A Joint Select Committee on Cyber-Safety has been set up as of 15th of March 2010. While this is a good thing as far as investigating ways in which Australians might need help or guidance online, those interested in online rights might be concerned that a committee has as much opportunity to confuse myth with reality in terms of online problems, as it does to come up with real world solutions to challenges online.
While EFA looks forward to what the committee comes up with in terms of identity theft, breaches of privacy and other problems that verifiably exist in a connected world, the terms of reference also include;
inappropriate social and health behaviours in an online environment (e.g. technology addiction, online promotion of anorexia, drug usage, underage drinking and smoking);
There's some food for thought there, but there's also the use of the term "technology addiction". The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders or "DSM", is the handbook for doctors (who must have big hands, it's quite a tome) on mental disorders such as addictions - even though it uses the term "substance abuse" instead of addiction. Nowhere in this authority is mention of the term "technology addiction" and as such it's not recognised as an actual mental illness. It should be noted that the standard for recognition as a mental illness isn't necessarily insurmountable; being gay was removed as a mental disorder in 1973.
In some areas of the world where it's perceived that some overuse technology, measures have been established to deal with it with mixed results. Some of these measures are seemingly harmless, clinics charging tens of thousands of dollars for a program that lasts roughly a month and involves exercise and reading books. Some areas of the world aren't so measured, with stories about camps with beatings, torture and drug regimens. Because there is no official condition called technology addiction, there is no regulation about how to treat it.
If the JSCCS has declared technology addiction to exist before it's even got started, it's first finding is to declare a medical condition. The next step after unilaterally making up illnesses, may be to declare a national medical problem, and the step after that may be to figure out how to treat it on a national scale. Were this to happen, would we go down the American route of isolation and exercise to reconnect with a world outside World of Warcraft? Or the Chinese route of folk medicine and electroshock therapy administered at over 300 addiction camps?
EFA works tirelessly (actually that's not quite true, we're often very tired) to ensure that understanding our connected world leads to good policy, and conversely that misunderstanding online Australia doesn't breed bad policy. If it turns out that the JSCCS has inadvertently made up a mental illness around the use of technology, it seems unlikely that good policy will follow in its wake. As a result, the following has been sent to the committee secretary. I'm looking forward to the response.
I write with a question regarding the Joint Select Committee on Cyber-Safety's terms of reference. In part (a) ii. of the terms of reference is the following inter alia;
the nature, prevalence, implications of and level of risk associated with cyber-safety threats, such as: inappropriate social and health behaviours in an online environment (e.g. technology addiction, online promotion of anorexia, drug usage, underage drinking and smoking);
Given that the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (colloquially the "DSM") is widely considered to be the authority on addictions and mental disorders, and given that publication does not recognise "technology addiction" as an addiction or disorder, can the committee advise of the following;
- What the committee considers to constitute technology addiction
- On whose advice the committee considers technology addiction to verifiably exist either in Australia or elsewhere
- On whose advice the committee considers technology addiction to be an understood, and presumably diagnosable, medical condition consistent with being accurately termed an "addiction"
- On whose advice the committee considers that technology addiction is a cyber-safety threat, or what evidence exists to suggest that the committee ought consider technology addiction in its terms of reference
Electronic Frontiers Australia
(e): [email protected]