Australia… Land of the Great Firewall

By Malice in Wonderland

As the world celebrates the start of the new year, the Australian government is planning to mandate ISP filtering.

In an unprecedented move for a democratic county, the Australian Federal Government is now about to legislate its plan for internet censorship on this continent. The decision was justified through emotive language and stated that its main aim was to “protect our children” from “inappropriate” content. Such was the wording that anyone seen to oppose it was deemed as being pro child pornography and thereby an unconscionable reprobate.

However, while the government claims to care so much for the well being and welfare of our children, it’s actually cut funding to those very agencies which ensure their safety. The Department of Child Protection has a backlog of cases where children are in real danger from very real abuse and are working with a skeleton crew due to lack of funds. Likewise, the Australian Federal Police which has in recent years been very successful in breaking up a number of pedophile rings operating from within this country have had their funding cut. Surely, if real protection were the issue here, it makes more sense to fund those agencies already in place whose specific job it is to protect our children rather than starve them of funds and put in place an internet filter which not only will not work, but will cost billions and infringe on the civil liberties of ordinary law abiding citizens.

The proposed system will operate by a mandatory monitoring and screening of all internet connections through ISPs in Australia, both public and private, and then routing blacklisted addresses through a secondary system. And if that doesn’t give you pause… the most alarming feature of this is that the blacklist itself is secret, and all of the data about attempts to reach blacklisted sites is secret. Why isn’t the list being made public?

So who decides the blacklist, which the government says provides cyber-safety for families from material such as child sex abuse, sexual violence and instructions on crime and or drug use? It would be compiled using a public complaints mechanism, Government censors and URLs provided by international agencies.

So exactly what will be blocked and who will decide? We don’t know, as the list will be secret and the reasons for any ban will be secret. Not only are the URLs censored, but the list of censored URLs is itself censored. So much for an open Australia.

Relying on public complaints from the conservative Christian Lobby indicates that the scope of the filtering would extend significantly beyond child porn to include naked bodies and sexuality. Will it include online gambling? Or “R” rated computer games? Or anti-abortion websites? Or Wikileaks? The pool of material is going to be large and because of the vague and broad definition can feasibly censor access to literature which contains descriptions of sex, violence and/or the use of strong language.

The Rudd Government’s rhetoric about cyberspace is that it is protecting us from pedophiles, stopping terrorists, and all that blacklisted bad stuff on the big bad internet. Since internet filtering is about what information may or may not flow through the public internet, it’s heavy Nanny state foot enters freedom of speech and individual freedom territory.

Of major concern, too, is the fact that the RC classification is a category that doesn’t just deal with abhorrent material like child pornography, bestiality and active incitement to violence. Given the current broad terms under which material is slotted into the category it would also potentially embrace sites where people talked therapeutically about child sex abuse experiences, accessed information about safe sex and drug injecting practices, or engaged in serious political dialogue about what motivates terrorist groups.

Hence, it can (and will) block social advocacy sites that are not pornographic. The vocal minority has always known that censorship quells robust dissenting speech by projecting doubt and fear of prosecution onto the fringes of legality. Our classification system is so broad that it cannot help but hoover-up political expression on the margins, and it inevitably influences and shapes political debate in this country. So it is a freedom of expression issue. Is it the role of the government to decide what people can see and do on the Internet? Or are these personal decisions that should be made by individuals and their families?

This is also about control… specifically government control… and the internet is one area western governments have thankfully had little control over. There is far more at stake here than “child protection” and as some have already speculated, Australia may be being used as a “test case” for a global filtering system and the implementation of the Australian Federal Government’s ISP-level filtering could spark worldwide adoption of Internet content filtering.

Are we ready for that kind of censorship?

34 Comments on “Australia… Land of the Great Firewall”

  1. Good article, Malice.

    Britain passed a similar law a while back didn’t they? The Queen’s not happy…

  2. The nanny society is beginning to frighten me. I believe i began making my own conscious adult choices by the time i was in the late teens. Even though they weren’t always wise ones, they were the ones that helped me learn and grow. I wasn’t the kind of mother who sheltered her children much from the issues of the outside world. Their questions began early; many of their topics were around my more aggressive readiness to censor violent movies than sexually suggestive ones. I don’t see that this preference has done them any harm. They seem rather normal and have fewer vices than i do. Since they continue to exhibit a love for anime, somewhat sexually explicit movie viewing, and uncensored language as normal youth in their early twenties, i think they would be very unhappy to be under the victimization of patronizing nanny laws.

  3. Great article.

    No Britain hasn’t passed this law (though I’m sure it was considered). Nor could it get through without massive legal challenge including the European Court of Human Rights. And considering the civil liberties outcry made over introducing national ID cards (standard in most countries) and more recently privacy rights with airport body scanners, I would say that this bigger issue would not pass without considerable uproar. Especially as it is restricting the use of online – the fastest rising national pastime (worth also adding that the UK is the largest online porn users in the world). As well as affecting a group that as a mass have already asserted it’s power beyond online forums from over-turning court rulings on press privacy to fun but significant Christmas number one campaigns. Though the UK do have Christian lobbies they don’t seem to assert the same kind of influence neither have as strong a conservative base. I’ve always been facinated by Australian government and how close it sails to the wind playing nanny on civil liberties, mandatory voting for example. From an outsider it seems shocking but like CCTV in the UK you hardly notice it when you live there.

