Frequently Asked Questions about PICS and Censorship

Isn't PICS Voluntary?

As an individual user, in the privacy of your own home, the decision whether to enable PICS screening is indeed voluntary. However, the climate is such that parents and those in positions of authority (like teachers and computer officers) who do not enable PICS are increasingly branded as irresponsible. On the other hand, Internet Cafés and schools are increasingly forcing users to have PICS enabled if they wish to use their machines and browsers.

As an originator of internet material, PICS is becoming increasingly compulsory. Compuserve, one of the longest established computer services, forces users to rate their material, and many Internet Service Providers are following suit by requiring users to rate their web sites if they want to use their servers to store pages.

Isn't PICS just a ratings scheme?

Yes, technically PICS is just a ratings technology. But its application (in conjunction with the RSACi scheme) is ostensibly to screen out material deemed to be offensive without making any judgement for ourselves. In reality this means that PICS is the acceptable face of censorship in the 1990s.

How can you say PICS is a form of censorship?

In the past, the main thrust for what was censorship came from the authorities imposing their judgements about acceptable and unacceptable material. The consequence was that people did not have the freedom to make up their own minds about things. Today, the main thrust for censorship comes not from the state authorities but from a climate of mistrust of humanity. As a result many people expect us to surrender our capacity to decide things for ourselves in favour of the judgement of a third party. We are thus asked to submit to the guidance and judgement of some new authority: a ratings body, Internet Service Provider, or regulatory organisation like the Internet Watch Foundation. The consequence is the same: we do not have the freedom to make up our own minds. PICS is just the modern face of censorship.

Isn't PICS better than state bans on material?

No, it is far worse. State bans are overt, public and contestable. By contrast, the censorship of PICS is covert; the ratings authorities are not democratically accountable; the ratings schemes are not publicly determined; and there is no room for dissent.

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