November 29, 2006

"Censorware Chronicles" advice - recapping recent censorware news

Walt Crawford asks for censorware advice regarding the relevant section of his library-oriented (though not exclusively) publication Cites & Insights:

2. Censorware Chronicles ( appeared once this year, in September, although censorware was mentioned in two other issues ).

I think this one's a fait accompli - there just isn't very much happening. The one lawsuit I'm currently aware of is against a library that's failing to follow the post-Supreme Court CIPA (that is, not unblocking sites at an adult patron's request), and thus really has no effect on CIPA. There's the ongoing DoJ attempt to revive COPA, and that's interesting, but others are covering that a lot better than I could.

Where to start ...

To the contrary, that lawsuit is quite significant with regard to CIPA (the Federal library censorware law). Whether an adult patron could have censorware disabled on request was a major factor in the Supreme Court opinions on the law. Showing such ability is not true in practice would be very significant as part of further legal challenges to censorware in libraries (this has to do with a complicated concept of two type of legal challenges "facial" vs "as-applied", which is about roughly theory vs. practice).

And while there's certainly been much coverage of the "Child Online Protection Act" (COPA), it's my view that the censorware implications could be explored much better than they often have been. I've been writing about that, but frankly, very few people read me, certainly compared to the overall media reports. I think it's useful for more people punditing on the topic to point out the censorware least-restrictive-means argument is NOT new, going back more than a decade (to some vicious politics of touting censorware). And it leads to deep problems of talk-up/talk-down censorware. The superficial punditry is going to snark that those problems are a contradiction, then there's going to be somewhat knee-jerk contrarian articles claiming it's not really a contradiction because there's different contexts: parents/children/government/law/etc. But there's not a lot of good writing with a deep perspective, pointing out that even taking into account different contexts, there's still a problem since that overall situation just doesn't stay so neatly partitioned or ideally formalized. The legal argument over the sufficiency of censorware for parents tends to turn into a public-relations argument about how well it works.

Then there's the recent DMCA censorware exemption loss (due to, well, I've said it too many times :-( ...). But maybe that's worth an item.

The Psiphon censorware circumvention project is getting a lot of publicity. And I seem to be the only one so far pointing out that if it really worked, that would undermine one of the ACLU's arguments in COPA in favor of censorware (that in practice censorware is difficult to circumvent).

Note: If "psiphon is a human rights software project developed by the Citizen Lab at the Munk Centre for International Studies that allows citizens in uncensored countries to provide unfettered access to the Net through their home computers to friends and family members who live behind firewalls of states that censor." - that works just as well for libraries that censor. In fact, even better, since nobody involved is going to be killed as an enemy of the state. It might even make for some interesting guerrilla activism against censorware in libraries.

And in general censorware news, there's the Great Firewall Of Canada, where Canada wants to have national ISP censorware to ban illegal-in-Canada sites.

There's also been mentions that the The Open Net Initiative is going to have a big report in the near future on country censorware, which feeds back into all the above.

So there's much going on.

Personal note: NONE of this is helpful to me. It does not change my political baggage or the unfavorable economics of employment. In fact, I have to remind myself that though it may break my heart, getting involved is likely to be as hugely destructive to me (in both stress and money) as happened to me before (in fact, probably all the censorware blog posts I've been writing recently are not as good for me as if I had been doing Google-related blog posts).

By Seth Finkelstein | posted in censorware | on November 29, 2006 09:48 AM (Infothought permalink)
Seth Finkelstein's Infothought blog (Wikipedia, Google, censorware, and an inside view of net-politics) - Syndicate site (subscribe, RSS)

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Perhaps the oscillation between totalitarianism and libertarianism is inevitable?

Why add your tuppence to the pendulum when it'll swing both ways whatever you do?

Perhaps that ebb and flow is not worth your time?

Is there some other contribution you could make to human progress rather than the displacement activity of getting involved in the ephemera of political correctness and thought crime?

Posted by: Crosbie Fitch at November 29, 2006 03:41 PM

Well, so far I haven't found anything that fits all of:

1) Makes a difference
2) Makes a living
3) Makes sense in my life

Two out of three isn't enough.

Posted by: Seth Finkelstein at November 29, 2006 04:11 PM

I think any combination of achieving two out of those three would be pretty good...

Posted by: Bob Turner at November 29, 2006 11:58 PM

Nope. "Makes a living" is a necessity for sustainability, since I'm not a dot-com millionaire. "Makes sense in my life" also can't be omitted, since there are some things which are just beyond my ability (e.g. delicate diplomacy among power-holders). Maybe "Makes a difference" is overrated :-(.

Posted by: Seth Finkelstein at November 30, 2006 12:53 AM

a. Making a living is quantifiable...

b. Making sense in your life can be self validated or not.

c. Making a difference runs 2 major risks

1. hubris
2. offering yourself as a sacrificial lamb to society...

the yardstick of "making a difference" is abstract and invites vulnerability which can adversly effect a and b...

hence 2 out of 3 isn't fact perhaps a and b is all one can reasonably expect....
it is history that determines c ...what made a might have the desire to "make a difference" but that desire in no way equates to "making a difference". If it was that easy
we would all be doing it.

Posted by: Bob Turner at November 30, 2006 05:11 PM

"Makes sense" isn't a self-validated aspect, it's sort of the flip side of "Makes a living" - basically, is it a match for my talents? I'm extremely skilled at e.g. spending several hours tracing down obscure problems in computer programs. I'm completely unsuited to e.g. spending several hours giving a sales pitch to very rich idiots.

Of course it isn't easy. But that doesn't make it failing at it much more palatable.

Posted by: Seth Finkelstein at November 30, 2006 05:31 PM

Pitching to idiots...that is a totally different job need to fail at that.

It sounds like you need a partner or agent who is good at successfully communicating to others who possess fiscal strength and the capability to understand the value of the proposition that you want to put on the table.

This is a standard division of labor for a tech enterprise. Seldom does any one possess both those capabilities. Almost every meeting (on line or in real time)I've been involved with reduces to four people. Two on each side wearing those two hats...sales and tech. That is who is on the conference call. I think it is safe to say never or almost never is it sucessfull to have the "deal side" made with the tech guy(s) or the tech guy does the deal side.

Two totally different job discriptions.

That just seems to be how it works.


Posted by: Bob Turner at November 30, 2006 09:54 PM