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Internet Censorship in Australia

The news about the Government’s plan for an opt-out internet filter has got me pretty incensed, so, for the first time in far too long, I’m sending a letter. Yeah, a proper, printed letter, in an envelope. Apparently that raises the odds that I’ll get a response, but these are politicians we’re dealing with, so I have my doubts.

The main target is Senator Stephen Conroy, but I’ll also be posting off copies to my local member, Kelvin Thomson, and the Chair of the ACMA, Chris Chapman. I was inspired by the EFA’s media release (are you a member of the EFA yet?).

Thanks to those who have provided feedback and discussion points - particularly Anthony Richardson and Jayne. Hopefully what I’ve written below will spur others into action.

To the Honourable Stephen Conroy,

With the recent announcement of the Rudd Government’s plans for a mandatory internet filter, there’s been some discussion in the media, but I have a few concerns that I’d appeciate being addressed.

Firstly, the opt-out nature of the filter. Making the filter opt-out is, I feel, implying the Government of this country doesn’t trust it’s citizens. Will people who request to opt out of the service have their details recorded? Why couldn’t this be an opt-in filter?

And who decides what gets filtered? The Government? Or an independent organisation? Each lobby group and political party will have their own opinions about what should and shouldn’t be blocked by the filter. I’m sure “Who watches the watchers?” is a quote you’ve already heard in regards to this issue, but that doesn’t detract from its relevancy.

Thirdly, the issue of speed. This filter will make browsing the internet slower for Australians - even for those who opt out. Every single request for every part of a web page will have to be checked, first to see if the user requesting the content has opted out, and then if they haven’t, to see if the content requested is censored. Of course, that’s if you’ve got a list of filtered content. If you have some system that determines whether content should be filtered as it’s requested, that’ll definitely be slower.

Let’s keep in mind the fact that Australian broadband is lagging behind the rest of the developed world as it is. Also, the same speed issues will apply even if you have an opt-in service.

Beyond the issues listed above, I also have some skepticism that this filter will be particularly effective. Let’s not forget the how easily the previous Government’s attempt was hacked. And it won’t stop people watching child pornography - they’ll just opt-out of the service. That kind of material is not really a problem for children either - it’s not something they’ll stumble upon.

The (relatively short) history of the internet has shown that it treats censorship as failure, and will route around it (to paraphase John Gilmore). From my questions and concerns above, I think it’s clear that I feel this Government’s (well-meaning) attempt to filter the internet is not only another barrier in the way of decent internet speeds and open content, but also a waste of time and effort.

I look forward to a response to the questions I’ve raised. I would definitely be happy to discuss all this with you in person.

Kind Regards,

Patrick Allan

Dr Nic left a comment on 4 Jan, 2008:

Here here.

Ryan Bigg left a comment on 5 Jan, 2008:

Internet Censorship should be reserved only for the communist countries, the ones that fear an uprising of their people because they can’t manage their own country correctly, not for a democratic nation.

Putting a filter in will only slow things down further, as Pat said.

Michael Koukoullis left a comment on 9 Jan, 2008:

Nice letter Pat.