Welcome to National Censorship Day

Welcome to National Censorship Day

Summary: Conroy's blind adherence to his net filtering plan will abandon net neutrality ideals and push ISPs down a slippery slope of unprecedented responsibility for a callously politicised Australian internet.

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As far as sick political jokes go, Minister Stephen Conroy has come up with a real doozy: 15 December, after all, marks the 218th anniversary of the passage of the US Bill of Rights, those 10 amendments to the US Constitution whose most fervently defended is the right to freedom of speech.

Could there be a more ironic day, then, for Conroy to release the long-awaited Enex Test Laboratory report, then announce that his ill-advised blacklist policy is far from dead, and that he'll introduce legislation to make ISPs filter all internet traffic according to a secret, government-managed blacklist?

I don't know whether Australians will celebrate 15 December as National Censorship Day in the future, but perhaps we should: black armbands could be standard issue to commemorate the death of technological determinism and intellectual self-regulation, and the establishment of Labor's internet police state.

Yes, folks: after months of hemming and hawing in which the optimistic among us thought he was looking for a way to save face after being hit by a lightning bolt of common sense, Minister for Censorship Stephen Conroy has put legislative grunt behind his misguided web censorship policy, putting the country's entire ISP industry on a slippery slope that will start in 2011 and has no clear end.

Minister for Censorship Stephen Conroy has put legislative grunt behind his misguided web censorship policy, putting the country's entire ISP industry on a slippery slope that ... has no clear end.

If you think I'm being a bit extreme, consider for a minute. Despite widespread protests, general public and industry condemnation, repeated hacker attacks, and the utter embarrassment of the leaked blacklist fiasco, Conroy's decision to proceed with mandatory content filtering shows his absolute refusal to back down from a policy that nobody particularly wanted in the first place.

More importantly, it imposes an unprecedented new level of responsibility on ISPs to control the content they pass to users. This change flies in the face of the conventional (and entirely reasonable) arguments you've all heard a thousand times before: that we don't charge Telstra with monitoring phone calls for terrorist activities, that we don't expect Australia Post to read all our mail before delivering it.

The biggest worry about the pending censorship regime is not just the banning of child pornography sites that we all agree are blights on human morality and shouldn't exist anyway. It is not the utter technological futility of the effort, the misguided waste of resources, or the discontinuation of the more human-friendly NetAlert program, which at least empowered Australians with the tools to block even more objectionable content.

It's not even the sneaky way in which Conroy – after months in which he refused to release the Enex Test Laboratory censorship technical report – has fallen back on typical political tools by introducing legislation a week before Christmas, when he hopes public furore will be quickly diluted by Australia's collective vacation mentality and thoughts of hot, soporific summer days at the beach.

Nor is it even the coincidental release of a government discussion paper that will finally put the long-suffering issue of an R18+ rating for video games on the table. By slipstreaming the net censorship legislation in behind the excitement about the possibility of a proper game censorship regime, Conroy can only have been aiming for maximum distraction.

Whatever the method by which it was announced, the biggest damage from Conroy's step towards censorship is that it totally changes the operating rules for ISPs that have for nearly two decades operated at a relative arm's length relationship from the content they carry. Now, ISPs are legally obligated to filter Refused Classification content – and to offer, as Conroy put it, "optional filtering … to block additional content as requested by households". That's a whole new can of worms: if I want all web pages mentioning Pete Doherty, for example, banned, does that mean my ISP needs to give me my own custom feed?

The government is setting a dangerous precedent that can only lead to further oppressive requirements on ISPs down the track ... being an ISP just became a more dangerous occupation than ever.

By imposing a responsibility to filter content, the government is setting a dangerous precedent that can only lead to further oppressive requirements on ISPs down the track.

What kind of requirements? Consider the ongoing court case between the recording industry and iiNet, which will have a major impact on copyright policy and the obligations of ISPs. Now, consider the ongoing hush-hush global copyright negotiations – to which Conroy must certainly be a party – that threaten oppressive penalties for copyright infringement.

