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Australian philosopher, literary critic, legal scholar, and professional writer. Based in Newcastle, NSW. Author of FREEDOM OF RELIGION AND THE SECULAR STATE (2012), HUMANITY ENHANCED (2014), and THE MYSTERY OF MORAL AUTHORITY (2016).

Thursday, November 06, 2008

Internet censorship - the Great Wall of Australia

I am sick of attempts by governments to censor the internet. Sure, there is material out there that I am not going to defend - even someone as much a civil libertarian as I am will not defend child pornography (but I mean genuine child pornography, not whatever the prudes and panic merchants want to smear with the association).

There's the rub. The social conservative Rudd government has taken to implying strongly that anyone who opposes its massively paternalistic and potentially oppressive plans to censor the internet is somehow favouring child pornography. Senator Stephen Conroy has become particularly virulent in that regard.

I'll doubtless have more to say about this issue in future posts, but go and read the Labor election policy for yourself. Maybe you'll think it's harmless, but I think it's very worrying.

The upshot seems to be that an enormously expensive and powerful technological and bureaucratic structure will be set up to censor the internet in Australia, creating a so-called "clean feed" that individuals can opt out of (but many institutions cannot) and a second layer of censorship that is compulsory. The second layer will presumably be limited to censorship of very extreme material, but I am nervous about giving a government this kind of power at all. However benevolent the current government may be (haha), and however much it shows restraint in what it censors, it is building something monstrous - an electronic Great Wall of Australia. This could be used by future governments to suppress a wide range of material that they don't like for whatever reason (whenever they can win populist support, of course ... but that's not necessarily difficult in Australia, as the recent Henson debacle demonstrates abundantly).

Judge the issue for yourself, but follow it carefully as it unfolds; make up your own mind whether you trust this government (and future governments) with the power that it is attempting to gain over the content of the internet. If you're as nervous as I am, speak up about it.

2 comments:

stuart peace said...

"...any society that would give up a little liberty to gain a little security deserves neither and will lose both..." – Benjamin Franklin

Ergun Çoruh said...

I sent the following letter to Stephen Conroy. I encourage every freethinker to take action on this issue.

To: Minister for Broadband, Communications and the Digital Economy,
Senator the Hon Stephen Conroy


Dear Senator,


My name is XXXXXXXXX
My postal address: XXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXX

This is not a form letter. I am writing to you personally to raise my objections on the proposed Internet filtering (ISP Content Filtering) by the present Australian Government.

I migrated to Australia in 1989. I feel honoured being an Australian citizen, simply because I live in this beautiful and free country. I migrated to Australia for one thing, freedom of expression. I have worked continuously, and I paid my taxes.

Let me put my record straight, I will never ever vote for any government that imposes central censorship of any form on the Internet. I will also do my best to campaign against it.

Here are my reasons:

1) Trust Issue (loss of transparency): There is no question Internet has everything, legal, illegal, abusive content of any sort. However the solution should be based on individual choice, not on draconian rulings from the Government. The fundamental issue here is "trust". Why should I, a law-abiding citizen, trust the Government to make right choices for me? How will I know if the government censor a site simply because the site publishes content that is against the government's political motives or belief system?

2) Where will it stop: In Turkey currently the government banned nearly 1500 Internet sites mostly based on the government's political views and religious prejudices, including YouTube, richarddawkins.net and popular blog sites. How do we know Australian Government will not take such extreme measures?

3) Democracy, Freedom of Expression and our place in the World: By the time the censorship program is implemented, Australia will technically become an anti-democratic country and will take its place next to countries such as Iran, North Korea, Turkey and many other regimes who clearly and consistently violate human rights. Do we really deserve this?

Internet censorship is a severe form of restriction on freedom of expression. There will be many borderline cases filtered out based on false triggering of the software or based on subjective and/or arguable judgement of authorities. Can we classify ourselves as a "free" and "democratic" country anymore?

4) Technical and Economic Drama: Being a person who works for the IT industry for over twenty-five years I can see the implementation will fail miserably. Technically you cannot censor Internet. There are many ways to bypass the restrictions. Criminals, law breakers of today will surely find their way to bypass the filters, and majority of law abiding citizens will needlessly suffer from reduced speeds, loss of freedom and increased cost. On top of that millions of dollars of Tax Payer's money (i.e my money) will be wasted.

5) Final Frustration: I am deeply disturbed by a strong possibility of prime minister Kevin Rudd's own religious belief system might have played a role in this decision. Ever since the Rudd Government came to power, at every conceivable opportunity the Australian Labor Party hastily attached itself to populist themes, such as "Family Values", behind which a strong religious motive seems present if not obvious. We see it.

I invite the Australian Government to common sense, to re-evaluate and withdraw their decision on establishing centralised Internet censorship.


Yours truly,

XXXXXXXXX