Seth Finkelstein, Consulting Programmer, Anti Censorware
Investigations: 5th June
keeping with Media Man Australia's tradition of tackling
any subject, we explore the world of anti censorware,
civil liberties and other issues relating to censorship.
This interview was completed one day after the celebrated,
America's day, the 4th of July.
Finkelstein notes: Thanks. Please note I'm speaking
only for myself, and am no longer a member of Censorware
Project, nor am I presently working with Peacefire/Bennett
are your aims and objectives?
goal was simply to do what I could, so as to move
the evolution of the Internet towards "free"
rather than "censored". I was an Internet
user starting from back in the *80's*. Not *90's*,
but *80's*, since I was at MIT, and had net access
from very early on. I wanted to preserve the grand
openness of the Net I knew, rather than see it become
an instrument of government and corporate control.
degrees from MIT, BS
Physics 1985 and BS Mathematics 1985. (yes, I really
do have two degrees, physics and mathematics, from
MIT, feel free to check, sometimes people don't believe
me). Then I went into computer programming for a living,
and have been a consulting programmer as a profession.
Lifelong interest in civil-liberties, culminating
in winning a 2001 Electronic
Frontier Foundation Pioneer Award.
why and how did sex go mainstream?
be precise, sex is not going mainstream. Sex has always
been mainstream (old joke: "Celibacy is hereditary.
If your parents didn't have sex, the chances are you
won't have sex."). It is *knowledge* which is
becoming more mainstream. And this necessarily includes
knowledge of sex, as that's a topic of interest to
virtually all of the population. Some people think
control of information is breaking down and that's
good. Other people think it's bad, and want to reimplement
it. But we are definitely seeing that control *changing*.
And that means the strictures of the past are being
broken, with perhaps new ones attempting to be put
in place. And this applies to any common interest
of humanity, which again leads back to sex.
why and how did porn go mainstream?
you want to think clearly, don't start with "porn"
first. Rather, ask "How does this affect, in
general, what interests people?", and then consider
particular cases. That is, if communication is becoming
cheaper, and society more open, it is not difficult
to see there will be more communication about sexuality.
And not all of it will be artistic and refined. Again,
I want to stress this general principle - a rise in
support groups for people with rare diseases, and
support groups for people with rare fetishes, are
the same phenomena. A greater ability to trade videos
of common interest applies (in general) no matter
what the subject matter of those videos.
society "to blame"?
seems to be no society without some interest in sexual
material overall. The level of taboo definitely varies
and seems to affect particular forms of expression.
Compare Sweden or Germany with Saudi Arabia or China.
But a baseline interest seems innate (see joke above).
Think of it like language. The society in which you
live, and particulars of upbringing, determines the
language you speak and how well you speak it. But
the language process itself is deeply rooted in how
the brain thinks.
are your biggest supports and detractors?
supporters: Some civil-libertarians. Librarians. Civil-liberties
groups which are uncompromising over fighting censorship,
such as the current Electronic Frontier Foundation
), (no connection) Electronic Frontier Australia (EFA,
), and the American Library Association (ALA, http://www.ala.org
). The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU, http://www.aclu.org
) has also now been supportive on the topic, although
they work very much with their own people.
detractors: Censorware companies, of course. Religious
conservatives. Some civil-libertarians who believe
they can cut a deal and buy-off the censors. "Corporate
liberties" groups who are interested in privatizing
government censorship. Contrary to myth, honest-to-god
pornographers are completely uninterested in opposing
censorware. They're in business to make money, and
they'll sign-up with any blacklisting or "classification"
system which still allows them to sell their wares
to a profitable clientele (which is not children!).
The marginalization of anyone else is not of concern
color: Due to Australia's experience with "classification",
for many years, Australian civil-libertarians (e.g.
again, Electronic Frontiers Australia), was more supportive
of me than many civil-liberties organizations in America!
I'd joke about being a prophet without honor in my
has the Internet helped and hindered you and your
Internet has enabled me to receive support from people
around the world (as I just noted, Electronic Frontiers
Australia). I regularly e-mail with lawyers on the
other side of the country from me. By the same token,
(see how these are connected), I also regularly get
attacked from people around the world, such as censorware
company employees on the other side of the country
do you and your organisation / colleagues celebrate
on the 4th of July?
is precious. No books you can't read, nothing you
can't say. Most of the world does not have this good
the meaning of the 4th of July changed for you over
suppose the more history I learn, the more I think
that civilization is very fragile, a thin and easily
is a very good and very bad example of internet filtering
going terribly wrong?
Censorware is not "filtering". Censorware
is about controlling what people are allowed to read.
Good example: Privacy, anonymity, language translation
sites, and so on, need to be banned, because they
represent escapes from the necessary control of censorware.
I'm trying to get this understood. See http://sethf.com/pipermail/infothought/2002-May/000010.html
example: "Breast cancer". It was a good
example once. But by now, it's become so infamous,
censorware companies have special-cased the word "cancer"
in their spidering.
many images of sexy and / or porn, do advertisers
attempt to bombard the general public with each day,
and how has the internet made their job much easier?
numbers, I have no idea. I'd say the Internet has
made advertiser's job easier, since it provides a
greater ability to tailor advertising to more interested
online dating a serious threat, given that online
dating is "shaded" with sex, sometimes on
sex and porn websites? How
much of a problem is online dating in US (as far as
attacks, violence, criminals going online for their
next prey etc)?
can't be serious, compared to the single's bar scene,
or raves, or any late-night big-city environment.
People engaging in online-dating are almost always
(then) SOBER people meeting other (then) SOBER people.
And even if they aren't, no physical harm comes of
it (I'm reminded of a parody article "Drunk driving
on the Information Superhighway, which proposed that
nobody should be allowed online if they've been drinking
too much). I've never heard an announcement. "Take
the key...board. Friends don't let friends write drunk".
are the "bad guys" in the sex trade?
who forces themselves on an uninterested or unconsenting
viewer (particularly mousetrap sites and pop-ups).
Anyone who rips-off employees or scams potential customers.
are the "good guys" in the sex trade?
who provide fair dealing for their customers and workers,
with honest, legal, merchandise.
doing enough to stamp out unsolicited
e-mails (spam) containing sex adverts and other offensive
haven't studied this in particular, so I can't say.
are some priests (and people masquerading as priests),
attracted to the church?
sexuality, repression, make for a very complex mixture.
is the estimated amount of sex crimes that have been
committed in churches over the years?
I haven't studied the matter. Though it's a sensational
topic, my guess is that it's in fact relatively low,
simply on the basis that the opportunity is proportionally
I just did a Google search, here's some data: http://www.sled.state.sc.us/SLED/default.asp?Category=crimensc0&Service=SexCrimes
Overall, it gives "Schools, Churches" as
11.6%. The overwhelming location is "Residences,
Apts" at (no joke) "69.0%". This fits
well with idea that the proportion is relative to
Hope this is helpful and informative.
note: A complicated and interesting subject, to say
the least. Media Man Australia so dam pleased that
we still have freedom on speech in Australia, or should
that be, freedom of internet!
Sinkelsteins Infothough Blog