If Conroy is successful in forcing ISPs to filter objectionable content en masse, and Western governments are pushing towards tighter copyright controls, it is not a big step to assume that the scope of the filtering requirement will quickly be expanded to turn Australia's ISPs into copyright police. Conroy even hinted that this would be possible when he conceded months ago that the censorship regime could be extended to patrol BitTorrent content.

Make no mistake about it: being an ISP just became a more dangerous occupation than ever. Regardless of whether filtering is technically possible – and many will argue in coming weeks that the results of a small technical trial won't extrapolate meaningfully to the entirety of Australia's internet traffic – the philosophical approach is worrying.

In other Western democracies, ideas about net neutrality are being espoused or implemented at the highest level. The kind of filtering Conroy is implementing would never even be contemplated in a country like the US, where constitutionally-protected freedom of speech is sacrosanct.

Heck, net neutrality was even a platform of Barack Obama's election policy. Yet in Labor's Australia, where every right comes with a corresponding caveat and operating freedoms seem to come and go with the political wind, net neutrality is being thrown out the window for the sake of a few fringe elements.

Perhaps those are the same fringe elements whose support Conroy needs to railroad through the very necessary NBN legislation; in this case, we can consider the new legislation both the necessary price to pay for a proper broadband infrastructure, and a failure of representative politics that has seen Conroy pushed to political compromise that favours the interests of the few rather than the interests of the many.

Spock wept, and so would the authors of the US Bill of Rights and their philosophical peers. And, of course, so will many others in the telecommunications industry, as new government policy saddles ISPs with unprecedented obligations and politicises Australia's internet forever.

Topics: Censorship, Government AU

About

Australia’s first-world economy relies on first-rate IT and telecommunications innovation. David Braue, an award-winning IT journalist and former Macworld editor, covers its challenges, successes and lessons learned as it uses ICT to assert its leadership in the developing Asia-Pacific region – and strengthen its reputation on the world stage.

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28 comments
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  • Labor voters

    I've been reading quite a lot of posts to blogs about this topic on various news sites. Far too often, the posts begin with words similar to, "I voted for Labor at the last election, but after this censorship, I won't vote for them again". Putting aside the issue of whether or not the poster did vote Labor at the last election, there remains an issue - an person who did vote Labor at the last election has nothing to complain about! Labor announced this as policy BEFORE the election and Labor voters voted for it! Now, the rest of us have to suffer. If you were a Labor voter, then the only post that you should be making is an apology to the rest of us.
    anonymous
  • Good article.

    And the most important of all Labor did not go to the election with a mandatory censorship policy. It was only to 'offer' a clean feed. I think this point needs to be stressed a lot more.

    Not to mention to astonishing history of contradictions and down-right lies about what this policy is meant to be all about.

    Perhaps its my ignorance on networking but how will ISPs know what product to use if the report censors the products names?

    http://libertus.net/censor/ispfiltering-au-govplan.html#s_1
    anonymous
  • Labor voters

    Labor misled us before the 2007 election. They gave the impression that adults would be able to opt-out of mandatory filtering. After the election they changed it to a two tier system, one for children & one for adults.
    anonymous
  • Welcome to the people's republic of Australia? Or China?

    The government you voted for last time is not the one to worry about. It's the future government who blocks criticism where the real danger lies - particularly now they have the ability to 'blacklist' sites that their discretion? It won't be long before the legislation is expanded to include more than just the abhorent child abuse sites it is currently designed to. I thought the word 'free' was still in our national anthem - or has it been censored out?
    anonymous
  • Christian family values (Gak)

    The great thing about all of this religious or "culty" guff, is that all the sheeple groveling in their steeple, they all have "opinions" about what their deity is "saying" and righteously so, but the deity in the last few thousands of years of "omnipotence", has never once put in a personal appearance.

    You know like if "JC and the Space Cadets" were a rock band - the clueless would have caught on that while the promoters claim that they play in gigs all over the land, but they have never turned up; while the clueless and stupid keep rocking up and buying the tickets.

    Losers.

    So the same overlording us with more holier than thou drivel, is projected into the area of computer games and internet sites.

    Again while people get slaughtered for fun and profit in the movies and the real world, playing computer games doing the same stuff is just not on?

