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5 October, 2004

Not hypocritical

Even as I was doing it, I was surprised by the apparent contradiction in my favourably quoting the following, by Bill Thompson, technology journalist writing at the BBC website:

Many would complain at first, but the benefits to the net community as a whole would be so great that it would be worth it.
In an online context, that seems to make perfect sense, but in 'the real world' I tend to take a different view; I'm opposed to government monitoring, and I'm very unlikely to support any argument based on the concept "for the good of the collective".  The state should exist for and be accountable to the individual, never the reverse.

The distinction is that I believe 'anything goes' so long as no other individual is adversely affected. If you want to worship a deity or engage in homosexual activities (to pick two topics at random), that's entirely fine with me, so long as I don't have to know and non-participants are unaffected. If you want to run through the streets killing people, the needs of wider society clearly take precedence over your individual desire.

Likewise, I don't feel it would be appropriate for online activities to be collectively regulated. For example, if parents don't want their children to visit certain websites, that's for the parents to deal with, and no reason to ban access for everyone else. Yet connecting to the internet from an unsecured computer is a genuine risk to others, so for the benefit of all, a basic level of regulation would be justifiable.

Driving a car without a licence is rightfully illegal, whether due to not having learned to drive (ignorance) or due to having been proved to be a bad driver (negligence). The analogy easily extends to use of networked computers. Once a basic competence (on the part of the computer's software, not necessarily the user's personal knowledge!) has been proved, the user's choice of destination is no business of 'the authorities' or even one's peers.

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