Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Another clueless legislator and the Internet

Just when I thought that Ted Stevens would no longer serve as a butt of jokes, along comes another legislator to renew my faith in the fact that most of those people serving in legislatures simply have no clue how the Internet works. Add to it that, for some reason, when it comes to legislating the Internet and children, they always neglect the most obvious solution: parenting. Case in point.

Meet Bradley Daw. Andy Carvin, of the blog Learning Now, tells us that Mr. Daw is a Utah state legislator. His latest proposal is the following:

"According to the latest draft of the law, “A person may not provide wireless Internet access to the public unless the person restricts access to prevent a minor from accessing material harmful to minors.” It would require operators of open wifi networks to “use a reasonable method for ascertaining the age” of a user, such as requiring a credit card number to secure access."

Because we all know that every kid in America never leaves the house without their American Express. Or better yet, they know that for everything else, there is Master Card. And they sure feel good knowing that VISA is everywhere you want to be. You get the idea. Let me put this in simple terms. Mr. Daw, if he has his way, would want those folks who provide those very popular wifi hotspots to make absolutely sure that no minors are surfing the Internet on their wifi. This is so clueless that laughing simply does it no justice. Under presssure, Mr. Daw, who apparently can read writing on the wall when it is not favorable, has moved to the idea of filtering instead, an idea we all know has its own defects. Mr. Carvin points out what is probably the most significant point, and it is a point that librarians should be getting behind. After all, librarians pride themselves on promoting access to knowledge and resources for all, especially public librarians. Mr. Carvin writes:

"Filtering freely available Internet access would basically send the signal that open access is a privilege only for those who can afford it. Others who rely on free public wifi - adults as well as minors - would be relegated to a smaller, less useful Internet - an Internet where some nameless person determines for them what’s acceptable for them to use and what’s not. Given the track record of Internet filters being used in schools and libraries to block content capriciously just because it’s posted on a blog or Twitter or YouTube, would similar problems arise on filters placed on public wifi networks? Probably."

Let's be honest. We want to talk censorship? Let's talk censorship. Why should some nameless person determine what is acceptable for the rest of us to look at or not online? It's none of that person's business. And those people who supposedly claim they want less government should be the first ones rising their voices at this blatant attempt of the government to yet again tell them what they can and cannot do, what morality should be, and more importantly, parenting on their behalf. Because this is where the issue comes in. No one is saying that maybe parents should be doing their jobs. When it comes to minors, it should be the parents regulating and supervising, and that includes knowing where their kids go online. Seems simple enough for me, but let me put it in terms even my minor daughter can understand. This is what I tell her: "when you turn 18, you can do whatever the hell you want. Until that day, what I say goes." You see, people like Mr. Daw can get away with suggesting stupid legislation like the one he is pushing because a lot of parents are simply not supervising their kids. They just throw their arms up in the air and claim, "oh my Lord! This internet is full of porn, and my kid will get to it. What shall I ever do?" Uh, maybe you should watch your kid so he or she does not get to the porn. Just a suggestion. Not like I would pretend to tell you how to raise your kid or anything. Besides, everybody knows the internet is for porn. Well, most everybody anyways, but joking aside, that is the point. As I often tell my students when I am teaching information literacy, the internet is like the Wild West. It is an open frontier where pretty much anything goes. That is not necessarily a bad thing. Because in the end, it's what you do with it.

If you don't like porn, don't go looking for it. If you do not want your child to see it, then make sure you supervise them. It's your brat; it's not my duty to watch him or her for you. He or she stumbles upon porn because you were not watching the brat, don't come crying to me or yelling for the legislature to do your job. Besides, after a certain age, if your kid really wants to see certain areas of the internet, he or she will figure it out. Do your job as a parent. In the end, this is not just about finding the porn. It is about fair access to the internet and its many resources. There are a lot of excellent resources out there that often get blocked by filters. Public educators are often frustrated by unreasonable restrictions on online resources reflective of paranoid administrators often responding to hysterical parents. Quite a little chain of ignorance when you think about it. We don't need any more bad legislation. We need to dispel the ignorance. We need parents who will do their jobs, and we need to continue educating our children in the best way possible with the best tools available, including the internet. We don't need to be closing frontiers. We need to be exploring more.

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