    Why?

    Am I surprised that the people thrusting their liturgical loins at the censors office for "standards and decency" are not trying to put the shackles on those who choose to have their own autonomous opinions, by declaring them to workers of the devil, sorcery and witches - starting with the jabbings for the devils mark.

    Am I even further surprised that this is now extending into the Great Australian Firewall.

    Perhaps those who cry loudest are those who look forlornly upon the promises of the bible, such as Ezekiel 23: 21 "whose members were like those of donkeys, and whose emission was like that of stallions."

    I mean who wouldn't want that or to be getting that?

    I mean thank god Conroy is standing up for real Christian family values.

    Jesus said in Revelation 2:22-23 "And I will kill her children with death; and all the churches shall know that I am he which searcheth the reins and hearts: and I will give unto every one of you according to your works."

    So Jesus wants to kill our kids - that's cool cause it is Jesus.

    Timbo says I Timothy 2:11-14 "Let the women learn in silence with all subjection. But I suffer not a woman to teach, nor to usurp authority over the man, but to be in silence."

    So all the women ought to keep their traps shut. I mean it's in the bible - so it must be true right.

    And God digs killing pregnant chicks by knifing them and smashing their kids brains out on the ground; so the christians have got this family values stuff down pat: Hosea 13:16 "Samaria shall become desolate; for she hath rebelled against her God: they shall fall by the sword: their infants shall be dashed in pieces, and their women with child shall be ripped up."

    So Conroy and his catholic buddies have got this right - we have to be protected against them out there on the internet and subjugate ourselves to the righteous christians showing us how their god loves us and how we ought to be kissing his ass, on the basis of their say so.

    Oh did I mention that the old testament is a scammed copy of the Code of Hammurubi? The King of Babylons state laws - and the first 6 books of the bible are bare faced rip offs of this, just rebranded to a diety instead of the king?

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Code_of_Hammurabi

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:The_code_of_Hammurabi.pdf

    Yep gotta remember them good old christian family values, the true word of god is the bible... except that getting nailed for copyright and plagarisim wasn't invented then.
    anonymous
  • National Censorship day

    I loved David Braue's article and feel that it will be a sad day when they censor the internet as as he rightly suggests it will only be the start of something much more sinister. Every government we've had has issues that it doesn't want to air or debate in public. How easy will it be to censor them by regulation under the act. Since a growing number of people get most if not all their news from internet sources we will all be worse off.
    I'm always suspicious of posting signed anon. he could well be the censor who wished to remain anonymous.
    anonymous
  • Internet Censorship

    This will be a big boost to overseas ISPs and webhosting services. I for one will be moving my company's webhosting out of Australia - gets rid of the pesky GST too!

    Personally, I am getting tired of the LIberals trying to impose an Anglian theocracy and Labor trying to impose a Catholic theocracy. It is like they both want a return to the Dark Ages.
    anonymous
  • Trouble is... it's the same on either side

    The sad fact is that net filtering has always been on the table even when Coalition was in power. Conroy and (then ICT minister) Coonan were on the same boat on that issue.

    If the new shadow minister (Tony Smith) has any smarts he would walk the net neutrality line. Conroy is basically wiggling a big fat target in front of him.
    anonymous
  • exactly

    Labour did mislead us, I also was lead to believe it was an opt out system which they quickly changed once they were elected. Like all political parties and politicians they ultimately don't keep their promises and rely on deception and fraud to be elected. Sadly we can't exactly take them to court for electoral fraud, I'm sure they have some good lawyers and a lot of tax revenue to defend any such action.
    anonymous
  • Freedom

    This date marks the day when our freedoms are on the verge of being snuffed out by Christian fanatics.
    This is all a smoke screen to force us into a Christian ideal of what we should and should not do, based on a book of lies written 2,000 years ago.
    Feel free to believe in a mythical god and live your life hoping to get into some magical after life. But let me live my life. I have rights as much as you do. Stephen Conroy, back the hell off.
    Keep Christianity out of our government.
    anonymous
  • can be defeated in five minutes

    The following tools were designed to allow people in repressive regimes (China, Iran, etc.) to defeat national firewalls:

    Psiphon
    TOR (The Onion Router)
    Peekabooty

    I'm sure there are many more.
    anonymous
  • Campaign of disobedience

    I think it's up to internet users to start a campaign of disobedience against this.

