As we warned on the second day of this year, even a change in government was unlikely to stem the Australian momentum for a national Web filtering implementation. Though, back then, it seemed as if it may be easy to opt-out. A story today from the Herald Sun suggests otherwise:
Australia will join China in implementing mandatory censoring of the internet under plans put forward by the Federal Government....
The government has declared it will not let internet users opt out of the proposed national internet filter.
The plan was first created as a way to combat child pronography and adult content, but could be extended to include controversial websites on euthanasia or anorexia.
Communications minister Stephen Conroy revealed the mandatory censorship to the Senate estimates committee as the Global Network Initiative, bringing together leading companies, human rights organisations, academics and investors, committed the technology firms to "protect the freedom of expression and privacy rights of their users".
Mr Conroy said trials were yet to be carried out, but 'we are talking about mandatory blocking, where possible, of illegal material.'
But System Administrators Guild of Australia president Donna Ashelford said the plan was deeply flawed and would slow internet access down by about 30 per cent according to the Government's own laboratory trials.
Despite this, the national web filter would only censor web content, Ms Ashelford said, and could not deal with the remaining 60 per cent of internet traffic, much of which occurred over peer-to-peer networks such as BitTorrent and LimeWire.
"The bulk of internet traffic is over peer-to-peer networks and the bulk of illegal content is trafficked is over peer-to-peer networks," she said. "There is no choke point at which they can block that material. I do not believe this is an issue that has a technical solution."
Malone is concerned both of the last two Federal Government's posturing on 'making the internet safe' might be the first step in a path towards censorship.
"I do worry that this is the thin edge of the wedge," he said. "That the Government will come in with a small list of sites for the ISP to block, and that just includes the real stuff that everyone agrees on like child porn and bestiality. So we say, OK we are willing to comply with that. But it becomes an area then that can be used for so much more. So you might see the next step is an attempt to block out XXX sites or hate speech sites, and you think, OK maybe we can live with that [too]."
"But then after that it could be to block out competing political positions or to block out sites about religion or sexual orientation that the Government says is no longer suitable for children in Australia."
All this negativity (commons sense?) is seemingly having an impact. While one wonders where they were when this plan was being talked about last year and into this year, some opposition politicians are beginning to publicly come out against it. Today, the Australian wrote:
A headline-grabbing election promise to crack down on internet nasties looks to be in trouble as Senate opposition grows.
As part of its election-winning pitch, the Rudd Government promised families far-reaching measures to block prohibited content at the internet server level. It now faces a concerted backlash against the proposal by the internet industry.
The Greens have added their voice to Coalition concerns about the plan, with the Greens' communications spokesman calling the proposal "daft".
If the Liberals block legislation imposing server-level filtering, the Government will need the support of the Greens, Family First senator Steve Fielding and South Australian senator Nick Xenophon.
And, when your best defense is that you are NOT China or Saudi Arabia, you perhaps don't have the best political footing. From the same Australian piece:
Communications Minister Stephen Conroy has launched a strong defence of the policy, hitting back at claims by the internet industry that the Government wants a sweeping ban on controversial content.
"I will accept some debate around what should and should not be on the internet - I am not a wowser," Senator Conroy told The Age. "I am not looking to blanket-ban some of the material that it is being claimed I want to blanket-ban, but some material online, such as child pornography, is illegal."
In response to arguments that the proposal would affect basic civil liberties and the principle that households should be able to be their own internet policeman, he said: "We are not trying to build the Great Wall of China.
"We are not trying to be Saudi Arabia, and to say that is to simply misrepresent the Government's position.
Cord Blomquist at TLF wonders if the US in line to have this debate. But, in my opinion, the post makes some pretty big, tangential leaps on what a potential Obama or McCain administration would do. The potential slippery slope of the Child Safe Viewing Act seems like a more apt point to raise eyebrows at.