The government said Thursday it will promote the use of filtering software against what it judges to be harmful information over the Internet, in a bid to prevent such incidents as group suicides and production of explosives via use of the Internet.What we have here, I fear, is another example of a phenomenon I discussed here, which we might as well call the Padded Room Principle.
The government will map out procedures and criteria for police to ask Internet service providers to disclose information on the senders of messages on planned suicides. It will also try to educate people about the dangers of "harmful online information," and enhance consultation services about it, Chief Cabinet Secretary Hiroyuki Hosoda said.
According to the PRP, people need to be protected from themselves, and it's the state's job to do it. Therefore, the state tries to remove as many risks and hazards from everyday life as possible, even if it curtails our personal freedoms as a result much as a mental institution may lock patients in a padded room where they can do themselves no harm.
As I mentioned in the above-linked post, the PRP has inspired efforts to ban pointy kitchen knives and to install electronic speed limiters on motorcycles. And now, in Japan, it's leading to an attempt to filter "harmful" information from the Internet.
Doing so would be a bad idea. First, due to the constantly-changing nature of the Internet and the limits of filtering software, any attempt to screen out certain information will unavoidably block some innocuous sites, while leaving some "harmful" ones untouched. Second, filtering presents the risk of a slippery slope. It may be target suicide plots and bomb-building how-to's today, but it could easily, and surreptitiously, be expanded to block unpopular political websites tomorrow. And finally, as with all PRP-inspired initiatives, filtering reduces the need for people to take responsibility for their own actions. Instead of counting on people not to build bombs, Japan will undertake the futile challenge of making sure no one knows how to build one.
Japan's plan also includes some worthwhile suggestions. Warning people about certain types of websites and providing consultation services to those who may be considering suicide are good ideas. They give people the information they need to make better decisions. Filtering tries to makes those decisions for them.
Citing an AsiaMedia article, Nart Villeneuve says Japan's plan "is targeted towards urging 'schools and public offices' to install filtering software, not nationwide filtering."