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Australia embraces web censorship

Categories: Activism, Advocacy, Law, Regulation, Australia, GVSummit08

The issue of internet censorship generally involves countries deemed non-democratic or “repressive” (something I discuss in my new book, The Blogging Revolution [1].) We regularly read reports about the regimes in China or Iran blocking countless “subversive” websites for overtly political gain.

Alas, a growing number of nations in the West are examining the possibility of censoring sites that allegedly harm society. France [2] and Germany [3] are leading the way and the United States [4] is not far behind.

We can now add Australia to the list.

The OpenNet Initiative [5] reported this week:

Australians will be unable to opt-out of the government's pending Internet content filtering scheme, and will instead be placed on a watered-down blacklist, experts say.

Under the government's $125.8 million Plan for Cyber-Safety, users can switch between two blacklists which block content inappropriate for children, and a separate list which blocks illegal material.

Pundits say consumers have been lulled into believing the opt-out proviso would remove content filtering altogether.

The government will iron-out policy and implementation of the Internet content filtering software following an upcoming trial of the technology, according to the Department of Broadband, Communications and the Digital Economy.

A spokesman for Communications Minister Stephen Conroy said the filters will be mandatory for all Australians.

Ever since Australia elected a new Prime Minister in late 2007, leader Kevin Rudd has openly discussed introducing such proposals (something I explained in more detail during my speech [6] to the Global Voices Citizen Media Summit in Budapest this year.)

The primary problem with the proposal is its inefficiency and lack of flexibility (something already argued by watchers [7].) To make matters worse, the government has trailed this web filtering in certain states and failure was the result [8].

So why move forward? Leading Australian blogger on this issue, Somebody Think of the Children [9], says it best [10]:

Criminals accessing child abuse websites will still be able to do so and the horrendous production and distribution of child abuse material online and off will continue. Why does the government think censors are the ones who can fix this and not law enforcement? Mandatory ISP filtering is about protecting votes, not children.

Disturbingly, the proposals have received virtually no media attention in Australia though ISPs are reportedly unsure whether to participate [11] in the program, “depending on the nature of the trials”, according to one major player.

Vigilance on internet censorship is required across the globe, even in “democratic” nations.