My dad, a retired professor of musicology, is a DSL customer of the Ontario and Trumansburg Telephone Companies. We have carried on email correspondence for years, peppering our prose with F-bombs whenever the urge arises. One fine day he stopped receiving mail from my gmail account, so I suggested he contact his ISP to see if I was being blocked. It turns out that his provider had begun applying “decency filters” to his incoming mail without his knowledge or consent, and my messages had been quarantined. When he demanded that they stop inspecting his mail for “decency,” they replied with boilerplate instructions on how to whitelist my address. He got on the phone and explained that what he wanted was not to whitelist his correspondents one by one, but to have the decency filter disabled outright. The drone with whom he spoke appeared not to understand. He is escalating his case up to the telco’s CEO Paul Griswold, and copying his correspondence to the New York ACLU and the Electronic Frontier Foundation.
Grouchy old bastard that he is, my dad has little patience with mindlessness and stubborn stupidity of this sort. So in his latest round of correspondence, he busted their balls thus:
One of your people called me a short time ago, and astonished (and, I must admit) infuriated me by his real (or feigned) inability to understand what I was trying to say to him. So let me try to get at it in writing.
There is a world of difference between filtering spam as such and filtering for what you mistakenly take to be “decency.” The first is allowable; the second is abominable. And to do either or both without telling the subscriber what you are doing is detestable. If your technology is so crude that it cannot distinguish between spam and four letter words, you need new technology. But be that as it may, your minds should be capable of grasping the point.
So got it? It is really very simple.
Now, I am an old professor, so let me read you a lecture; please hold still for a few moments. The US Constitution of course has nothing directly to do with our dispute. It does, however, bear on it indirectly in a most profound way. The Constitution is not merely the legal basis of our country, it also has determined our ethos.
Now read it. You will see that it is profoundly mistrustful of the political judgments of what its authors thought of as “the mob,” a group to which you and I probably would have been thought to belong. That is why the Senate was originally elected by state legislatures; that is why even today with direct election, it remains profoundly unrepresentative. On the other hand, The Constitution in its first final form — that is with the Bill of Rights added to the original document — is deeply concerned about individual liberties. It is accordingly at once quite libertarian and somewhat undemocratic.
To leap to our little situation: not only are you not my censor, but your attempt to assume this dreadful role really does violate America’s basic ethos and is accordingly deeply offensive to people like me. Despite everything, we still believe in each citizen’s basic responsibility for himself. We refuse to turn this responsibility over to others. You have no right to take it away from for me on your own initiative. And in truth, I have no right to turn it over to you so long as I am sentient.
That your definition of “indecency” is idiotic and contrary to sound morality is another matter and could be explained to you only in the context of another little lecture. I fear you have had enough for now.
Please actually read and understand what I have written you. Do not reply with some canned nonsense from corporate headquarters or anything of that silly sort. There’s no point in that. If you cannot engage me in reasonable and intelligent discourse, do not engage me at all. But do turn off that thrice damned decency filter.
What do you make of that? What are the odds that anyone will understand what he’s saying and respond appropriately?