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A call to arms

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It looks like Australia may soon have a censored Internet, with adult content blocked from anyone who hasn't signed a "perverts' register".

This policy has been pushed by religious-Right groups such as Family First for a while, but dismissed by the major parties as unreasonable. Until a few days ago, when the Labor party adopted it as a policy, seemingly to outflank the Tories and court the wowser vote. Of course, Labor is unlikely to get anywhere near power in the next few elections, but this has emboldened the right-wing moralists on the Tories' backbenches, and now the Federal Communications Minister has announced that the government will look into implementing the scheme.

Any such scheme would block all adult content to anyone not on a list of people who have applied to access it. This includes not only pornography but also things like news sites, blogs and online communities that touch on adult themes. Given that blogs like Boing Boing are blocked in many countries for being insufficiently squeaky-clean, that is the sort of content that may be blocked. Once the infrastructure is in place, it is likely that it will be used to block access to some materials to everyone, even those who have signed the perverts' register. Given the government's culture of secrecy when dealing in lists of banned websites in the past, and its censorious behaviour (such as recently having a parody of the Prime Minister's web site taken down, allegedly for "phishing"), chances are that a lot of things the government deems "unsuitable for Australians" will be blocked. Additionally, the scheme will further slow down Australians' internet connections, which already lag behind the rest of the developed world.

The wowsers and religious rightists who are pushing for this scheme are well organised, and look set to get it, unless those who oppose such censorship stand up and make themselves heard. Now is the time to do so. Write to your MP, letting them know that you oppose increased censorship. And consider joining groups like Electronic Frontiers Australia, who oppose such laws. If politicians don't see considerable opposition to such censorship, they will fall over themselves to bring it in and court the wowser vote.

I have just emailed my MP about this:
Dear Mr. Tanner,

I recently read with alarm that the Australian Labor Party has moved to support what effectively amounts to a national Internet censorship firewall as part of its communications policy.

Such a scheme, as initially advocated by right-wing religious groups such as Family First, would be bad for Australia and Australians in several ways. Firstly, having censorship rules applied to all internet traffic on the network would further degrade internet access speeds, which already lag significantly behind the rest of the developed world.

Secondly, blocking all content unsuitable for children from the internet, and requiring users to sign a register to gain access to it, violates Australian adults' right to privacy. The material blocked as "adult content" by existing internet filters these days is not merely hardcore pornography and violence, but includes material such as sex education, discussion of adult issues, controversial art and other material with potentially adult themes; to steamroll all that into one huge red-light district would be an extraordinarily illiberal step, placing Australia culturally closer to authoritarian regimes such as China and Saudi Arabia than to the liberal world.

Thirdly, once the infrastructure for mass internet censorship is in place, it will be tempting for current or future governments to use this to block content they do not wish the public to see for their own reasons, especially if the lists of blocked web sites are kept secret (as is the practice with the existing censorship regime). We have recently seen the Prime Minister's office remove a parody website set up by satirist and political commentator Richard Neville, abusing an anti-fraud law to do so. As such, it is not implausible to imagine that such powers could be used to block access to news or documents which reflect badly on the government of the day.

Fourthly, such a censorship system is unnecessary. Parents who do not wish their children to see inappropriate content already have access to filtering software which they can install at their discretion. If they do not do so, perhaps it would be better to see why they do not, rather than foisting a draconian censorship regime on all Australian internet users.

In summary, the internet filtering proposal is overbroad, violates Australians' civil rights, is likely to degrade Australia's already lagging internet connection speeds, and poses serious risks to free speech and freedom of expression. It appears to be drafted more to appeal to a puritanical section of the electorate than as a solution to any existing problem. As such, if the Labor Party continues to support this as a policy, I cannot in good conscience vote Labor, and I imagine, nor can others.

Sincerely,
Andrew Bulhak
(postal and electoral addresses)
Current Mood:
vehement
Current Music:
Sambassadeur - Can You See Me
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[User Picture]
On March 23rd, 2006 07:07 pm (UTC), blixt commented:
that is one of the most insanely stupid things I have heard in my life.
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On March 23rd, 2006 07:58 pm (UTC), kineticfactory replied:
Thanks.

Feel free to borrow from it when mailing your own MP.
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[User Picture]
On March 23rd, 2006 08:09 pm (UTC), kineticfactory replied:
"liberal" as in conservative, or as in small-L liberal?

In any case, writing to him/her would be a good idea. He/she is ultimately answerable to their electorate, and if there is serious discontent with a potential government policy in the electorate, this will be translated into doubt in the party room, and put a break on the rush to give the wowsers what they want. Even if your MP was one of the 62 who signed the initial letter calling for a national firewall, well-written letters opposing this from ordinary people in their electorate could have an effect.
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On March 23rd, 2006 08:12 pm (UTC), kineticfactory replied:
As for other suggestions, you can also write to senators, who may be more sympathetic. And letters to local and state newspapers can also help.

Though being in a Tory electorate (presumably one of the sometimes-marginal outer-suburban seats?) actually gives you more power than I had, living in the depths of a safe Labor seat in the inner city.
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On March 23rd, 2006 09:42 pm (UTC), trayce commented:
(your LJ layout is really hard to navigate, btw... anyhoo)

This won't happen. You know why? They've tried it before, everyone seems to have forgotten this. A law was passed back in 99/2000 and everyting, ISPs had to run proxy blocking servers and so on... we did lots of testing at the time, and frankly all of it was useless (it is impossible to filter any content properly as anyone with an ounce of tech smarts would know).

So even tho this law came down back then, it never got enforced. They just couldnt. And they wont be able to now either. Not without a lot of expensive court cases.

That aside, I read the original comment by the govt as meaning ISPs should offer content filtering at the server level FOR THOSE WHO WANT IT: ie, you pay your ISP to have a filtered service.

And that is not only doable, but fine by me. People want to pay to supposedly protect their kiddies? Fine, more money for the ISP. It wont *work*, mind you. But it is feasible. They cannot on the other hand enforce ISPs to block all adult content for the entire internet. It isnt legal or feasible (otherwise theyd have to do the same for books, TV, and films).

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On March 23rd, 2006 09:45 pm (UTC), bluestate replied:
No, I'm pretty sure they're suggesting blocking everything, and you can view all content if you "opt out" of it. Or, you'd have to "opt in" to the full content service, basically saying that you need to go on record requesting access to pr0n, pretty much.
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On March 23rd, 2006 09:49 pm (UTC), trayce replied:
Well in that case, as someone who's worked at ISPs for years, I'm pretty confident it will never happen, then. It just isn't workable.
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