All about Israel (Internet censorship) law proposition 892

I’ve been meaning to write about this for quite a while now, and have mentioned it in a recent post, but laziness and lack of time have prevented me from giving this matter the proper attention so far.

A kind comment to my above mentioned post implied that there wasn’t much written so far about proposition 892 in English, if that is the situation, then I’m more then willing to do what I can to rectify the situation.

Disclaimer: I am biased. Most of my information comes from web sites that are officially against law proposition 892. Having said that, I am going to make an effort to provide as complete view of the situation as possible.

So what is law proposition 892?

Law proposition 892 is a proposition for additions to the Israel communications act (Bezeq and broadcasts) that deals with Internet pornographic content filtering.

Note: For better understanding of the terms I’m going to use from here on, one might want to read a short introduction to the Israel legislative process.

Proposition 892 is a private bill that was proposed by Knesset member Amnon Chohen and passed preliminary reading in February 2007.

The law proposition was passed to discussion in the Knesset Economics Committee and stirred up public debate, a number of organizations offered position papers to the committee, including the Israel Internet Union and the Israel Association for Civil Rights.

An updated proposition passed first reading on February 27th, 2008 and was send back to the Economics Committee for further discussion.

Proposition 892 is receiving the active support of Arial Atias the current minister of communications.

Arial Atias and Amnon Chohen are both members of Shase, a Jewish religious orthodox political party which is a member of the current government coalition, due to that fact there is a rising public concern that the proposition is being pushed forward due to political rather then professional concerns.

What does the proposition say?

The following is a rather loose translation of proposition 892 as it was passed in the first reading, I made effort to stick to the original paragraph numbering:

Note: I have dropped some language used to position the bill within the context of the larger communications act.

  1. In the following verses:
    • “Websites unfit for minors” – Internet websites which primary content consists of violence, gambling or obscene materials as defined by the punishment law, including any of the following:
      1. Presentation of sexual intercourse which includes violence, abuse, humilliation or exploitation.
      2. Presentation of sexual intercourse with a minor or a minor-looking person.
      3. Presentation of a human or one of his body parts as an object available for sexual use.

      The above holds as long as the mentioned websites clearly do not contain artistic, scientific or educational value.

    • “Customer notice” – An explicit notice given from a customer to his internet service provider (ISP) with regard to the customer’s wish to receive filtering services for websites unfit for minors (In the following verses – content filtering services) or not receive that service, given that a notice not to receive content filtering services can be given only by a customer identified as an adult.
    • “Internet service provider” – An entity which received license according to this law, and provides internet access service.
  2. At the time of making the initial engagement for receiving internet access services or at the time of renewing such an engagement, an internet service provider will offer his customers the option to receive content filtering services in one of the following methods, according to the customers choice, assuming an efficient technology for providing content filtering services is available:
    1. Installation of content filtering instruments by the customer himself.
    2. Activation of content filtering instruments within the ISP’s infrastructure in a manner determined by the minister of communications.
    3. An other method as determined by the minister of communications.
  3. An ISP will only provide internet access services after receiving the customers notice.
  4. An ISP will not assume extra charge for content filtering services.
  5. The minister of communications is permitted to make various regulations with regard to implementation of this verse, including properties and features of filtering instruments, the manner of presenting customer notices and the manner in which a person is identified as an adult.

(The next verses are presented as addendum to existing verses of the communications act, and have to do with dealing with existing ISP customers).

  1. An ISP will contact, within 60 days of the enactment of this law any who was his customer prior to the enactment to receive a customer’s notice.
    1. Once the minister of communications had determined regulations in accordance to section 2.b above, an ISP will contact any who was his customer prior to the regulations being made, to receive a customer’s notice, even if the customer was already contacted according to section 1 above.
    2. If an ISP did not receive a customer’s notice in accordance to section 1 above, the ISP must attempt to contact the customer again within 30 days, failing to receive a customer’s notice at that time, the ISP most provide content filtering service as determined by the regulations.

What’s good about it?

Before leveling criticism, one should consider the positive points of the proposition, its positive aspect seems to be that being offered filtering services by the ISPs may raise the customer’s awareness to the various dangers awaiting children on the internet, and will also allow then to take counter measures.

What’s so bad about it?

  1. Invasion of privacy – Proposition 892 forbids the ISPs from providing internet services until the customer’s have stated their preference with regard to receiving content filtering services, essentially the customers must forgo their privacy in this regard and state their preferences or default to have an ISP-level content filtered connection.
  2. Overpowering the minister of communications – Various sections of the bill leave key decisions in the hands of the minister, among the issues the minister can decide upon:
    1. How is the ISP-infrastructure level filtering implemented, including the manner in which decisions to filter content are made and which content is filtered. Effectively this grants the minister of communications complete control over the content seen by users of the ISP-level filtering.
    2. The manner in which ISPs contact customers to receive their “customer’s notice”. The minister could determine that a newspaper ad is sufficient thereby causing many customers to default to unknowingly receiving filtering services out of lack of knowledge.
    3. The exact nature of the “customer’s notice”. The minister could make giving a notice so cumbersome that customers will simply choose not to do so, defaulting to having content filtered.
    4. The manner in which a customer is identified as an adult. The minisder could demand anything here, from simply stating an ID number over the phone (Which would necessitate granting ISPs access to the national ID database in order to confirm birth dates) to requiring biometric identification measures with all the various problems that have to do with them.
  3. The economic damage – while the verse requiring the ISPs to not take extra charge for filtering services seems positive and harmless, its can cause harm in many ways:
    1. The users of not-filtered connections will effectively subsidize the filtering for the users of the content filtering services.
    2. Since ISPs are required to provide content filtering utilities, free of cost, they will most likely choose the cheapest utility available on the market thereby breaking the feature and performance-based competition between the various content filtering utility providers.

My bottom line

The prospect of proposition 892 is black indeed, even when one does not delve (As I haven’t) into issues of the constitutional inadequateness of the proposition and the futility of internet content filtering technologies.

I see a reason for optimism however, as Larry Lessig states in his books, the actual manifestation of a regulatory policy on the real world depends upon 3 factors:

  1. The language of the law itself
  2. The infrastructure upon which the law is implemented
  3. The social norms within the society upon which the law governs

While, from a regulatory point of view the law is indeed a bad one, it is my hope and belief that social norms will prevent it from causing the harm it has such a strong potential to cause.

I do believe that the social norms will dictate that the consumer’s notice will be given with a simple phone call.

It also seems that, judging by the public response, the norm will probably be to have one’s connection not filtered.

The political struggle and public discussion continues, the proposition must go further discussions within the economics committee and it will, without a doubt, be further revised and updated. Eventually the proposition will go for vote in the Knesset in the second and third reading, and may or may not be accepted.

Time will tell if and which internet content filtering law we will have, in the meantime I choose to be optimistic.

Credits, links and references.

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