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Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Will Israel ban YouTube too?

The Knesset has passed a bill in first reading to restrict access to web sites. The way Arutz Sheva is reporting this story is not quite the way it's been reported on the radio. The radio doesn't mention an 'opt out' for adults (and I don't know how you 'prove' that a computer user is an adult). It doesn't mention pornography either.

My problem with most of the 'filtering services' that have been introduced until now is that they are low tech: The default is that a site is banned until someone has gone and viewed it. With thousands of new sites being put up every day, there is no way anyone can view them fast enough.

Unfortunately, there is pornography all over the Internet and if parents want to keep their children off those kinds of sites, they either have to keep the Internet out of the house (not practical for those of us who work at home) or keep their kids off the computer except under very close supervision (which is what Mrs. Carl and I do). Ironically, with three computers on from the end of one Sabbath to the beginning of the next, Mrs. Carl and I are the first ones to complain every time a kid comes home and claims that a teacher wants an assignment "typed on the computer."

Let's face it: Sites like YouTube and LiveLeak have lots of worthwhile stuff but also have stuff that borders on pornography and worse (think how many times you see the words "(not) office safe" in the comment sections of even the most unrelated blogs). Will they be banned in Israel?

But anything goes to keep Shas in the government (note the bill's sponsor).


For those who think I overreacted or that this bill is not harmful, please consider this.
According to the bill, which passed by a majority of 46 to 20, Internet service providers would be asked to implement an apparatus that would filter out sites deemed "harmful". [Note - No mention of pornography or anything else. The 'Minister of Communications' - whoever that may be - has the power to decide what's 'harmful.' What if he decides Little Green Footballs is harmful? CiJ]

The decision on the filtering of specific sites will ultimately be in the hands of the communications minister, who will be aided by an advisory committee. [Currently that's someone from Shas. In the past, it's been people from all over the political spectrum. What if someone decides that Hot Air is harmful? CiJ]

The letter of the law, proposed by MK Amnon Cohen of Shas, calls for the erection of a "filtering service for minors of inappropriate content on the Internet." Specifically, the bill advocates the censorship of "violence, pornography and gambling" Websites. [Does YouTube qualify? Does Liveleak? How can a minor use a gambling website anyway? Doesn't that require a credit card? CiJ]

Under the new law Internet service providers would be forced to offer a filtering program to their customers free of charge. Consumers would be given the chance to refuse to install the program, but it would be installed by default if a customer did not provide a response within a time frame that has yet to be finalized. [We ignore most mail in Hebrew except for bank and credit card statements and other bills. Lots of Israelis don't understand Hebrew. This is a country of immigrants. CiJ].

The law also states that as soon as the technology will be made available, providers will block content on their end, unlocking it only to customers over the age of 18 who explicitly request to receive the "harmful" content.

The communications minister will also be granted the power to decide on changes to the blocking program, the manner of communication between providers and their customers and even the way in which providers will verify the age of a customer requesting the unlocking of content.

While Cohen hailed the approval of his bill as "a victory for common sense," adding that, now "instead of parents having to actively block their children from viewing hard pornography and violence, pornography enthusiasts will have to be active and make only one phone call," other MKs voiced concern that the law would ultimately result in severe infringements of personal freedoms.

"Internet service providers, according to the worldwide norm, would be willing to distribute free of charge a family filtering program," MK Gilad Erdan said. "The law will transform us into a type of Iran by giving the minister the authority to decide that the Shas Council of Torah Sages will determine the sites to be rejected and blocked - without any supervision or monitoring of its considerations by the Knesset."

Erdan also slammed Labor MKs Danny Yaton, Yoram Marziano, Nadya Hilu and Ephraim Sneh for voting in favor of the law, claiming that the Labor party had become a "superfluous appendage" of Kadima.
I'm with Erdan on this. It's not that I would let my kids see 'harmful' sites (and not that I would look at pornographic content at those sites myself - see above). But with my American upbringing and knowing how corrupt the government is here, I have a real problem with letting the Israeli government or any of its ministries decide what I am going to see on the Internet.


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