Electronic Frontiers Australia (EFA) today attacked a government plan, championed by Communications Minister Stephen Conroy, that would mandate "clean feed" filtered Internet connections to all homes and schools. This scheme, which will supposedly censor the Internet of pornography and other "inappropriate material", goes further than the Coalition's previous policies, by requiring individuals to opt-out of the scheme rather than request filtering from their service provider.
"Waving the 'save the children' flag may be good politics, but it ignores serious technological problems which will likely cause the proposed scheme to fail," said EFA Chair Dale Clapperton. "Furthermore, Australia is supposed to be a liberal democracy where adults have the freedom to say and read what they want, not just what the Government decides is 'appropriate' for them." "These announcements smack of the condescending paternalism which contributed to the downfall of the Howard government," Clapperton continued. "The proposals threaten the free speech rights of every Australian, and our concerns will not be silenced by Government sound bites equating free speech with access to child pornography."
EFA has previously raised concerns about Australia joining North Korea, China and Burma in the club of nations who censor their citizens' access to the internet. While the Minister makes no apologies for this alarming development, he has given us little reason to put our faith in his bureaucrats to administer such a system competently, transparently and fairly.
"Who decides what is 'appropriate' for adult Australians to read on the Internet, and according to what standards?", asked Clapperton. "What will happen if the Government decides that information about abortion or gay marriage is 'inappropriate' at the behest of Family First Senator Steve Fielding?"
In an attempt to dismiss the policy's critics, Senator Conroy said "If people equate freedom of speech with watching child pornography, then the Rudd-Labor Government is going to disagree." EFA notes, however, that child pornography is already illegal, and very unlikely to come to the attention of either the casual web user or the censors themselves. "senator Conroy's attempt to equate freedom of speech with access to child pornography is a transparent attempt to deter criticism of this fundamentally flawed proposal," said Mr Clapperton.
Implementation of the proposal, insofar as it is technically possible, would cause significant technical and administrative headaches for Australia's Internet Service Providers. "This can only have the effect of making Australians' access to the internet slower and more expensive," said Clapperton. "Given the Prime Minister's election promise to focus on improving the nation's access to broadband, the fact that the first measures put in place should do the exact opposite is as disappointing as it is bewildering."
With billions of web pages available on the internet and changing every day, the crucial technical and administrative details of how the clean feed will be created have not yet been made available. Although the Minister has asserted that the Internet will not "grind to a halt", he has yet to explain to Internet engineers how he plans to accomplish a feat that experts acknowledge would be very difficult. "Anyone with a better understanding of the Internet than the Minister will tell you this system simply will not work," said Clapperton. "But a lot of taxpayers' money will be wasted if we try."
EFA supports measures to provide filtering software to homes where it is requested, and to educate parents on monitoring their children's online activities. "Unfortunately, ISP based filtering will not make the Internet safe for children, and may even cause harm in and of itself. If parents are deceived into believing that a 'filtered' Internet service is safe for children, they will be less likely to take sensible precautions such as supervising their children while they use the Internet."
At a time when all sides of politics acknowledge the importance of developing our information economy, EFA feels that this announcement sends the wrong message to the rest of the world. "The Coalition was rightly ridiculed by the rest of the world when they announced in the late 1990's that they would censor Australian's Internet access. The Coalition, at least, sensibly realised that their proposals were technologically infeasible. It seems that the current Minister with responsibility for the Internet has yet to learn that lesson."
-- Ends --
- Background information
- Contact details for media
ABC News article on the announcement:
EFA analysis of the proposal:
Electronic Frontiers Australia Inc. ("EFA") is a non-profit national organisation representing Internet users concerned with on-line rights and freedoms. EFA was established in 1994, is independent of government and commerce, and is funded by membership subscriptions and donations from individuals and organisations with an altruistic interest in promoting online civil liberties.
Mr Dale Clapperton Mr Colin Jacobs EFA Chair EFA Board Member Phone: 0416 007 100 Phone: 0402 631 955 Email: dclapperton at efa.org.au Email: cjacobs at efa.org.au
Electronic Frontiers Australia Inc -- http://www.efa.org.au/