Conroy Lays the First Brick in the Great Firewall of Australia

This may look like an Australian story. It is that, but it’s bigger, because it is significant for citizens of any democratic country and others who cherish democratic principles.

The new Australian government has announced stringent new controls over the Internet.

According to the report on the Australian Broadcasting Corporation’s site, Senator Stephen Conroy, Minister for Telecommunications, announced today that “it will be mandatory for all Internet service providers to provide clean feeds, or ISP filtering, to houses and schools that are free of pornography and inappropriate material”.

He disagreed with those who are likening this mandatory censorship regime to the Chinese Government’s approach to exercising control over access to the Internet.

Yes, people can opt out of the filtering. But why should law-abiding citizens have to opt out? And for those of us who are as appalled as any decent person by child pornography but are also students of world history, the question must surely arise that the precedent having been set, what will this government, or a future government, next decide we must be protected from?

How soon will the Government start stretching the definition of “inappropriate material”. Will that include criticism of the Government’s policy on this issue, or on, say, counter-terrorism policy?

And if you opt out, not for any nefarious reasons but because, say, you don’t want the filters slowing down your access to the Internet, will that put you on a watch list for the Federal police?

The pre-election rhetoric of the Australian Labor Party gave a clear indication that the new Australian Government, led by Kevin Rudd, would be much more likely than its predecessors to create or nurture a more Internet-connected environment for business and education. There were promises about real broadband and about providing more computers for schoolchildren.

No doubt some of the rhetoric was simplistic, but I for one felt there were good signs of a government which would support and assist progress with the online environment. Yes, there was the policy to restrict access so that children would be protected: I suppose in retrospect my attitude to that was unduly Pollyanna-ish – I thought that once in government, well-informed public servants would brief the new Minister on the negative implications, in technical and policy terms, of going ahead the the proposed controls.

Silly me. I forgot that modern-day politicians see no votes in upholding civil liberties when a legislative knout can be wielded so as to appease pressure groups.

So now we have this clumsy move to censor the internet, pilloried by Duncan Riley in a Techcrunch post, Australia Joins China in Censoring the Internet, with comments and observations that I for one find rather more convincing than the Honourable Senator’s claim, as above, about the link to the Chinese Government’s approach to the Internet.

As Duncan mentions also, there is the additional cost burden on ISPs – a burden which will surely be passed on to the users, already heavily slugged for our Internet access.

A Facebook group has been established for those opposed to mandatory Internet filtering.

Protect the children? Absolutely. But this is not the way, especially for a Government pledged to help those very children have a brighter future, in part because of more effective and productive access to the online world.

Des Walsh

Business coach and digital entrepreneur. With coach training from and its Graduate School of Coaching, and a founding member of the International Association of Coaching, Des has been coaching business owners and entrepreneurs for the past 20 years. Over the same period he has also been actively engaged in promoting the business opportunities of the digital economy. He is a certified Neurolinguistic Programming (NLP) coach, and a certified specialist in social media strategy and affiliate marketing.

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  1. Yep, this is not the way.

    My first disagreement with our new government which I supported so strongly; They would hit me in my core business. I feel used.

  2. Another example of government keeping honest people honest simply to save face with the voter. Every modern router has the ability to limit traffic and many of them offer parental controls. And every person who wishes to get to this material knows exactly how to thwart these controls.

    My issue with it honestly isn’t the censorship part (surprisingly) but the stupidity of the people involved to think they will somehow be able to impact the issue at hand.

  3. Doug
    Your comment reminds me of the young man who was on Oprah, had been both a victim and perpetrator. One of the key things he said and repeated was for parents to get the computers out of the childrens’ bedrooms. Probably far more effective than clumsy attempts by government to control the Internet. But it needs education.

  4. I thought that parents were suppose to control what their children acessed on the internet, not the government. Can you imagine the outcry if government regulated every movie and television show so that it was suitable for a 12 year old child? Why should the internet be any different?

  5. To be honest, I’m not so woried about the immediate impact of this. I’m sure the material that gets blocked on Day One will be confined to nasty stuff that morally healthy people don’t want to see: obviously, child pornography is the main target.

    BUT, it’s still a dangerous step.

    Once any government starts to control what is or is not appropriate for its citizens to see on the internet, we should all be afraid. How do we know that more and more things will not be deemed “iappropriate” by future adminuistrations? Are we really supposed to sit back and just trust future governments about this? Tell me another one.

    Admittedly, we have some constitutional protection of political speech in this country, but it’s no more than an implied limitation of legislative power, and it’s scope is much-debated. It does not appear expressly in the Constitution, and it could easily be weakened or eliminated by future High Court rulings.

    I think it’s important to acknowledge that there will be an opt-out provision – and we need to be honest, rather than misrepresenting the facts. But of course, a future admininstration could water down or eliminate this protection. And then there’s the issue of who will have records of who opted out.

    Will such records be available to the government or the police? Will they be able to be used in police investigations? Will it be possible for adverse inferences about individuals to be drawn from them (e.g. by police, bureaucrats, and the courts)?

    No matter how well-intentioned this move is, it’s a step on the path towards official control of what we can see and read, and every single such step needs to be opposed bitterly. Don’t go down the Chinese Road.

  6. So it happens at last. The new government, who we all supported, screws us in a matter of weeks.

    -Inevitable workaround now in effect-

    Sorry about that. Anyway, yeah. If parents want their kids to be protected from all this, then they don’t put computers in their kid’s rooms! Wow, I didn’t think of that! In fact, maybe everyone else will!

    Wait, Mr Conroy says they won’t, in fact the problem is so bad that every Australian will now need a connection-slowing filter that the government controls so that kids are protected, even though half of Australian internet-linked homes have no kids, and only currently filters a few thousand sites out of the millions of porn sites in existence!

    My currently-unfiltered connection is supposed to run at 8mbps. If I get it to run at 100kbps, it’s going fast. I really don’t want it slowed down to dial-up speeds. So I opt-out. And get identified as a potential terrorist/sex offender. No thank you.

    The other thing I’m noticing is that most citizens aren’t into child porn anyway. So why are we censoring it?

    And yes, the government probably will at some point start stepping on sites that don’t support them.

    In short, Mr Conroy, step off. If this gets through, you ain’t getting my vote.

  7. Note: there’s a bug in the post I just left. It shouldn’t say “inveitable workaround now in effect”.

  8. Pingback: Can Australia Really Censor The Internet | Charly Leetham
  9. Well I must say that I am beginning to feel like a naughty child as opposed to a fully grown adult who can make my own decisions. This government is ridiculous – instead of addressing the things that really need addressing, they are pouring money into a product that will see our rights eroded.

    Let alone the fact that I’m obviously not responsible enough to look after myself – I obviously aren’t responsible enough to protect my children from the Internet. Although I notice that nothing is said about what we expose our children to on TV or at the movies…. that’s probably next on the list of things to censor though…. then it will be our books…..

    These guys didn’t have my vote to begin with and they haven’t won me over yet….

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