this is not your sawtooth wave (kineticfactory) wrote,
this is not your sawtooth wave

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A call to arms

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.

Andrew Bulhak
(postal and electoral addresses)
Tags: australia, censorship, issues

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