The Big Brother syndrome

Here are some trivia questions:

– What country has the world’s highest percentage of engineers?

– What country has the highest number of medical doctors per capita in the world?

– What country has high technology and technology-rich products accounting for some 70% of its exports?

– What country invests 2.2% of its gross domestic product in R&D (the third highest level in the world, after Japan and Sweden and on a par with Germany)?

– What country has about 100 companies trading in the U.S., mainly on the NASDAQ market, representing the second-largest number of foreign firms appearing on the U.S. stock markets (after Canada) with some 80% of these companies develop and manufacture advanced technological products?

– Where do academics publish more scientific papers in international journals (110 for every 10,000 persons) than any other country in the world?

– Where in the world about 21 percent of all undergraduate students and 50 percent of all Ph.D. candidates specializing in the sciences or medicine, and another 13 percent of all undergraduate students and 8 percent of all graduate students specialize in engineering and architecture?

Apparently the answer to all of those is “Israel” (i am surprised myself about some of them) and there are more examples of economic and intellectual development of Israel as a country. However, there are few more question to add to the trivia:

– What country has a pending law aimed at blocking websites with sexual and violent content requiring those who want to consume this content to have a biometric identification device?

– What country has a pending law allowing municipalities to prohibit gay parades “just because”?

Unfortunately the answer to these questions is also “Israel”. Indeed the country proud of its high-tech industry, technological progressiveness, innovation, non-standard thinking, etc. finds itself in a process of being fed by exactly an opposite sentiment. Leaving the gay parade topic for a different post (actually i wrote about it once before), i would like to spend a few lines here addressing the internet censorship topic (thus the emphasis on technology in the trivia section).

I assume that many may not know that in the beginning of the year the Knesset passed, in a preliminary hearing, a law proposal aimed at regulating the internet content. The proposal was generated by MK Amnon Kohen from Shas who proposed requiring all ISPs to block websites with sex and violent content in order to, supposedly, protect the youth. If a person would like to gain access to this type of content they will have to register and identify themselves each time they log on using a biometric device.

Seemingly, it looks like a noble goal – protecting the youth from the dangers of virtual world, but is this the way to do that? To start with the current proposal does not define what sexual or violent contents are. Is a website discussing sexual identity considered to carry sexual content? Is a website about Capoeira considered to be violent? Who will decide what gets filtered? Based on what criteria? Are we facing another instute for kashrut AHIFA, but this time for online content?

But going beyond that is the question if this is the role of the state to regulate its citizens online behavior, especially when it includes monitoring the browsing patterns of the entire country. What about privacy? What about the fundamental differences between the uses and utilization of the internet compared to the mainstream media? What kind of future acts this law would prepare the soil for? Will the next step be preventing people from surfing to sites that question the religious principles of Judaism or trying to convert them into other religions? Or maybe blocking websites that tolerate inter-religious marriage? I would assume that from the point of view of Shas these things are as dangerous as sex and violence. Will I, as a citizen, have to maintain a list of websites that i am allowed to visit? And what is next? Monitoring everybody’s email in order to prevent distribution of sex and violence by alternative methods? I can understand the need to fight the crime, but does it justify jailing and monitoring the entire normative population of a country? What about educational efforts for example? What is feasibility of this monitoring/blocking initiative? Today, the ISPs offer software that allow parents monitoring their children access, so why should it be centralized ad can it be effectively done that way?

This last point actually bring me to the last point i will try to make here. It seems to me that this attempt goes beyond pure care to the mental health of youth. It appears more as a social group (minority) trying to impose its world view and its values to another social group (mind you majority). And doing that they are entering a domain that they know very little about and hardly understand the cultural dynamics of it.

In general, it seems like the religious community has problems with the new technology. Another law proposal, that failed, was about forbidding busineses providing youngsters with Internet access. In other words, as you have to show your ID when you buy alcohol, you would have to show one in order to use services of an internet cafe. According to that proposal any business owner breaking this law, i.e. allowing people younger than 18 using internet in their business, is subject to 6 months in prison. The funny/sad part of it that MK Avraham Ravitz, who proposed the law, has never been into an internet cafe! Not only that, but the modern communication technology and the entire coffee shops culture, where people are coming to study and work in this public areas, is foreign to the world that Ravitz and the religious community have created for themselves. So, what puts him (and others) in position to regulate cultural routines he has little or no knowledge about?

