and a platform for free speech. It allows for communications through political barriers, and helps bring down corruption and totalitarian governments. This machine —of which we are all a part— is the single greatest, most unifying invention we as a species ever achieved. And, by the stars, it has pictures of cats! It is such a formidable victory of thought and freedom that I’m surely not going to stand idly by as a bunch of nitwits in suits shoot it down.

Proposed treaties such as SOPA, PIPA and ACTA have made something clear; Just how incompetent politicians are when it comes to the Internet. But there are no compromises in freedom. There is no lobbying when it comes to freedom of speech. Digital incompetence is proudly flaunted as ‘conservative’ by politicians like Khadija Arib. On Twitter.

This is about our future. About our freedom. It is not a joke, and it is sure as hell not funny anymore. When politicians refuse to gain a basic understanding of the mechanisms they try to mandate, they should be replaced by any means neccesary.