In my IS Security class at the university, I was recently moderating a discussion thread where my students posted their opinions on Internet content filtering. The question was a simple one, “Some schools and libraries use Internet content filters to prohibit users from accessing undesirable Web sites. These filters are designed to protect individuals, yet some claim it is a violation of their freedom. What are your opinions about Internet content filters? Do they provide protection for users or are they a hindrance?”
The class is composed of a collection of Generation X and a few Boomers.¬† The opinions collected were very consistent and surprising, at least, to me.
First, there was the pragmatic security professional’s view that web sites known to proliferate malware of any type are necessary to block, whether we’re talking about one’s home, library, or business.¬† That part isn’t very surprising.¬† What did cause me to raise an eyebrow was the unanimity of thought against screening any content that may be deemed objectionable.
I posted several comments of my own, attempting to shine a light on the numerous dimensions of objectionable material, the role of demographics, contemporary societal trends, and so on.¬† There were a number of comments from the students pointing out that sexual predators use certain web sites to lure their prey into harms way.¬† These are good points.¬† It’s true too that especially in terms of protecting children, this can be very tricky because it’s so easy for predators to lurk in sites that children use for legitimate play (eg, gaming sites).
Where things get sticky is the subject of content that isn’t for InfoSec protection purposes, nor for protection against criminals, but content that is otherwise deemed as “objectionable.”¬† In this category, this group of students was unanimous in lining up behind content filtering.¬† There was very little… scratch that… almost no concern about who decides what is objectionable or what their motives are.¬† In other words, sort of a blind trust of authority to set policy over informational content in a very wide range of settings.
One subject that is completely absent is any concern about filtering of political content.¬† Surely much of this is because these students reside in America, and have not so far become concerned with the potential for limiting public discourse, or believe that such a thing does not take place in America.¬† Regardless of your view on that point, it also suggests that these students (in America) are not burning gray matter over political content suppression that occurs in other parts of the planet.
In short, this group of university students have a solid respect for InfoSec concerns regarding Internet content filtering, but are not at all concerned with risks associated with limitations of content for their own informational consumption.
What are your views on this?