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Australia’s new government moves to censor the internet January 4, 2008

Posted by David Gillespie in politics.
Tags: , , ,

This has been heavily discussed over the blogosphere over the last few days, but it is worth making sure it receives a necessary amount if the right attention.

In an alarming and disappointing move for a party that swept to power on the popular assessment that the incumbent government had “lost touch”, the Rudd Government has announced its intention to censor internet content available to Australians.

Prime Minister Kevin Rudd is a former diplomat to China and speaks fluent Mandarin which I personally think is a great thing for a modern Australian Prime Minister. But a move like this takes us politically closer to China in the worst possible way. While it will apparently be possible to opt-out of this feature, there is no mention of any additional scrutiny such moves will garner.

Lee Hopkins has more, as do TechCrunch.


1. destogate - January 4, 2008

what exactly does this censorship entail?

2. David Gillespie - January 4, 2008

Well, I think to answer that two aspects of it need to be considered: the motivation behind it and the implementation of it.

The motivation is defensible enough, the Government is concerned about protecting children from what they may find on the internet. Fair enough. The proposed implementation is essentially a firewall across the country that will automatically filter out content the Government deems inappropriate, a move that has the underlying tone of “we know you will make the right decision, but just to be safe we will make it for you”.

As stated this system will apparently be opt-out. A much smarter move would have been to make it opt-in, thereby available to everyone who wants such a service and nobody who doesn’t. I can see it appealing in some circles such as parents who are time-poor but not wishing to deny their children access to the internet when they’re not around.

As per usual for Government, it is an ill-informed policy designed to give the appearance of action. This quote from a news.com.au story sums it up nicely:

Chairman of internet user group Electronic Frontiers Australia, Dale Clapperton, said mandatory filtering eroded freedom and would not improve online safety for children.

“China, Burma and Saudi Arabia and those type of oppressive countries are the only ones that have seriously looked at doing something like this,” he said.

“In Australia, which is supposedly a liberal democracy, the Government is saying that the internet is so full of this material that it must protect us from it by trying to block it.”

Mr Clapperton feared that parents would be lulled into a false sense of security.

“Parents should not allow their children to use the internet unsupervised,” he said.

“Stuff that should be blocked will inevitably get through and stuff that should not be blocked will not.”

It does come back to a central issue which existed long before the internet came along, one of whose job is it to educate children: parents or government? I don’t have children so I can’t weigh in with experience. I can say I don’t like government having this sort of control over what anyone sees or experiences, regardless of age.

It will be interesting to see how the policy develops in the coming weeks and months, it is being trumpeted by some high profile politicians with good intentions, but stone age ideas.

3. David Gillespie - January 4, 2008

I should add that Des Walsh has a really great post up on this. His blog is, in fact, routinely great, in the way that Government is not.

4. destogate - January 5, 2008

I can understand how this is a sociological factor for you. You raise a valid point about opt-out and opt-in, balancing your argument. However, I think the government is providing flexibility is it not? It is not like the UAE where even orkut (c/o Google) is censored (the last I checked).

I believe parents shouldn’t have children if they can’t take care of them but thats another argument. However, there are third-party applications which help parents customize what their children do and do not see. Applications like Net Nanny.

How do you think this will negatively impact the country? Do you think there are other underlying agendas behind this step taken by the govt?

5. David Gillespie - January 7, 2008

I don’t do much of a trade in conspiracy theories, as such I’m willing to believe there isn’t an underlying agenda. Our capital territory is the only place in Australia where XXX porn and marijuana are “legal”, so if I was to point to a conspiracy I’d say it had less to do with that and more so to do with monitoring disaffected minorities, though I must say that is purely speculation (conceivable though as it seeks to treat a symptom rather than a cause, which I think is Government almost everywhere).

Interestingly enough Australia does not have a US-style bill of rights in its constitution, and while a government could receive considerable backlash from an unpopular move, there would be no easy legal recourse for the people themselves to take on, even if the general consensus was that common law rights were being violated.

All that is a roundabout way of saying I think Australia’s “she’ll be right” attitude will mean our government can continue to get away with more than they should, even if a different party is now in power.

6. destogate - January 7, 2008

I see mate. Thanks for the discourse 🙂

7. A open letter to Stephen Conroy « Creative Is Not A Department - October 31, 2008

[…] will not be familiar with the goings on of the Australian political landscape. Back in January I wrote about some unfortunate measures Australia’s recently-elected Government was planning to introduce, suffice to say our elected […]

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