Blown To Bits

Censorship in the Air?

Tuesday, September 16th, 2008 by Harry Lewis

The ubiquitous distribution of bits raises serious issues about children’s access to pornography, a matter we discuss in Chapter 7. As WiFi becomes available in more and more public places, it becomes harder and harder not to be confronted by the prurient interests of others who share those spaces with us. Denver airport, which offers free WiFi (hurray!), adopted a no-offensive-material policy. Who thought that airport officials would wind up in the censorship business?

But now it gets more complicated. American Airlines and other airlines are testing in-the-air WiFi, and the flight attendants’ union wants a similar no-offensive-material policy enforced — filtering the offending bits before they reach the passengers, so the attendants don’t have to adjudicate disputes between bored businessmen on their second martinis and the mothers of teenage boys sitting next to them. There is likely to be some pushback from those paying $9.95 or $12.95 for the service, especially if the filtering is too aggressive (it’s not just porn that would be filtered, apparently — “porn or other offending material,” which might cover a lot of music videos).

What people should be allowed to see is not a simple question for companies in the business of pleasing people, when people have such different views on what they and others should be allowed to see.

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