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Australian philosopher, literary critic, and professional writer. Author of FREEDOM OF RELIGION AND THE SECULAR STATE.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Web filter on hold ... but the war isn't over

I'm still absorbing the implications of this story , which seems to indicate a partial backdown by the federal government on the controversial web filter proposal (which, of course, I have consistently opposed).

The primary rationale for the Australian government's attempt to impose a technological filter on the internet has always been the need to restrict the online distribution of child pornography. It's unlikely that this goal would actually be achieved, since it seems to be accepted by all the experts that child pornography is not generally distributed via the web, and in any event criminals will find ways to get around the filter. What is needed to deal with child pornography is simply a more concerted and better-resourced enforcement of existing laws. This should include modifications to current laws to clarify and simplify them, to put beyond doubt that they do not catch legitimate artistic expression, and to make sure that they can't be used to waste public resources on achieving ridiculous outcomes that have nothing to do with the welfare of children.

What we don't need is any legislation that permits scope creep, making it easier for governments to interfere with more and more kinds of online speech. We need to study the proposed revisions to the policy, take part in the review that Gillard and Conroy now are talking about (and insist on public involvement), and generally hold the government's feet to the fire as the issue develops. We should not accept any outcome that restricts legitimate speech on the internet (I'm especially thinking here of such things as sites discussing euthanasia) or that will make it easier for the government to widen the scope of internet censorship going into the future. I welcome the fact that the government is now at least reconsidering and talking, but I'm not sure that any compromise is acceptable on such a fundamental issue. Even if it is, in the end, any further proposals will need to be worked out carefully, and with a genuine net gain for our liberty.

This is a start, but there's a long way to go yet in the fight to defend freedom of speech in Australia.

4 comments:

GTChristie said...

Thanks for the impassioned defense of freedom of expression.

Colin said...

Would the real aim of this to not just set up a web filter but to make Australian citizens feel as if they are being constantly watched over by the authorities? So people police themselves and the state has more control over each citizen. I'm thinking along the line of the Bentham/Foucault panoticans. What you think Russell?

DM said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Robert N Stephenson said...

Can't fully agree, but that is not much of a stance.

Just have to consider this... when we started using roads with our vehicles there were no laws on the road use as it was a revolutionary breakthrough in delivering goods and information between people, but in time it became obvious that the roads were being abused and people were being harmed -- so laws came into force to control how these roads were used and that in some way safety could be ensued. The laws are not perfect and people are still injured and killed on these roads, but at least the laws do control and protect a wider group.

The internet is like the roads of old, only faster. It is all well and good until some start to abuse the system and cause harm to others in the process. So, wisdom states something in the way of laws need to be applied. they will not be perfect, but they may just reduce the injuries a little