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Okay…what?

I’d like to compare two Slashdot stories. I’ve reproduced the text exactly to make my point, but to get the links you’ll have to visit the articles. Fair enough?

Survey Reveals Americans Support Blog Censorship

Posted by samzenpus on Wednesday April 13, @08:14PM
from the I-have-too-many-freedoms-please-take-some-away dept.
renai42 writes “A new survey has revealed that Americans overwhelmingly support strong censorship for blogs, even though a substantial amount have never actually been to one. Eighty percent of the 2,500 respondents did not believe that bloggers should be allowed to publish home addresses and other personal information about private citizens. However, more than one-third of respondents had never heard of blogs before participating in the survey, and only around 30 percent of participants had actually visited a blog themselves.”

and

Tracking Your Taxes

Posted by samzenpus on Wednesday April 13, @10:22PM
from the tax-spam dept.
CTealL writes “Apparently Intuit thinks it’s okay to share information about taxes with third paries. According to this article, Intuit is using a third party tracking technology on all tax forms submitted to the IRS. “We could capture your name, your Social Security number or any other information that you willingly pass to a Web site,” acknowledged Matt Belkin, who serves as vice president of best practices for Utah marketing giant Omniture, which tracks the online activities of people using Intuit’s TurboTax. The IRS disavows any knowledge of this, saying “The IRS does not take a position on Web tracking tools.” Makes you wonder where your tax information is going…”

Let me get this straight, samzenpus. It’s okay for a single person to share someone else’s private information…that’s freedom of speech. But a corporation? Nooooooooo! Evil Big Brother!

I’m really having trouble seeing the difference here. Is this just me? Let me break it down:

A blogger publishes your home address. On the Internet. Where anyone can find it. It’s very likely that the context is bad, too–“Send hate mail to the senator about his new bill! Here’s his home address!” or “Here’s the home address of a doctor at an abortion clinic!” or “Here’s the home address of a guy we hate for no good reason! Hey, you live nearby? How about we form a mercenary group and go beat him up?”

Maybe I’m just sensitive here because that last one actually happened to Sean. (He fortunately didn’t get beat up, but it is really scary to see people talking about it.)

Okay, then, let’s compare that to a company capturing your personal information when you do your taxes. While they’re not publishing it on the Internet for all to see, this is still dangerous because of the possibility of identity theft.

I really don’t want to play down the threat here. But how can you say that this is horribly, horribly bad, and then say that bloggers should have the right to publish similarly potentially harmful information?

This is an overwhelming example of how some people are extraordinarily permissive when it comes to individuals (yay for the common man!), and extraordinarily hard-nosed when it comes to corporations (down with faceless industry!).

I realize that it seems dangerous to say “Bloggers should not be allowed to publish home addresses,” because you are telling people what they can and can’t do, which scares the daylights out of people here in America. It opens up the possibility for “censoring” other things, like things you don’t agree with.

Except that that’s ridiculous and would never happen. This is America. Look. Protecting someone’s safety is different from taping someone’s mouth shut about a political ideal. Sure, there might be someone who says “Bloggers shouldn’t say bad things about President Bush,” and someone might even try to pass legislation forbidding it…but will that legislation ever actually pass? No, people. Again, this is America.

But our personal freedoms can only extend as far as they don’t encroach upon the freedoms and personal security of others. We cannot have total freedom. (A million liberals just gasped and keeled over.)

People are different. We have different goals and motivations. Our goals invariably come into conflict with other people’s goals. We can’t have it both ways, and we certainly can’t have it all ways.

Something’s gotta give. We have to compromise.

So no. If it happens that a lot of bloggers out there are publishing people’s personal information on the Internet, then I would have no problem with someone introducing legislation to restrict it. (Let me just say here that I highly doubt anything like that would pass, either.)

But in the long run, I imagine such a thing will never become necessary. When those survey respondents stated that bloggers should not be “allowed” to publish personal information, I’m sure that their thoughts were not “We’d better write some laws as a preemptive strike!” That’s not how things work. A problem arises, and then we decide whether or not we need to solve it with new laws. Those survey respondents likely had no idea whether or not personal information was actually being shared–remember, the majority of them had never even seen a blog. I imagine their thought process to be something like, “Wow, there are people out there putting other people’s home addresses on their websites? That’s not nice. They shouldn’t do that.”

And they shouldn’t, and I hope–and believe–that most don’t, and that there will be no need for legislation. I have faith in the ethics of writers, and I have faith in the ability of the Internet community to self-correct.