Electronic Frontiers Australia (EFA) today expressed alarm at the news that the Government’s “Clean Feed” Internet censorship plan will not allow Australian adults to opt-out. The filter, which will be mandatory for all Australians, was initially touted as a “cyber-safety” measure for homes with children. However, recent comments by experts have revealed the existence of a second, secret black list, that would apply even to homes that managed to opt out of the child-safe filtering scheme. “The news for Australian Internet users just keeps getting worse,” said EFA spokesperson Colin Jacobs. “We have legitimate concerns with the creeping scope of this unprecedented interference in our communications infrastructure. It’s starting to look like nothing less than a comprehensive program of real-time Internet censorship.” … Most worrying of all is the ever-increasing scope of the filtering scheme. “The definition of inappropriate material has never been well defined,” said Jacobs. “With Government-mandated software monitoring each Internet connection, we expect the scope to expand further as time goes by. How will the Government resist pressure by Family First or other special interest groups to permanently block material considered by some to be harmful?” [via Sky]
Thankfully the protests are coming in loud and clear. From the No Internet Censorship for Australia page, here are the six main reasons why “filtering” (ie censoring) the Australian internet en masse is a bad idea:
- Most Australians don’t want the filter. Support for this overly broad policy is virtually non-existent, even from child-protection organisations. A recent survey shows that 51.5% of Australian net user strongly oppose the plan, while only 2.9% strongly support it.6
- One size doesn’t fit all. A single filter list can’t deliver results that are appropriate for all parents, teens and children, with no way to modify the filter for your household.
- The protection for children is minor at best, an illusion at worst. The filter does nothing to protect children from real threats like cyber-bullying, online sexual predators, viruses, or the theft of personal information. It may provide a false sense of security to parents, reducing effective monitoring of their children’s online activities.
- The money is better spent elsewhere. The filter will cost tens of millions of dollars to attempt. Yet the Government’s own studies admit education is more effective than filtering in protecting children, and that "content risks" are less dangerous than other risks.7
- No other democracy has such a scheme. Comparable systems in Europe only filter a handful of illegal sites, and then only to prevent accidental access. 8
- Those that want filtering already have it. The Government already offers filtering software to any home that requests it, free of charge.
Australians will be unable to opt-out of the government’s pending Internet content filtering scheme, and will instead be placed on a watered-down blacklist, experts say. Under the government’s $125.8 million Plan for Cyber-Safety, users can switch between two blacklists which block content inappropriate for children, and a separate list which blocks illegal material. Pundits say consumers have been lulled into believing the opt-out proviso would remove content filtering altogether. … A spokesman for Communications Minister Stephen Conroy said the filters will be mandatory for all Australians. … Internet Service Providers (ISPs) contacted by Computerworld say blanket content filtering will cripple Internet speeds because the technology is not up to scratch. Online libertarians claim the blacklists could be expanded to censor material such as euthanasia, drugs and protest.
And for me, as I watch my 8-day old son sleeping in his pram next to me, I’m certain I want his early experiences of the internet to be ones with his parents. We’ll help him make informed choices about what to see, and we’ll help him learn the critical skills to evaluate and understand the information out there – good and bad. We won’t try and tell him everything he needs to know is inside this safe, filtered, contained black box or walled off internet, because if we start down that path where would it really end? Don’t get me wrong, there’s a lot of things I hope my son doesn’t see during his childhood, but I want to help him choose to avoid certain things, I don’t want him living in a country that takes those choices away even from his parents!
Update: It seems pretty much everyone agrees the proposed system will radically slow the internet in Australia, and in the meantime it seems Senator Conroy and/or his office have been actively trying to suppress criticism by ISPs in Australia:
The Federal Government is attempting to silence critics of its controversial plan to censor the internet, which experts say will break the internet while doing little to stop people from accessing illegal material such as child pornography. Internet providers and the government’s own tests have found that presently available filters are not capable of adequately distinguishing between legal and illegal content and can degrade internet speeds by up to 86 per cent. Documents obtained by us show the office of the Communications Minister, Stephen Conroy, tried to bully ISP staff into suppressing their criticisms of the plan. [Bold added.]