Today, the European Parliament voted on whether to introduce web censorship with the intention of combating child pornography. The Pirate Party representative was one of only two representatives who voted against it. The censorship passed.
When it comes to child pornography, the subject is so stigmatized that people are expected to give up any of their other duties to fight it, regardless of whether the methods are even effective and proportionate. I am not prepared to give up the duty of defending the European Convention on Human Rights, reporters’ rights to protect their sources, freedom of speech, the presumption of innocence, and due process of law. Neither is our Member of European Parliament. Unfortunately, all but one of the others were.
In particular, the debate quickly turns dishonest. If you are opposing legislation claimed to fight child pornography, the finger is immediately pointed at you for defending child pornography and suggesting you maybe even like it. That kind of behavior is detestable, dishonest and deliberately misleading. It is perfectly possible and even quite reasonable to detest both censorship and child pornography alike, and consider neither phenomenon to be allowable in the slightest.
First, the problems with the proposal. We know that censorship is bad on all accounts; we learned that centuries ago. Changing a law that has existed for centuries, like allowing gay marriage or legalizing marijuana, is no big deal from a legislative perspective. However, changing the legal framework — as in changing the rules for admission of evidence or restricting free speech — is a huge deal. That is what’s being done here. One law is pitted against the entire legal framework, as if they stood on equal grounds. And the framework of free speech just lost.
To be honest, the text of the bill has improved somewhat. Its text used to say that member states shall censor web pages containing such material, whereas the new text says that they may do it, after first having tried to shut down the server. Still, there is no presumption of innocence, and no judicial oversight whatsoever. Not even a prosecutor is involved in effecting the censorship, much less a judge. If you were to be censored tomorrow, you would be rightsless; there would be no way for anybody to verify that there was nothing bad on your site, there would just be a governmental claim that there was.
A civilization is judged not by its efficiency of law and order, but by the rights it gives to its worst enemies to defend themselves against accusations of breaking that law.
Unfortunately — and this really enrages me — much of this censorship is not driven by interest for children in the slightest. The German group MOGiS, for example, which is a child abuse survivor group, is completely against any kind of censorship. Their motto is “crimes should be punished and not hidden”. Rather, a lot of it is driven by the copyright industry who use child pornography as a shameless battering ram to introduce censorship against “other crimes”, specifically violations of their copyright monopoly, in the next stage. I am not making this up; it is an explicit strategy from the copyright lobby.
In other words, just to spell it out, the copyright lobby is spending millions and millions pushing for legislation that explicitly hides egregious crimes against children just so they can restrict freedom of speech and introduce censorship to protect their neomercantilistic monopolies. There are no words that meet my level of contempt for this.
We saw one example of this in the news yesterday, as British Telecom was ordered by a court to use their child porn filter to protect the copyright monopolies and censor the site Newzbin2. There you have it, right there.
Going back to the legislation in the European Parliament today, there are many other problems with it. It criminalizes not only real child abuse, but also fictious art that can be viewed as depicting child abuse, even if it never happened. Seeing a silly drawing of Lisa Simpson engaged in a sexual act, or even that interpretation of the London 2012 Olympics logo, could brand you as a sex offender. Does that make sense to you? As in, really? What this does is load the truck of this real problem with legislation filled with ridicule, mockery and disproportionateness — and quite deserving of it, too. Yes, child abuse is a real problem. So let’s not fill it with mockery.
Also, a number of dogmatic pressure groups are using the stigmatization on this subject to push their religious morale down the throats of others. I can’t speak for how the fundamentalist Christian group ECPAT behaves outside of Sweden, but in this country, they are deliberately trying to confuse the concepts of lawful, healthy sex after the age of consent (15) with child abuse, using the abuse of small children as a weapon against healthy teenagers to give them a sense of shame and guilt for what teenagers always do as they come of age. That’s about as low as one can sink, in my eyes, and this group has a lot of say in the legislation on the matter. ECPAT has taken this so far in Sweden that you can now be jailed for possessing naked photos of yourself from before 18 years of age, as keeping those photos of yourself “violates children as a community”, in their view — which made it into legislation.
Seriously. We all detest and abhor child abuse. But do you think this — this — really makes any sense?
At the end of the day, I wish somebody would indeed think of the children and their future civil liberties, instead of using defenseless children for furthering their own bottom line or dogma.
The censorship proposal was carried with 541 votes against 2, with 31 abstentions. Christian Engström, Pirate MEP, has more.