If there is something we’ve learned when learning all we can about the Nazis, it is how incredibly easy it is to take freedoms away and how sane the reasoning will sound. Unfortunately, recent events here in Finland have reminded me about all this.
After living in a free society for two decades people start to take their freedom for granted. They forget why things like freedom of speech and universal human rights are needed, and instead see censorship as a solution to their fears. Fed a steady diet of tabloids and Most Shocking Sexual Parking Violations on late night TV they see bogeymen under their beds and demand that their rights be taken away.
Now what does this have to do with anything? Well, the previous government of Finland, one of the most free societies on Earth, and with the best of intentions of course, enacted an Internet censorship law. In theory it was meant to make it harder to profit on the exploitation of children.
In practice, we get a secret list of “illegal” websites, put together by an unnamed, unsupervised bureaucrat. The blocking of this list is “voluntary”, but it was made clear that unless ISP’s complied it would be made mandatory.
After Matti Nikki published the list and criticised it for consisting of almost exclusively of ordinary porn sites that were not illegal, his site was added to the list and he was charged with aiding in the distribution of illegal pornography. This led to a public outcry that revealed some rather scary facts about the system. The sites are blocked based on domain. According to the police, one link to a site that the unnamed bureaucrat considers to be child porn will lead to the entire domain being blocked.
This means that a single spam link to a “suspicious” site on a forum or buried in blog comments could get a whole domain blocked. However, Google is excluded because according to police “it is a browser, not a site”. Webmasters (or the local law enforcement) are not notified and since the list is secret the only way to notice the block is to try and access the site. There is no real way to appeal the decision, only an email link (that initially didn’t even work) on the page that tells you that you tried to access an illegal site.
Simply put, one unnamed individual was given absolute power to block an entire country from accessing a website and label it child pornography. There is no way for anyone else to review the decisions and people who have spoken against this method of censorship have been accused of being child molesters. The minister of Communications basically reacts to criticism by sticking her fingers in her ears and going “Think of the children! Think of the children!”
Furthermore, this law is not only a question of freedom of speech, it’s a question of computer security. There are huge holes in the implementation that make the system a perfect tool for abuse, not only by the people running it, but by malicious individuals intent on harming the business and reputation of sites. And now that the filtering system is in place, there are already demands that it should also be used to block access to gambling sites and sites that violate copyright (the recording industry demands that Pirate Bay should be blocked, like in Denmark).
The good thing is that thanks to Matti Nikki there is now a public discussion and a demonstration that just started at the Parliament. Hopefully cooler heads will prevail and people again remember that the end does not justify the means.