    First of all, start researching and publishing ways to get around it everywhere you can.

    Once it's up and running, email ISPs and AMCA requesting certain websites be banned.

    I suggest starting with the most offensive websites on earth:

    alp.org.au
    www.minister.dbcde.gov.au
    {anything}.gov.au

    If we give them so much work to do, then they will eventually realise what a waste of time and money this is.
    anonymous
  • Opportunities

    Perhaps the loyal opposition could offer a local gateway for Onion Routing?
    anonymous
  • What misleading crap

    The proposal is not an internet filter - it is to block access to defined web addresses. The analogy is not to Telstra listening to phone calls, or Australia Post not opening mail - the correct analogy is to the fact that Telstra and other telcos block phone calls to certain overseas telephone numbers that are involved in scams - most notably the old but now irrelevant "internet diallers".

    The decision on games classification is not a diversion, it is the response to one of the best criticisms of a proposal to block access to sites that contain RC material.

    Finally no where in his tripe does David mention that the block will only apply to RC material, not the "prohibited" material under existing legislation.
    anonymous
  • The East (& West) is red

    @Pravda, suggest you go and read all the minister and fundamentalist organisation statements before you try and emulate the well known attributes of your name.

    It's not tripe to point out exactly what the supporters of the Great Australian Firewall have revealed is in store for lucky us.
    anonymous
  • Our future

    the issue Verity, is not just the blocking of illegal sites, it is taking away or censoring rights we actually do not have yet.

    The right to Free Speech does not exist for Australians. We are only allowed free speech at the behest of the Government of the day. Until this right is given to us, we need to speak out while we are allowed.

    If our Government moves down this path, how long until critics of any Australian Government cannot express their concerns? All it will take is the right amount fear installed into the silent majority who really are but just sheep.

    It is the stepping stone to a Dictatorship.
    anonymous
  • hello to the future

    If your concern is "free speech" go campaign about the existence of a Refused Classification list that applies to all other forms of impoted media.

    And to the East is Red - my dear - it is a very long bow to claim that a policy that implements a very small part of what someone else might propose is the "thin end of the wedge".

    The statement that matters is the one that is the policy that is to be implemented. It is a policy that says online content will be treated the same as any other content. Seems good to me.
    anonymous
  • It's all about Control

    Sadly, the one thing that has come out of the ISP filtering debate is that the government (lib or lab) wants to control our lives more and more. We are already "up to here" with laws, regulations, edicts, etc, all of which have a hefty fine as a minimum punishment. I'm no anarchist and I certainly agree that things like child pornograhy etc should not exist. I do, however, take exception when a politician (as distinct from a rational thinking person) comes up with such a half-witted, unworkable, non-cost-effective and useless scheme as this. Very few people actually want it (latest ZDNet poll - around 4%) so who is this plan for? THe government. It's not about saving our souls, it's just another cop-out by government for inadequate education, lack of teaching of prespect for others (except politicians) and being responsible for one's own actions.

    This is another nail in the coffin for individual freedoms (we don't have any now as it is) and just another aspect of government control over our lives.

    It's bad enough living in the Nanny State (SA) - now the Feds want to bring the rest of Australia up to our standard! Methinks NOT.
    anonymous
  • Don't be so quick to judge "Labor".

    Jack Boot Johnnie was just as willing to cosy up to the Fascist Religious Right Wing as Rudd is now.

    While ever we have the one-party-masquerading-as-two system, we will never get true "democracy".

    "Clean feed" was never going to work. Kids are quicker than the rest of us at by-passing the system.

    Don't even mention China. For the average user, yes the blocking system works. But there's a growing populace bypassing those blocks through the use of multiple proxies and encryption.
    anonymous
  • The future is a boot, stomping on a human face, forever.

    If you're so keen on censoring rubbish on the Internet, Verity, maybe you could kick it off by doing the following:

    Stop posting.
    anonymous