Tuesday, December 18, 2007

2008: Setting the Agenda on Filtering

In case you missed it, Chris Dodd's filibuster succeeded in blocking the version of the FISA bill which includes retroactive amnesty for telecom companies who were, by all appearances, complicit in massive illegal spying operations conducted on US citizens since the beginning of the Bush administration. Glenn Greenwald and Jane Hamsher lay out how it all went down, from the beginning, if you need a refresher. Greenwald:

Without question, it was those efforts, spontaneously created and driven by blogs and their readers, which led directly to the principled stand Chris Dodd took yesterday in defense of the rule of law. This was not a process whereby some Beltway politician announced a campaign and then citizens fell into line behind it. The opposite occurred. The very idea for the "hold" originated among a few citizens, was almost immediately exploded into a virtual movement by tens of thousands of people, and was then made into a reality by a single political figure, Chris Dodd, responding to that passion by taking the lead on it.

Here is Dodd himself last night explaining that this is exactly what happened, that his virtually solitary efforts (eventually supported by a handful of his Senate colleagues) were propelled by the hundreds of thousands of citizens supporting what he was doing:

This is, to me, more significant than blogs being used for fundraising or mau-mau-ing journalists. The most basic and fundamental principles of American government that we teach in Civics 101 are being threatened: this is a nation of laws, not men; our government is made of three separate but equal branches. Not to mention the relationship between corporate power and government power, which is a grave issue going forward for this country. Bloggers and blogging have done a great service to this country these past few weeks.

I think, looking forward into 2008, considering the myriad issues around web filtering in schools, we should take this experience as a focal point. There is a natural tendency for the debate about filtering to either stick on abstract principles, should there be any filtering or none; or to focus on somewhat gray areas, like MySpace or YouTube (let me just say that I've worked in a few middle schools held together with baling wire and twine where a couple viral videos and abrupt de-friendings a week might tip the balance between barely controlled chaos and pandemonium, so yes, I can conceive of a school justifiably blocking them).

I would propose that people and organizations who want to see a change in filtering policies in schools (and frankly, I have no real pull in this area, so all I can do is suggest) should focus their attention where the argument against filtering is most clear. Schools, that is, the government, should not block political speech from coming into schools. I am sure http://firedoglake.com, a key player in this debate over the fundamental principles of American government, is blocked in many schools around the country, just because it is a blog. This is completely unacceptable. It should be anathema to any patriotic American. This is where we should start returning to a position of freedom and sanity on this issue. And it isn't a decision for the IT staff, or some hired contractor, it ultimately should be a school board decision. This is a winnable debate, and that's what we need right now.

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