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Tearing Down the Australian Internet Firewall

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The justified basis of censorship is the claim that the exposure of certain content can alter mental structures and, in particular, judgement. This is particularly the case concerning individual and group defamation and, in neurological development, those with pre-adolescent brain development. Another basis is simply the assertion of censorship simply through the political ability to do so. Independent organisations, from church newsletters to newspapers to academic journals, of course do this all the time; they decide what content is or isn't appropriate. As systematically independent organisations, this too has justification.

The proposed Australian censorship regime however falls into a different category. This is not a question of an independent organisation (despite the desire of some to treat governance in a corporate manner, a sort of Australia Inc), it is of a general application. It is a universal moral claim, founded in nothing but emotivism and the blunt use of political power. In the case of the proposed Australian censorship the argument is simply that certain content is unsuitable for adult citizens to view. Of course, this is couched in terms of "protecting families", but given the failure (from the State's perspective) of voluntary mass adoption of Net Alert, a mandatory regime has been proposed. When Net Alert was initially proposed there were suggestions to introduce it on an ISP-level, but it was subject to technical problems and in December 2008 it was shut-down.

Internet censorship is certainly nothing new in Australia. The NSW government attempted in 2002 to shutdown political protest websites, namely Indymedia and S11 websites, however the Australian Broadcasting Authority cleared them of any wrongdoing. Certainly these examples however belittle claims from the current Federal Minister that the firewall could be used to target political discussion. Using the rules of the 1975 Racial Discrimination Act, the Federal Court issued notices for Dr Fredrick Töben to remove material from the website of the Adelaide Institute which denied aspects of the Holocaust and vilified Jews. Again in both these cases this post-public exposure censorship is certainly different from pre-public censorship.

The Australian Labor Party has, since 2006, been committed to implementing a mandatory Internet censorship censorship system through the ISP level, whereas previously it supported voluntary adoption. When a link on wikileaks.org site of websites blacklisted by the ACMA was published on the forum whirlpool.net.au it was issued with a take-down notice and threatened with fines of $11,000 AUD per day. In December 2009, it was announced that new legislation, entitled "Measures to improve safety of the internet for families", would be introduced with mandatory Internet filtering with no opt-out position. This includes voluntary euthanasia sites, various downloadable games, films that have not been refused classification, as well as the usual content filtering targets (e.g., child pornography) which are already illegal. Under the current proposal the ACMA blacklist will be increased by almost ten times.

After spending some some $82 million AUD, with much more pending now with the proposed legislation, it is clear that politicians do not have sufficient trust in their own populations to determine what information they receive and how to interpret it it for themselves. The proposed filter will no almost nothing to prevent the production sexual abuse recordings, or its exchange, as such material is almost invariably not available openly, for obvious reasons. The filter cannot engage https or peer-to-peer network traffic. The filtering software will be easily by-passed by anonymising web proxy sites (e.g., http://freeproxy.ru). Another method is to set up a remote *nix shell account in a country that has stronger citizen rights, ssh into that account, and forward from there. Step-by-step instructions on how to do this are readily available (e.g., http://wiki.freaks-unidos.net/weblogs/azul/firefox-ssh-tunnel).

These methods solve the technical problem of the Internet filtering scheme. They do not, however, solve the political problem. Certainly in regimes that do not even have a pretence of democratic elections nothing less than fundamental regime change is required. In more democratic countries however, politicians are susceptible to the vote and can be swayed, even against their own personal agendas, with the threat of electoral loss. At the moment unfortunately the campaign against the filter has been fragmented, has engaged in ineffective protest mechanisms (e.g., Internet 'blackouts', rather than voting pledges), and in some cases has targeted the Minister rather than the policy. This is an issue where a multi-organisation alliance is necessary for co-ordination, crossing political boundaries. Organisations like the Liberal-Democratic Party, the Greens, the Australian Sex Party etc, need to link with Electronic Frontiers Australia, GetUp! etc in co-ordinated, rather than dispersed action. Further, the purpose of the campaign is to prevent the policy from being introduced as law. Finally, and this is where a personal approach is appropriate, members of the ALP should use their influence to encourage the deselection from public office of those who propose such legislation.

Commenting on this Page will be automatically closed on March 18, 2010.

Comments

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