Australia's Communications Minister Stephen Conroy declared his determination last week to push through mandatory internet censorship of a government-defined blacklist of websites, sparking an online frenzy in blogs and on Twitter.
Tweets from angry Aussies poured in as they condemned highly unpopular and controversial internet censorship plans.
Australia's proposed mandatory filter laws have been a contentious issue since Labor swept to power in 2007.
Industry experts, civil rights activists, and major ISPs have all criticised the plan as technologically unfeasible and an infringement on civil liberties.
Senator Conroy has promoted internet censorship as a means to protect children from the traps of online child pornography.
However, a blacklist of websites leaked earlier in the year on Wikileaks revealed that the mandatory internet filter would block more than simply child pornography, including several innocuous websites, in some cases included by mistake. Since there is no clear definition of what would constitute a “Refused Classification” website, and no public process of appeal, the risk of abuse would be high.
Nevertheless, Senator Conroy remained adamant this week to introduce internet censorship next year, despite the public outcry.
The Federal Government's persistence on a “nanny filter” has rallied Australian online activists to counter the initiative, with Twitter the first point of call:
Twitter hasn't been the only battleground.
Many Australian bloggers have pointed their fingers squarely at Australia's Christian Lobby, whom they see as behind the push to erode civil liberties.
Blogger Stilgherrian wrote the following on the ABC's Unleashed blog site:
… this is politics, not child protection.
This policy is probably about a Senate preferences deal between Labor and Family First. It's certainly about the political demands of a small but vocal and well-connected minority of conservative Christian voters and the devilishly evil internet.
The political solution has already been chosen: compulsory censorship by an automatic filter. The political goal is to sell that policy to the voters.
This goal has been advanced through two means. One, framing the debate in the most emotive terms possible. Two, commissioning a field trial with such a narrow focus and vague success criteria that it was bound to generate some useful evidential fairy dust.
Jamie Briggs at The Punch argues that the Federal Government cannot protect children from the nasty elements of the internet:
The fraud is that Stephen Conroy and Kevin Rudd want you to believe that you ‘protect’ our kids from the ‘nasties’ of the internet by ‘filtering’ inappropriate websites at the internet service provider level.
The truth is that you can do no such thing. You see the proponents of this ridiculous idea say that those opposed to this want to expose ‘your’ children to the worst of the nasties on the internet. This is an unadulterated lie.
I don’t want my kids (and yes I have two who are nearly at internet using age) watching hard core porn on the internet or for them to be exposed to paedophiles looking to get their rocks off and I will take measures to ensure that they are protected.
But for the government to suggest, which it is, that this will ‘protect’ kids is to provide an assurance they can not deliver.
This will provide false cover to parents, fraudulent reassurance that their children are ‘safe’ from ‘predators’ on the internet. It will not.
In a detailed post on the efficacy (or inefficacy) of mandatory internet filters, Kevin Rennie at Labor View from Bayside states the following:
There goes boxing and several other Olympic sports. How will the list deal with different crimes in different States? If euthanasia is legalised in one State, would sites explaining how to use the laws be banned? Would sites arguing for a change in the law face censorship? Would links to “undesirable” constitute the grounds for black listing?
What about literature, which is full of detailed examples of crime, violence and drug use? Trainspotting? Fight Club? Crime and Punishment? Film and Television sites also pose a risk.
If the government’s aim is to protect children from inappropriate content, then this scheme won’t achieve that. If it wants to stop illegal material on the web, then it should be confined to criminal material of a sexual nature as proposed in the ALP’s policy in 2007. If it’s trying to increase its popularity amongst “families”, then it’s wasting time and money.
Clever Starfish added to the chorus of opposition to Australia's internet censorship proposal, calling for action:
We believe that this is a terrible move that will push this country’s already substandard internet facilities even further behind the rest of the world, a situation that is unacceptable for business in this country.
Legislation requiring ISPs to implement the filter will be introduced into parliament next year. Full implementation will apparently take around 12 months.
What is important is that it’s not too late — this filter can still be stopped. Support Electronic Frontiers Australia in their efforts to keep the internet open in Australia with their No Clean Feed campaign.
I'm ashamed to be Australian. First no R18 rating because of some religious zealot that's mixing church and politics… and now this rubbish.
How the fudge is this ‘protecting the kids'? Kids don't go to those sites… criminals do.
Children need to be protected more against the brainwashing they get from the religious than the internet. God knows (pun intended), they might find out from multiple sources, with their parents help and guidance, that there is a source of morality and ethics they can discover through philosophy.
A plethora of Facebook groups have also popped up in response to Senator Conroy's push for internet censorship. The popular among them include:
NO CLEAN FEED – 13,001 members
Australian government – Don't censor the f**king internet! – 1,295 members
DON'T LET THE AUSTRALIAN GOVERNMENT CENSOR THE INTERNET! – 880 members
Rarely do issues evoke such a passionate and emotive response from Australians. But the controversial debate over internet freedom and government censorship is certainly one topic the Australian public will not let go of easily.