ACMA censors, Australians protest

Despite premature celebrations or wishful thinking that the Government are looking for an exit strategy, the Government is powering ahead with its plans to censor Australia’s Internet.

On Sunday’s edition of Background Briefing on radio national – an excellent and in-depth look at the scheme, available here for download – the Minister could be heard proclaiming the necessity of the scheme, dismissing the critics, and confusing the issue, saying that the filter would protect Australia’s children from “‘such vile websites as child pornography and the ultra-violent sites” and that Labor made no apology for trying to “block these sites from families’ loungerooms and children’s bedrooms.” These are frightening words for anyone who understands the issues at stake, for they demonstrate some very confused thinking lies at the heart of this policy. If the Minister truly believes that children are seeking out, or being bombarded with child pornography, then there’s a dearth of both common sense and proper research in the Ministerial suites.

In the meantime, events have belied the benign nature of the new regime. After Friday’s notice to online discussion site Whirlpool, demanding a link to blacklisted content be taken down, it has come to light today that ACMA has blacklisted a page on the whistle-blower site Wikileaks. The page was submitted by a Whirlpool user, and ironically contains the leaked blacklist from a Danish filtering scheme (where the list is also kept secret, as in Australia). Wikileaks is designed as a safe repository for the anonymous posting of documents, especially those Governments would seek to suppress. Few would fail to see the value in such a site, and so it is not a little disturbing to see how casually it was added to ACMA’s list of prohibited web sites. Even under the current regime, a site like Wikileaks could certainly not be hosted in Australia.

We note that, not only do these incidents show that the ACMA censors are more than willing to interpret their broad guidelines to include a discussion forum and document repository, it is demonstrably inevitable that the Government’s own list is bound to be exposed itself at some point in the future. The Government would serve the country well by sparing themselves, and us, this embarrassment.

The spin is starting to wear thin. It can no longer be denied that the blacklist targets a huge range of material that is legal and even uncontroversial. Politically controversial material will be blocked, as we have seen today. As time goes on, pressure will only mount on the Government to expand the list, while money and effort are poured into an enormous black box that will neither help kids nor stem the flow of illegal material.

In light of this, it’s no wonder that Australians are unwilling to take it on faith that the list will contain only uncontroversial content and will be flawlessly administered for all time. Instead, citizens are keeping up the pressure on their government, with a protest march taking place in Canberra on Saturday. EFA will be there to address those attending. Mandatory ISP filtering is a bad solution in search of a problem. The only problems the Government can find to make it fit are solely political in nature.