Yet another weird SF fan

I'm a mathematician, a libertarian, and a science-fiction fan. Common sense? What's that?

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Yet another weird SF fan

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Hate-Speech Laws, Fence-Posts, and SOPA

Back in my Usenet days, I would frequently criticize hate-speech laws, even when the absence of such laws allowed neo-Nazis to spread propaganda:

There is also the matter that if the neo-Nazis are close to taking over, exposing their plans could possibly be interpreted as "hate speech." The absence of hate-speech laws also makes it difficult for Nazis to start repression if they ever do take over. Once they take over, they will have to hire censors, they will have to deal with people claiming to be censors who are leaking information, they will have to deal with the fact that most policeman will refuse to get involved in book burning, they will find that whatever level of government they take over will be opposed by other levels, if they actually try a massacre, they will find that any similar groups will have access to uncensored information and can be prepared, and they will find that most of the "60 million guns" in the U.S. are turned in their direction.
Let us suppose that the federal government wanted to censor something on the Internet. (Humor me.) Right now, they would have to set up a bureaucracy to blacklist web sites. That may be simple enough, but the bureaucracy would also have to go after people who circumvent the firewall. They will also need internal investigations to stop bureaucrats from leaking the data they want to censor, etc. The censors might also be out of office before the bureaucracy can be set up. In other words, Internet censorship would not be very effective right now, which may help dissuade would-be totalitarians from even trying to start it. If we pass SOPA or a similar bill, we'll have the bureaucracy and will be just an election or two from censorship.

Along similar lines, see this Samizdata discussion of fence-posts:

The problem is, they will outlaw almost everything while enforcing very little. Imprisonment by stealth. People will not know they are encircled until it is too late - like putting in all these very deep, robust fence-posts with no fence panels. All seems open. One day you will wake up and the panels are in, you are trapped and they can decide what law they wish to impose to nail whomsoever they desire.


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