SOPA lessons for Australia

SOPA lessons for Australia

Summary: PIPA and SOPA may be dead in the water for now, but it's worth remembering that the most controversial part of the legislation is something the Australian Government has been thinking about for years.

TOPICS: Censorship, Legal

PIPA and SOPA may be dead in the water for now, but it's worth remembering that the most controversial part of the legislation is something the Australian Government has been thinking about for years.

One of the provisions in the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) that raised the most amount of anger, and was also one of the first to be quickly removed, was that the US Government would be able to force US-based internet service providers (ISPs) to block overseas websites found to contain copyright-infringing material.

Outrage ensued, the provision was removed, Wikipedia blacked out and the legislation was ultimately shelved.

In Australia, the Attorney-General's Department has reassured us that the government currently has no plans of bringing in any new SOPA-style laws, instead preferring an industry-based model for dealing with piracy.

But website blocking has been on the cards for the Australian Government for many years, in the form of the mandatory internet filter.

The filter is intended to block what Communications Minister Stephen Conroy repeatedly refers to as "the worst of the worst" — websites that the Classifications Board has refused classification to. The exact definition of what exactly should be refused classification is under review and the outcome of that review is expected in the next month or two, at which time the government intends to review the recommendations with a view to introduce legislation sometime in 2013.

While that may still seem like a fair way off, and there's always the chance that the government will scrap the filter (or will itself be scrapped through a by-election), I've been wondering whether a similar internet-based campaign would be able to defeat the legislation as it has in the US.

My first thought was a comparison of the US Occupy Wall Street protests with the much less successful Occupy Sydney protests and its variations around Australia. The US protests have lasted months and have had a real impact on the shape of politics in the US already. In Australia, they seem to have been mostly ignored and those involved — apart from a few stragglers — have all but packed up and gone home.

So too here, there were a few protests online and in public against the filter but those have come and gone, and very little has happened in the last year as Australians move onto other points of protest, such as the prosecution of Australian Wikileaks founder Julian Assange.

And in the meantime, Telstra, Optus and Vodafone, among others, have quietly implemented a voluntary filter that block child abuse websites from view. All done with little to no public outrage.

In three months of operation, Telstra alone blocked 84,000 requests to view websites on the Interpol filter list.

Australians, by and large, have a habit of getting angry and vocal about something for a short period of time, but only ever for a short period of time. While I'm sure outrage will surface if legislation ever makes it to parliament, I'm sure that the government will delay any implementation date until well after the passage of the legislation to ensure that people have forgotten what they were angry about.

And Australia doesn't even have the luxury of a big website like Wikipedia or Reddit to go into bat for us and black out in protest.

So will Australians be able to maintain the rage over the filter, or is the government playing the long game to get us all to forget?

Topics: Censorship, Legal


Armed with a degree in Computer Science and a Masters in Journalism, Josh keeps a close eye on the telecommunications industry, the National Broadband Network, and all the goings on in government IT.

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  • Unfortunately I think Australians will forget about this and nothing will be done to stop it. Look what happened with all the cameras the government wanted to setup.

    They originally told us that they would install cameras and the Australian public was outraged. The government then came back and said OK we will only do it in the black spots on highways and we all settled down... Now almost 10 years down the track, take a drive and see how many cameras you can spot!

    Do you think anyone actually cares enough to be outraged by the government deceit here though? I personally think nobody even notices anymore and its saddening. I hate the feeling of being watched EVERYWHERE I go.... Even if im doing absolutely nothing wrong!
  • The internet filter is in a completely different league compared to SOPA & PIPA. They both have completely different objectives, and are completely different in scale. SOPA & PIPA would affect a lot more people than Conroy's filter might affect.

    Conroy's filter is like the Indian cricket team, i.e. pretty useless and so easy to beat that your local under 16's cricket team could probably beat them. SOPA & PIPA if they were enacted would have been like Australian cricket team, except replace India with the Internet and you get the idea.

    Conroy's filter would only affect smaller part of the Internet. SOPA & PIPA had the potential to affect the whole Internet, not just a small par of it.

    You can't compare the two. It's like comparing apples to oranges.

    Conroy has already won because a handful of companies have already implemented it voluntarily. I think the bigger question is if the filter ultimately gets scrapped for good will those voluntary filters come down? As much as I'd like to see the filters come down I doubt they will.

    I'd rather see a truly free and open Internet without filtering but I don't think it's going to happen.

    Besides if you really want to get around the filter it's easy enough to do with a VPN.
  • When the Federal Police were questioned about the voluntary filter they revealed that there were about 500 web sites on the Interpol list being used for the voluntary filter. There were supposedly 84,000 request logged in 3 months so each site generated 135 requests in 90 days. This is 1.5 requests per day. Now what we don't know is how many of those requests were to legitimate sites that were blocked because they were on the same domain as a dodgy site or were accidental requests or bots. The conclusion must be that the cost of this filter is almost certainly far in excess of any benefit. The main stream media have been alerted to the futility of the voluntary filter but have calmly sat on their hands and failed to take the Government to task.

    The mandatory ISP filter is sitting in limbo until the report of the Australian Law Reform Commission is handed down on 28 February. We don't know when this will be tabled in Parliament if ever. I have lost count of the number of versions that Senator Conroy has announced but fully expect that if he does eventually bring it forward it will be a new version or he will declare the Interpol filter sufficient for our needs.

    A quick visit to Whirlpool will show that the filter is not forgotten. Senator Ludlam seems to be keeping a close eye on what is happening with attempted Government control of the internet and I am sure that he will quickly alert us if or when the current hiatus ends.

    If the Government attempts to implement mandatory filtering I would expect a back lash. Interestingly if they start to work on this as soon as they get the ALRC report then implementation would occur very close to the next election. Some people have suggested that Labor and Greens results in the last election were partly because of their stance on mandatory ISP filtering.