The cyber world celebrated last week following the Labor Government’s supposed ‘back-down’ on its mandatory internet filter proposal. Instead of imposing its own ‘clean feed’, the Government has begun issuing notices to require ISPs to filter a more limited Interpol ‘worst of the worst’ list. However, this change leaves a lot to be worried about.
We should be worried that the Government is using an obscure section of the Telecommunications Act - originally passed by parliament in 1997, ten years before Labor first took the policy to an election - to avoid legislative scrutiny.
We should be worried that the Government is still forcing ISPs to block a list of web address, with the major change pertaining to who writes the list.
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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.
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You may be surprised to learn that I’m in favour of an internet filter.
I know what you’re thinking. I’m a pretty wild kind of guy - I don’t always tuck my shirt in, cross one-way streets without looking both ways and occasionally don’t bother pre-heating the oven.
But despite my roguish charm, frequent viewings of Black Hawk Down and awkward attempts at skateboarding, I just can’t bring myself to support internet freedoms.
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The more the Prime Minister breaks his policy promises, the more Senator Conroy hides his policy homework.
For more than 2 months Senator Conroy has sat on the taxpayer-funded Implementation Study into the National Broadband Network. And he’s refusing to show how he will implement another promise: mandatory internet filtering.
This week, The Australian reported the Minister’s so-called ‘clean feed’ legislation won’t be introduced before Parliament’s spring sitting. Another Labor government “own-goal” and a vote of ‘no-confidence’ in its own policy promises.
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Spend a little time reading the rabid, sometimes psychotic, responses to Stephen Conroy’s piece yesterday about the proposed internet filter and you’d be forgiven for thinking the Rudd Government is about to become a one-term wonder or Australia is about to turn into a society about as free as the Third Reich.
The hundreds of comments on the minister’s piece contain a mass of vitriolic, hysterical rage and delusional warnings that the plan could cost Labor power. There were personal attacks on the minister and even a hint at a death threat. “I feel like I’m living in Germany circa 1936,” wrote one contributor. “OK, Conroy, as a Catholic, it is you who believes in myths. You have a rubbish Economics degree and you weren’t born here. Go away,” said another, constructively.
What the debate almost entirely failed to reflect was the overwhelming popularity of Conroy’s plan with the general public. A recent poll put support for mandatory government filtering of child abuse material at 80 per cent. That’s a staggeringly high approval rating for any policy that does not involve handing out wads of free money.
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There is a lot of misinformation circulating about the Government’s ISP-level filtering proposal and Eliza Cussen was right to warn people they shouldn’t believe everything they hear or read (Top Ten Internet Filter Lies, 25 March 2010).
Unfortunately her article repeated some of the misinformation and I’d like to outline the facts.
The Government has always maintained there is no silver bullet when it comes to cyber safety and we have never said ISP-level filtering alone would help fight child pornography or keep children safe online.
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