I haven’t read the actual study mentioned here, but according to the article the youths are savvy and critical about the new media, to a degree that they are aware of the dangers of the Internet. This is to say that internet does not presents more danger that the physical world, but instead offers outlets blocked in other domains. I would argue that education, which is a slower, more expansive and demanding process, is more likely to protect the youths. And i am not alone. Karin Barzilai-Nahon wrote about it in Ynet and also just a few days ago Washington Post had an article with a similar point. At the same time constant monitoring and state censorship may quickly prove themselves as counter productive, also spilling over and widening the divide between the secular and religious communities in Israel.

I tihnk I should stop here for this post is alrady too long and i am afraid nobody will even reach this point. But there is more to say on the subject and i will do that in the next few days. In the meantime, you are welcome to leave your comments and let me know what you think about this issue.

Give them a finger

The text on the icon says something like: “Give them a finger, they will require the entire hand: Opposingthe law of biometry-based blocking of websites” (very bad translation of mine).

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9 Responses to “The Big Brother syndrome”

  1. Civil activism « ::: Think Macro ::: Says:

    […] Recently i blogged about the pending law for internet censorship in Israel. Gladly, I am not alone arguing against it. […]

  2. Giuliani’s “sin” « ::: Think Macro ::: Says:

    […] taking advantage of the system by utilizing its mechanism for promotion of particular ideology (see for example the attempts of internet regulation in […]

  3. Nadya Says:

    I personally am against almost any kind of censorship and don’t think it is in any way an instrument of protecting/educating young people. I actually don’t undersand the logic behind this “noble goal”… Okay, your teenage kids will not be able to see porn, so what? What dangers is it supposed to protect them from? They’d better spend the money on teaching kids about safe sex and AIDs in school. Not sure if it’s done in Israel, is it?

  4. Dima Says:

    Thanks! I absolutely agree with you that education is the way to “protect” the youth. And i join you in questions how exactly blocking the content will solve the “problem”. Also, i don’t believe blocking will survive long.

    As to sex education in Israeli, as far as i remember and understand this it depends where you study. For example, i remember being in high school, we had these lesson called “life skills” (no kidding!) and one of the topics there was discussing sex, safe sex, AIDS, pregnancy and other related issues. I know that my niece, who is in elementary school learns some stuff about where kids are coming from, but i don’t know the details. At the same time, there is for example an independent system of religious schools, run by the same Shas, and i doubt they have any sex education there, but then i don’t know for sure.

    How is it done in Russia these days?

  5. Nadya Says:

    Well, when I was in school, there was a very clinical description of male and female reproductive systems in the anatomy textbook, and that was it. No life skills lessons. :) As far as I know, safe sex and AIDS issues are still not included in the school programs, although outside of schools there are educative events for kids, organized by volonteers and non-profit organization, where they talk about STIs and stuff. But of course, the percentage of kis attending these is small.

  6. Nadya Says:

    Just read in a magszine, studies have shown that due to the accessibility of porn over the Internet the violence rates have decreased in 85% in the past 25 years. I believe this is American data, but unfortunately they don’t give any references.

  7. Dima Says:

    Yes and there was also SpidInfo… very educational :)

    As to the study, it’d be interesting for this to be true, but it sounds a bit weird. How did they establish causality? Also the figures sound strange… 85% decrease?! Where? And also the 25 years span seems a bit ambitious… Are they claiming to follow up since 1982? I am a bit skeptical…. What magazine was it?

  8. lisa Says:

    The “exclude everyone except registered porn consumers” model is designed to vilify non-conservatives or just any person who wants to make their own decisions about what they browse on the web, not to “protect youth”.

    Recently was a serious proposal to “ban porn” in Aboriginal communities as part of the effort to tackle rampant child sex abuse. Somehow it seems that the point was missed that child porn is already absolutely illegal in Australia and so the effect would be to ban good regular healthy porn! Regardless as to the figures Nadya quoted I think it seems logical that porn would act to reduce sexual abuse and violence not increase it.

  9. A very dark day for Israel « ::: Think Macro ::: Says:

    […] again and the victim of the day is the State of Israel.About half a year ago I blogged about the pending law for internet censorship in Israel and about emails I sent to members of the Knesset advocating […]

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