Unfortunately, the next month or two are likely to result in some form of legislation passing the Senate that results in all Australia’s having their internet connections filtered using a mandatory, opaque system controlled by an agency of the Federal Government.
Way back in January this year, after some months of extensive online discussion and commentary, I managed to get some time with my local member, Sharon Bird, to talk about the issues surrounding the proposal for a mandatory internet filter.
The people of Australia has been talking to the Minister too, trying to convince him that this is a truly, truly terrible idea, and that we don’t want it.
In late March 2009, the ABC’s Q&A featured Senator Conroy, and to welcome him were more than 2000 submissions – many times more than in any previous episode. You can watch the episode here.
The other high priority campaign against this filter – which goes well beyond what the government promised they were going to do during the 2007 election – comes from activist group, GetUp, with their Censordyne commercial.
If this wasn’t enough, the annual Internet Industry Awards held in London named our Minister the “Villian of the Year” for his policy. He shrugged off concerns and criticism by saying that people didn’t understand what he was doing, and trying to paint people who object to the compulsory filtering of the internet as people who support access to “pro-rape sites, bestiality sites, and child pornography promotion sites“.
Unfortunately, it appears that one of the more rational and relevant arguments against a compulsory internet filter – that it would slow down the internet at the same time as the Federal Government are planning to spend billions making it faster with the NBN – has been diminished, with the ISPs participating in the pilot – the ones who will comment anyway – saying that the pilot was achieved without noticeably slowing down internet use.
I’ve got some pretty grave doubts about all of this – particularly with internet speeds increasing, making any delay on the pipe due to filtering resulting in a higher percentage slowdown as speeds go up – but even if these technical concerns disappear, there’s still the two really big issues that this filtering scheme is certain to fail on:
- It won’t protect the children; getting around it will be fairly trivial – via proxies or VPN connections through the firewall – and most of the really scary stuff on the internet is found in the dark underbelly, of P2P networks, newsgroups, and other impossible to police locations. If parents are told this filter will protect their children, they’ll (further) hand over parenting responsibilities for the government, leaving to a much more dangerous situation than exists today.
- It will put in place infrastructure that the this, or a future government, can use to control the internet in a much more draconian way into the future. Any bleating that the legislation will restrict the filter to controlling some 1300 sites which are already banned by ACMA holds absolutely no water with me: legislation can be changed (that’s why we have parliaments – to make and change laws) and who’s to say some future government on the skids but with a majority in both houses won’t try and use scare tactics or cries of national security to silence dissent.
Our politicians – particularly in the Liberal Party – need to know, loud and clear, that this issue will cause thousands of us to change our votes. This is a touchstone issue that goes to the core of pretty fundamental issues of freedom and liberty in Australia, and with the internet still very very early in its history, putting these sorts of systems in place when we know they won’t solve the problem – and in fact could make it worse – is wrong, wrong, wrong.
While many of us thought that the Green’s opposition to this, combined with the Coalition’s increasingly strong stance against the planned filter, would leave this legislation dead and buried: Labor wouldn’t have the numbers to get it passed, even with the support of Senator Fielding.
After recent discussions with Canberra types, I’m now concerned that a deal will get done in the sitting periods remaining this year, and that the Coalition will join with Labor and vote this horrible thing (amended in some way) into law. With nut-job-nanna’s like Dana Vale from the Liberal Party coming out in support of the filter – without having a clue what she’s talking about and foolishly equating the evil found online with the filter as a practical way to combat it (not as a silver bullet, she says, but as one tool, which she supports regardless of the side-effects of this blunt and ineffective tool) – I’m really concerned that the Liberal party and their National colleagues might be ready to do a deal and see this thing installed.
So, what are you going to do to make sure the Opposition know they need to oppose this thing?