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Australia pushes internet censorship; Twitter erupts

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.

No Clean Feed - Stop Internet Censorship in AustraliaNews of the proposed internet censorship propelled the issue to a “trending topic” on Twitter for several hours, under the hashtag #nocleanfeed.

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:

InnerWesty RT @Kady9: @kevinruddpm your support of the internet filter makes me ashamed to be australian and ashamed to be a labor voter. #nocleanfeed

anthonyvoevodin http://bit.ly/6kjWc7 #nocleanfeed protest nationwide, exercise your hard earned right before it's gone

Pox_E RT @Sunnys_Rant: @KevinRuddPM I am unfollowing you due to your censorship policy #nocleanfeed and labor has lost my vote!

mattja @kevinruddpm your support of the internet filter makes me ashamed to be australian, and ashamed to be australian. unfriended. #nocleanfeed

sgbozman RT @michaelmeloni: @bengrubb a journalist feeling okay about censorship is like a dentist feeling okay about tooth decay #nocleanfeed

MitchellDudley Another intrusion of citizens privacy one would only expect of nations such as China or Iran, not Australia. #nocleanfeed #fb

GOPSpaceRanger f**k you Australian Christian Lobby… stay the f**k away from my internet #nocleanfeed is this how ur gonna protect ur paedophile priests?

kimmar Egypt, Iran, China, North Korea, Burma, Saudi Arabia, Australia –> what do these countries have in common? #nocleanfeed

mmikeemike Just had a conversation with my work colleagues about our civil liberties eroding. They were very receptive #nocleanfeed #knowyourrights

skwashd . @kevmarl i (& others) reported @kevinruddpm for spam. enough people do it & he might be filtered out of twitter.

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.

Anger also spilled onto discussion forums and media comments, the following merely a sample from Whirlpool and ComputerWorld:

Bats:

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.

PersonaNonGrata:

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.

6 comments

  • NickT

    Sorry, one Facebook omission which might be more useful for numbers:

    No Australian Internet Censorship – 38,000+ members

  • The Australian domain administrator also tried to take stephenconroy.com.au offline which appears to be politically motivated. Check out the details at http://stephen-conroy.com . Its a very interesting story that a lot of people are following closely.

  • […] countries have been accused of censoring Internet content, the latest being Australia. However, it is China who have perhaps been the most notorious with Barack Obama openly criticising […]

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  • Our forefathers fought wars to give us the freedom of Free press and Free Choice. The Rudd labor government is obviously willing to give up some of the freedoms in return for control of mainstream media.

    The filter is simply operating under the guise of protecting the vulnerable when in fact, the filter will do absolutely nothing to reduce criminal behavior due to peer to peer and chat clients being excluded.

    The ALP has clearly shown the interests of lobby groups like ACL and AFAC are more important than protecting the liberties of current and future Australians.

    As a responsible law abiding citizen, i do not need the government to decide what i should and should not view, whilst allowing the real criminals to continue using peer to peer etc.

    Read my blog – “Help Stop the Tryanny of Censorship” for further opinion.
    http://wp.me/pL0u7-3

    Regards
    Say No! Too Many Laws
    http://sayno2manylaws.wordpress.com/

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