Philosophy Hurts Your Head

The blog of a cranky Philosophy PhD Student from Newcastle, Australia.

Slippery Slopes and the Conroy Plan

Posted by Sam D on November 2, 2008

There is a lot of shouting about Slippery Slopes in the debate aout Stephen Conroys plan to enforce mandatory ISP level filtering on the internest in Australia. Now some choppers of logic out there might want to respond by saying that slippery slope arguments are invalid. And if you fail to indepednantly justify the connections between the premises, they are indeed invalid. Likewise if the agument forms a ‘conjuntion fallacy’. However, Eugene Volokh, who recently gave his considered opinion on the situation at The Volokh Conspiracy, details at length the different kinds of slippery slopes that exist and the mechaisms by which they operate. He does ot say that Slippery Slope arguments are valid (just the opposite I think), but he does argue that they do in fact occur in real life, and explores how they work

For our slippery slope today, I will define our ‘top of the slope’ as follows: The imposition of mandatory IPS filters blocking access to ‘illegal content’. By Illegal content I mean anything that would currently be ‘Refused Classification’ under ACMA guidlines eg, child pornography, fetish and BDSM, anything that advocates terrorist acts, anything that is instructional in the commission of a crime (note that ‘illegal content’ is currently ill defined, so I am kind of guessing here) . For the sake of brevity I’d call this  simply ‘censorship’ (but don’t be mistaken, I disagree with even this amount of censorship). 

The bottom of the slope could be something like this: Isp filters cause extensive content to be blocked including all X18+ material, sites about Euthanasia, as well as any other sites that offend federal politicians, their wives or their lobbyists – Severe Censorship

Based roughly on categories in Mechanisims of the Slippery Slope

  1. Cost-lowering: Once  ISP level filtering (enabling censorship) is in place, the government will have to only alter the secret blacklist to ban additional sites.
  2. Legal rule combination: I can’t think of how this category is to be applied in this case – any ideas would be greatly appreciated.
  3. Attitude altering: People may begin to think of access to websites as a privilege rather than a right, and thus regard restricted access less seriously.
  4. Small change tolerance: People may tolerate Censorship because it constitutes just a small change, but when combined with other small changes, it could lead to the equivalent of Severe Censorship.
  5. Political Power: The hassle of getting around the Moderate Censorship may reduce the number of people wanting unrestricted internet access, and thus the political power of the anti-censorship bloc decreases.
  6. Political momentum: Once the government has passed this ISP filtering law it becomes easier to pass other censorship laws, including laws that entail Severe censorship.

Off the top of my head, I’d say that No 1 is quite likely, though it isn’t clear that it will definetly lead to the bottom of the slope, I’d argue that it certainly could. No 3 could happen, but would take years to come about. No 4 seems quite likely to me. No 5 seem quite unlikely to me, for the time being. No 6 is arguably what is happeing right now, with this current situation being the result of earlier Brian Harradine inspired legislation. 

Anyway, I think there is food for thougt here. If there are good reasons to think that the ISP filtering can lead to an unacceptable situation in the future we need to do one of two things. A) Not enact the filtering or B) Set up structures or mechanisms that ensure we don’t slide down the slope. Given that unlike the U.S. our constitution is little help in the regard, I’m not sure what form this would take. 



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