Vint Cerf: Censorship a “very slippery slope”

The Sydney Morning Herald has an Q&A with Google chief internet evangelist Vint Cerf in which he is asked about censorship. Long and interesting excerpt follows:

Is censoring something you would advocate?

I don’t think so and part of the reason is it’s very, very difficult to literally manage the content of the internet because it comes from literally everywhere.

The internet is designed to be a very technically open environment, so what I frankly believe has to happen is two things. First, deeper education so people understand the consequences of abuse; the second one may, in fact, be legal frameworks in which really antisocial behaviour can be dealt with.

A related issue to the question of Google’s responsibility for what goes up on its sites is the issue of security and privacy, which have cropped up with the launch of products like Google Earth and Google Maps. Has it been a surprise that you’ve taken some flak over these issues?

I don’t think we necessarily anticipated any of this and it’s partly because the information that is put up on, for example, Google Earth comes from public sources. We don’t have any special sources. We don’t fly satellites of our own. The information is available to the public.

In some cases it’s free and in some cases we have to pay for it, and we don’t alter anything. There was an exchange that took place in India [last month] and there was some confusion about that. So far as I’m aware, and I double-checked with the Google Earth team, we do not alter any of the images we get. So if there’s something obscure about them, that’s because it’s just the way they came.

Google does understand, though, that there are some consequences of having ready access to this kind of information, and we’re ready to sit down and talk with governments that might have some concerns.

It’s not as if we’re ignorant of the hazards. On the other hand, I would suggest that any time you seek censorship you introduce a very slippery slope because then it becomes a case of who decides what’s acceptable and what isn’t, and how far do you go in this and does it become political, and does it become religious, does it become mere opinion or ideology, and is that the kind of society that we want to live in?

That last paragraph is most eloquent. Well put, Vint.

One thought on “Vint Cerf: Censorship a “very slippery slope””

  1. I mostly agree about the last paragraph. But once you start making slippery slope arguments, who knows when it will end?

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