Any discussion about content filtering immediately conjures up thoughts of censorship and sparks debates about who has the right to determine what is seen on the internet. We at CIRA fundamentally believe in the open internet. However, this issue is complex and can lead to a variety of conversations across the political spectrum. Conversations like:
- How can you filter information about narcotics when I may be doing legitimate research and need that data?
- Who gets to decide that Picasso’s famous Blue Nude painting is art and an adult video is pornography?
And the list goes on.
Bad news; this blog is not about that. If it were, it would be more fun to write and a lot more controversial. Good news; we're going to talk about why DNS filtering is not censorship, and how it helps keep the internet safe from cyber-thieves.
Let’s be clear; malware filtering is not censorship. A criminal who builds a website designed to look exactly like a bank's login page in order to steal your elderly mother's credit card is not making art. Though Picasso did once say "great artists steal".
"I don't know if it's art, but I like it." I think Walt Disney said it first, but the Joker delivered it the best.
If you like ransomware, botnets and viruses then maybe your taste in art is a little avant-garde.
I guess it's possible that there's a concept artist out there making an artistic statement by ransoming corporate data (has anyone seen Banksy lately?) but I have my doubts. Most reasonable people would agree that content whose only objective is to steal people's money is not free speech.
Organizations have the right and (if they store personal data) the legal obligation to protect their systems, devices and networks from bad actors. This includes public institutions, like libraries, that must keep their systems free from malware to protect not only their own network but the users of their public WiFi as well. In fact, anyone offering public WiFi could make the world a better place by protecting the users on the network rather than just offering-up free bandwidth.
So, what about homeowners and individuals? Well, dad used to say "my house, my rules". Filtering potential hackers and malware from your home network just seems like common sense. A guest who joins your WiFi network could be the way malware is introduced to your home. Home users have at least some personal responsibility to protect their systems and data.
DNS filtering is the equivalent of a water treatment facility--it protects from illness.
If access to the internet is (like water) a right then shouldn't it be clean?
And that's really the goal, keeping users safe. It's not as controversial as discussing censorship because it isn't censorship, it's good network hygiene. Moreover, with all the DNS options available to end-users there it is difficult to imagine a scenario in which free speech is threatened. With DNS encryption starting to become a mainstream topic, we expect these kinds of discussions to become more common, but it is critical to understand the difference between keeping users safe and stifling free speech.