Stop Conroy’s Great Australian Firewall

Fond of kiddy-fiddlers? A friend of the porn industry? You must be, if you oppose a mandatory filter on the net. Or so says Senator Stephen Conroy and his allies in the Christian Right and Authoritarian Left.

The Minister for Broadband, Communications and the Digital Economy is not alone in his use of this shameful argumentative tact. The Australian Christian Lobby’s Jim Wallace and Melbourne and Australian University academic Clive Hamilton-who as head of the Australia Institute initiated this latest moral panic about the internet-have embraced it, too.

Actually, those fighting the Government’s attempt to become the first western nation to impose a nation-wide filter to screen illegal and “inappropriate” material have motives that are both sensible and upright. Such opponents include the 90% of people who told a recent Newspoll that they were opposed to government censorship of the net, and the close to 100,000 of Australians who have so far signed the GetUp! petition to top the mandatory filter being imposed. Not to mention the civil libertarians and groups representing internet providers and librarians.

These Australians oppose the filter because it will do nothing to stop child abuse, will both slow down and cock up the net, and because censorship in a liberal democratic society – especially one lacking a legally protected right to free speech – is not just wrong, but dangerous.

IT experts agree that the filtering technology sought by the government is complex, and the knowledge necessary to implement it elusive. Even if it could be done, the Australian Federal Police recently told ABC radio’s Background Briefing, it won’t stop child pornographers. They migrated to peer-to-peer networks and file-transfer systems years ago-technologies the proposed internet filter won’t touch. The only thing the filter will do is slow down the internet and make it less useful and more costly for the rest of us.

This is old news. In 2004 the Howard government, initially enthusiastic about a filter, rejected it for this reason, in favour of a website offering advice and voluntary filters that parents could voluntarily download. It is also why some Coalition senators-even conservative Christians like Nick Minchin and Cory Bernardi-are now wary of it. That, and the fact that the government agency compiling the list for voluntary filters recently added a pro-life website with graphic images of fetuses to the 1300 urls or web pages currently banned. This could go to 10,000 sites if the Government has its way. The banned list is not reviewable, and its contents secret, and not subject to FOI requests.

If mandatory filtering is not about stopping child abuse, what is the aim of those spruiking the Great Australian firewall?

The answer seems to be what those on the far left and right of politics have always wanted. The capacity to make us do things their way, for our own or the collective good, of course. “We want an authoritarian regime,” an anonymous caller tells a cyber-activist opposed to the filter. “So cut the libertarian bullshit…[or] you’ll be very sorry.”

The police have taken this threat seriously, and the rest of us should, too. It’s a cliché, but the price of freedom is eternal vigilance. If surfing the web had become a way of life for you at work and at play, the time to defend your freedom and keep the web unchained is now.

Publication history

Stop Conroy's Great Australian Firewall  Sunday Sun-Herald (Sydney)