Navigation: Return to: Seth Finkelstein - EFF 2001 Pioneer Award or Anticensorware Investigations
I would like to nominate Seth Finkelstein, sethf[at-sign]mit.edu, for this year's EFF Pioneer awards. Seth's phone number is [SF: redacted]
Today, one of the most pressing threats to free speech on the internet is the advent of censorware, automatic censoring software that prevents access to certain URLs based on a variety of criteria. The threat represented cannot be overestimated, in my opinion; far more effective than any national law, privately-run censorship with state impetus behind it is currently proving the falsity of the oft-quoted "The internet treats censorship as damage and routes around it."
Currently dozens of nations censor access (or have plans to do so in the immediate future) with secret lists of banned URLs. Every Asian nation except Japan. Every Islamic nation. Great Britain, Germany, and the European Union. Some seek to ban sex (Islamic, Asia), some seek to ban hate speech (UK, Germany, European Union), some seek to ban subversive materials (Asia, Islamic), some seek to ban foreign religions (Islamic), some seek to ban access to materials that are allegedly published in violation of copyright (European Union, Germany).
Every system that I'm aware of (with the sole exception of the UK, which has an informal, non-automated, but still secret, censorship system) is based on U.S.-made censoring software.
The problem is hardly less rampant in the U.S. Public libraries and schools across the country are censored by programs with names such as Net Nanny and Cybersitter. Again, the lists are secret - hundreds of thousands of adults in this country have no other internet access except through their local library, and they are being censored in a manner repugnant to our Constitution while civil liberties groups watch impassively.
Seth Finkelstein had the honor, if one can call it that, of being one of the first to recognize the threat, when civil liberties groups in the U.S. were still praising this sort of software as an alternative to government censorship, rather than the adjunct to such censorship that it actually is. His efforts were truly pioneering; swimming upstream against a torrent of criticism from pro- and anti-censorship forces alike, he was instrumental in producing the first major efforts to show how and what was actually being banned in this Faustian bargain. His contributions took the gleaming edge off such technological "wonder tools" and have been responsible for slowing, though not stopping, the adoption of internet censorship software in the U.S. Now that civil liberties groups are finally waking to the threat represented, they will find their job substantially eased due to his work.
I believe his efforts have been covered in some detail in submissions you've received separately. There's no reason for me to reiterate those. I can only add that the ratio of Seth's contributions to the recognition he has received is as high as anyone I know in the civil liberties field. I'm certain that the competition for the Pioneer awards is fierce, but I believe that EFF could find no better candidate than Seth Finkelstein.
-- Michael Sims
Founding member, the Censorware Project
Slashdot.org, Your Rights Online
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