Friday, May 18, 2007

Censoring Muncipal Wi-Fi in Boston...

Municipal Wi-Fi has sprung up all around the country, allowing citizens to connect to the internet wirelessly through government-sponsored programs. The idea is for governments to make the internet more universally available to anyone who wants to use it, but as Danny Weitzner has reported, certain municipalities like the city of Boston have begun using filters to block certain websites and other content.

Now, of course, no government wants to willingly provide a conduit for child pornography, sexual predation, and other harmful and illicit activities. However, it appears that Boston is using "mandatory content filtering that blocks all kinds of sites which are not even close to illegal nor are they sources of pornography that might be considered harmful to children". The major problem is that no one knows exactly what or how much is being censored, nor on what basis. Weitzner is right to point out that if the government filters perfectly legal and non-pornographic, non-harmful material - and that this, they say, is justified - then what's to stop them from also filtering websites from the opposing political party or Yankees.com?

In this sense, Boston is censoring websites on a completely arbitrary basis. It's one thing for a private company or ISP to do this, but a public government program using taxpayer dollars has to be held accountable to a different standard.

Ultimately, it seems inappropriate for any democratic government to get in the business of filtering websites without full disclosure of the basis on which it is doing so. Providing municipal wi-fi is actually a terrific thing and making the internet more universally accessible is indeed a noble objective. They just have to make sure that if they do it, they don't sacrifice other fundamental democratic values in the process.
  

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