THE BLOG

Our Government Opposes Internet Filtering -- Maybe Yes, Maybe No

07/25/2009 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

All this talk of Internet surveillance is enough to cause intense bafflement. For the last couple of days, stories about the revolution Iran indicated that the government is able to keep track of the Internet doings of protesters by means of deep-packet inspection (DPI), a technology developed in the West that, like most dual-use technologies, has a good side and a bad side.

The good side is that it can be used to manage networks and deal with computer viruses and other nasties. The bad side is that it can be used to track computer messages, target insurgents, invade privacy, violate Net Neutrality and, as AT&T wants to do, target the use of copyrighted material online and have users thrown off of the Internet. Using DPI as the mother of all Internet filters would seem to be a non-starter, and yet the industry keeps pushing it, perhaps thinking that the U.S. government is ambivalent on the subject.

On that score, they might be right. After all, the Bush Administration instituted a widespread wire-tapping program which, as it turned out, snared not only suspected terrorists, but lots of innocent Americans who had their conversations trapped as well. Listening is listening. Congress, led by Democrats, got the telephone companies off scot free with immunity from doing illegal monitoring.

Now we come to the Chinese, where the government wants all computer makers to install Internet filters on all personal computers. Putting filters on computers is a swell idea. In fact, the Chinese may have stolen it from the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA), which advocated the same thing just last year.

Nice to see that our government is standing up for freedom. According to PC Magazine, our government has told the Chinese that their plan for filtering software is unacceptable because of "censorship issues" and security implications.

U.S. Trade Representative Ron Kirk was quoted in the story as saying, "Mandating technically flawed Green Dam software and denying manufacturers and consumers freedom to select filtering software is an unnecessary and unjustified means to achieve that objective, and poses a serious barrier to trade."

That's all well and good, but if that's so, Ambassador Kirk, what about ACTA -- the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement?

Kirk was quoted not long ago as saying the government planned to move forward with the ACTA agenda about which the government has declined to provide details, even stonewalling a lawsuit brought by Public Knowledge and the Electronic Frontier Foundation that sought some sunlight for the secret negotiations.

ACTA could require Internet Service Providers to filter content of Internet users on behalf of private industries, much as the Media Mogul Mob in Washington has consistently pressed for legislation to allow Internet filtering here in the U.S., in addition to its proposal for computer-based filtering. Are we for Internet filtering before we were against it? Or are we against it before we were for it? This is so confusing.

Let's try to simplify this a little. If the government opposes Internet filtering in Iran and opposes it in China, then it would be nice if our legislators and our government opposed it here, too?

Using the construction (from an entirely different discussion) of Ida. Gov. "Butch" Otter (R), a former member of the House Commerce Committee, we can put it this way: Monitoring is monitoring. Spying is spying. Invasion of privacy is invasion of privacy. Seems simple enough.