Common sense from Conroy, as net filter plan is canned
Senator Stephen Conroy’s decision to can a comprehensive internet filter for Australia is a win for common sense, for three reasons.
The first is that with or without a filter, the depraved goons who like to view horrid material can get their hands on it. The same technology that has forced broadcasters into fast-tracking television shows before impatient viewers download them illegally can be used among small groups of people. Files shared in this way won’t have obvious and easily-filterable names and are extremely hard to detect.
That means a national filter as a mechanism to stop distribution of child pornography was never going to stop hard cases.
There’s a lot to like in the argument that a filter might have made it harder for the curious to seek out material that sparked an interest in the revoltingly hard-core stuff. But there’s also a lot to like in the counter-argument that finding and blocking all such material is a colossal task that would be all-but-impossible to conduct in ways that prevented sites from being wrongly blocked without swift recourse. Questions around just how blocking decisions would be made, implemented and appealed were never answered.
Conroy’s decision to use Interpol’s list of child abuse sites as the basis for a limited filter is therefore a common-sense compromise, as it removes Australia’s role as arbiter of online taste and narrows the filtering effort into a range it’s hard to argue against. Applying the Interpol list is also something internet service providers are happy to do – Optus, Telstra and others have done so and report few problems doing so.
The last reason this is a sensible decision is that Australia’s last effort at regulating what its citizens do online is an abject and utter failure that the government walked away from almost as soon as the ink was dry on the Governor-General’s signature.
That effort, 2001’s Interactive Gambling Act, prohibits us from using any offshore-hosted gambling websites, which means it’s illegal to play online poker. Yet as a review of that Act noted in May, thousands play poker online every day. And in all the time since 2001, not a single investigation of Australians gambling online with offshore services has been conducted.
Nor has there been a prosecution. Not a single one.
Given that Australia’s government has shown no will to enact a law already on the statue books, asking the nation to swallow a filter and a policing regime was never a good look.
It’s also worth noting that in the geeky circles I inhabit, the filter made Australia a laughing stock. Laugh off geeks all you like. But before you do so, remember that technology businesses are growing faster than the rest of the economy.
I attended an event in Singapore last week at which I was shown data about how the technology industry is still growing faster than others, even in economic dead zones like Europe. Around the world, technology companies are still expanding. If Australia wants some of that action, we can’t afford to be seen as a laughing stock.
That’s not defending economic growth at the expense of a right to watch vile smut. No-one has the right to gratify themselves by inflicting lifelong misery on others.
But by taking a more common sense approach to a horribly complex problem, instead of a horribly complex approach, Australia is exercising some common sense.
Simon Sharwood is Asia Pacific editor of the UK’s leading technology news website theregister.co.uk
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