  4. Alex, you just afforded me enormous relief. Other than the oil fed aristocracy of Alaska, which are embarrassingly Sarah Palin nanny Christians, the populace generally follows the moods of its closest neighbors, which are all influenced heavily by the European Union. I had double jeopardy anxiety attacks over the state of Ireland and its new blasphemy laws. How in the world did they allow that to happen?

  5. There are many very big reason why we should be concerned about this here in the U.S. Austrailia is a country that has both been our alli and very closely mirrors our own attitudes. Our government policy makers watch Austrailia very closely.

    We tried several years ago for this same sort of this, I believe it was before 9/11 and it was shot down. But really only barely. If Austrailia succumbs to this I fear what will happen here.

    This Nannyness needs to be curbed. Why are we succumbing to the fear presented to us about the “dangers of the internet”? Are not all these same dangers available elsewhere? Does any government or parent or Pastor really believe that if kids want to find porn taking away their internet will keep them from it?

    My computer system is equiped with the ability for me to manage filters from home, to tailor it if I chose, (which I don’t) but isn’t that enough? And what happened to parenting anyway. Do people really want computers parenting their children? I don’t I want to talk with them, see what they are learning/reading/seeing.

    However, most frightening for me is that people fail to realize that once something like that is in place ANYTHING can be labelled unsuitable. Things like Christian Sects that the ruling party doesn’t like, Homosexual networking sites, Gaming Clubs like World of Warcraft, Alternative religion, Alternative health, Alternative news (that’s us folks). A case could be made that all these things are harmful and/or confusing to children-and the average office worker.
    Has the horrifying Patriot Act taught us nothing?

    The other thing most terrifying is the shadow list, that is crazy scary, don’t we have enough shadow surveilance of our lives?
    While many of us don’t live in Austrailia we all should be aware it will affect us and be supportive of the rights of Austrailian people.

  6. How much ou want to bet that this ISP filtering protocol is just a dry-run for future “expanded” versions of the program to silence dissidant speech under the guise of “protecting the children?” As if the interests of children mean anything at all to the polical class!

    Orwell’s world is coming – better be sure you have your guns ready, because firepower is the only effective form of protest in a police state.

  7. “There are many very big reason why we should be concerned about this here in the U.S.”

    Agreed, with the addition of most of the Western world. It seems as though many governments are creating fear in their constituencies in order to pass laws they claim will protect the people, but in actuality establish control over them.

  8. Censorship in Australia; blasphemy laws in Ireland — I’d point out that the fellow who started the Creation Museum in the U.S. is Australian; you have a nice, fat bloc of Fundies there, ready to do anything in the name of morality and ‘the childrunn’.

    Ireland doesn’t have a government – they have a Pope. End story.

    America is next.

    My only question? Where are the rest of us going to live then?

  9. We could all move to Russia. If we bring enough video games, rock and roll CD’s, digital cameras, blue ray DVD’s and plasma televisions, they might let us in.

  10. I reside internationally and can’t even send friends or family innocent YouTube links via e-mail. The links get blocked!

    This reminds me of similar Australia farcical security measures. For example – not allowing the Aust Olympic Basketball team to play against the US against Magic Johnson. Spraying planes full of tourists when they arrive on Aust soil – obviously Aeroguard to protect them from the incessant flies and mozzies they’ll have to endure on their visit 🙂

    Quite backward and an embarrassment that the country let’s it’s government maintain this paranoid stance. Heck – even the Chinese got to view YouTube last week (for a couple of hours at least)

    Aust has a high IT skill-set and advanced population to maximise use of the Internet. Sad that clowns in government seem to think they know better than the populous.

  11. @Jack

    Not only is it an embarrassment, but it is about the subversion of (so called) democracy.

    Here we have a government bringing in a policy it has no mandate which will affect millions of users.

    Besides, this policy was not mentioned at all at the last election.

    The government in general, and Sen.Conroy in particular have brought this to the public in a most dictatorial manner, paying only lip service to any idea of ‘public consultation’.

    The real question here is how can a ‘democratic’ government, bring about a policy diametrically opposed to the majority, serving the interests of the very few and why, exactly, is the Australian Christian Lobby considered a stakeholder at all?

    The answer, in short, is because the Family First Party (right wing Christians) hold the balance of power in the senate.

    Basically, we’re screwed.

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  17. It always make me laugh when I hear about “cyber-safety”. It’s terrible that we can’t be sure about our children safety. It would be so nice to know that we can rely on our government to fix such woeful problems. Thanks for discussing problems like this. Good post.

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