Proposal for Internet Monitoring Should Be Abandoned

In its current format, the proposal would enable the monitoring and restriction of not only children, but groups such as employees.

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Communications Minister Gilad Erdan announcing the changes to the IBA and Israel Radio.
Communications Minister Gilad Erdan.Credit: Daniel Bar-On

The Communications Ministry’s proposal to require Internet service providers to offer subscribers tools that would enable customer to gather information on or restrict the surfing habits of family members or employees is ostensibly motivated by a desire to help consumers. The ministry wants more people to have access to tools that filter offensive content, a service that ISPs are obligated to provide for free but have refrained from promoting in favor of highlighting other services they provide for a fee.

But the excesses of this proposal are liable to overshadow its benefit to consumers. Under the proposal, which would be implemented as an amendment to the terms of the ISPs’ license, ISPs would be required to create databases from which they could compile reports on surfing habits that could be sent “to an email address determined by the subscriber.” What this means is that anyone who pays for an Internet connection, including for mobile devices, would have the ability to monitor the use of that connection by various devices.

Under the proposed change, this monitoring would be offered not only to those with a home or business Internet connection, but also to anyone with a device that has Internet access, including smartphones, wireless modems, wireless routers and tablet computers.

The original purpose of filters was to protect children from websites with harmful content, including pornography and violence. Consequently, many parents want these filters. The concern is that in its current format, the proposal would enable the monitoring and restriction of other groups, such as employees who use their employer’s Internet connection to surf, and thereby infringe on the rights to privacy, freedom of information and freedom of expression.

Internet researchers and experts point to another weakness in the proposal: It would require ISPs to save the web histories of customers who so request, creating complex and unnecessary “data monsters” that could be hacked or abused by unauthorized parties.

These are the reasons why only one Western country — Australia, which has strict censorship and Internet policies — has implemented a similar protocol. They are also the reasons why the Communications Ministry should abandon this proposal and make do with the existing tools.

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