Monday, May 30, 2011

Lemming Tracks: Iran, Internet, Freedom, and Getting a Grip

Wouldn't it be nice, if people could be protected from bad influences? If children could grow up without ever being exposed to corrupting ideas? If someone would just make sure that people could see or read anything they wanted - as long as it was proper?

The Lemming doesn't think so.

Folks have tried that in America: the 'good old days' before Woodstock, when television censors protected the nation's youth from women's navels; and later, when political correctness was in flower.

The Lemming didn't like it, either time.

Here's what got the Lemming started:

"Iran Vows to Unplug Internet"
Christopher Rhoads, Farnaz Fassihi, Top Stories in Technology, The Wall Street Journal (May 28, 2011)

"Iran is taking steps toward an aggressive new form of censorship: a so-called national Internet that could, in effect, disconnect Iranian cyberspace from the rest of the world.

"The leadership in Iran sees the project as a way to end the fight for control of the Internet, according to observers of Iranian policy inside and outside the country. Iran, already among the most sophisticated nations in online censoring, also promotes its national Internet as a cost-saving measure for consumers and as a way to uphold Islamic moral codes.

"In February, as pro-democracy protests spread rapidly across the Middle East and North Africa, Reza Bagheri Asl, director of the telecommunication ministry's research institute, told an Iranian news agency that soon 60% of the nation's homes and businesses would be on the new, internal network. Within two years it would extend to the entire country, he said...."

In a way, what happens in Iran, and whether or not Iranians are protected from ideas their leaders don't like, doesn't matter to the Lemming. Not immediately, anyway. In the long run, the Lemming thinks that Donne's "no man is an island" idea is still valid - and that consequences propagate a lot more quickly now, than they did in 1624.

'Be Careful What You Wish For'

Good intentions can be nice - but may have unintended consequences.

For example, in the Lemming's youth, homeowners were warned against putting pennies behind fuses. This was before circuit breakers: when homes had fuses that would blow before an overloaded electrical circuit set the house on fire. Those fuses cost money: which added up over the years. Saving money is, in the Lemming's opinion, a good idea. Accidentally setting your house on fire isn't.

You'll still hear about the occasional daft business owner who sealed a fire exit. Making sure that folks using a service actually paid for it makes sense, in the Lemming's opinion. So does keeping merchandise from going out the back door.1 When people die because they can't get out - that's really bad for business. As well as raising serious moral and ethical issues.

Iran's leaders apparently want to protect their subjects from 'bad' influences.

Back to that Wall Street Journal article:

"...The unusual initiative appears part of a broader effort to confront what the regime now considers a major threat: an online invasion of Western ideas, culture and influence, primarily originating from the U.S. In recent speeches, Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and other top officials have called this emerging conflict the 'soft war.'

"On Friday, new reports emerged in the local press that Iran also intends to roll out its own computer operating system in coming months to replace Microsoft Corp.'s Windows. The development, which couldn't be independently confirmed, was attributed to Reza Taghipour, Iran's communication minister.

"Iran's national Internet will be 'a genuinely halal network, aimed at Muslims on an ethical and moral level,' Ali Aghamohammadi, Iran's head of economic affairs, said recently according to a state-run news service. Halal means compliant with Islamic law.

"Mr. Aghamohammadi said the new network would at first operate in parallel to the normal Internet—banks, government ministries and large companies would continue to have access to the regular Internet. Eventually, he said, the national network could replace the global Internet in Iran, as well as in other Muslim countries...."
(The Wall Street Journal)

If you're waiting for a rant about 'those people over there,' you'll have a long wait. The Lemming thinks that Iran closing its borders to foreign influences is a bad idea - but the Lemming is a little more worried, in the short term, with folks right here in America trying to do about the same thing.

Americans don't, in the Lemming's opinion, have to worry about a federal agency protecting them from western culture. This is where a fair fraction of the 'beer, bikinis, and designer jeans' stuff is coming from.

It's unlikely, again in the Lemming's opinion, that the powers that be in this country will decide to go with an 'American sites only' policy for Internet access.

On the other hand, there always seems to be someone who's convinced that 'the Masses' have to be protected from something. Generally, it seems, something the wannabe defender doesn't like or can't enjoy.

And that's another topic.

Somewhat-related posts:

1 This isn't a matter of siding with heartless plutocrats against the oppressed proletariat. It costs money to maintain a brick-and-mortar business - nightclub, hardware store, whatever. If some folks aren't paying for what they get - the ones who do pay will have to be charged more, to make up the difference. Which, in the Lemming's opinion, isn't good for the paying customers, isn't good for the business owner, and isn't - indirectly - good for the freeloaders.

And that's yet another topic.

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