Re: TECH: Is PICS a threat to Free Speech?

Hal Finney (
Sat, 28 Jun 1997 12:19:33 -0700

Bobby - PICS can be used to facilitate "censorship" (by many definitions)
if the censor has the power to filter the pages that the user accesses.
China could force users to go through approved proxy servers which would
filter out pages the government didn't like, just as parents could force
their children to use filtering software. Where along this line you start
calling it censorship will vary from person to person, but obviously it
could make it easier to apply these kinds of restrictions.

More broadly, though, PICS really gives more information about the
data being labelled, and it packages it in a form which makes it easy
to filter. As with other advances in making data available (like the
net itself), this has good and bad consequences. Making it easier for
people to filter by themselves inherently makes it easier for people to
filter on behalf of others. This is analogous to the way in which the
net makes it easier for people to get both "good" and "bad" information,
by whatever definition you use.

My opinion is that blaming PICS for making censorship easier is not
the right way to look at it, blaming the messenger for the message.
The real people at fault are the censors. They are the ones at whom
criticism or political pressure should be aimed. A system like PICS
follows in the grand tradition of the net, making more information
available, more conveniently.

Many traditional supporters of free speech on the net are opposed to
PICS, but I think they are being inconsistent. They oppose restrictions
on access to information, but here is a kind of information which they
don't want to see propagated. I personally support measures like PICS
which provide more information about what is on the net. I oppose the
efforts of censors to stop adults from having access to the information
they desire. Both of these positions seem entirely consistent to me.