EFA has received many queries from overseas in the last few days asking: What on earth is going on down there? Well, we hoped that sense would prevail; that more important policies would get in the way, or that the Minister would get seated on a plane next to somebody who actually understood how the Internet works. Instead, at a sudden press conference it was announced that Australia will next year join the ranks of countries who censor the net.

It's hard for any government to resist pursuing a policy when children are involved, or are seen to be involved. The censorship push started its life as a cyber-safety policy, where ISPs would be required to provide a filtered solution to families, but has since morphed into something at once less useful and more sinister. An announcement on Tuesday confirms it: next year, all Australian ISPs will be required to filter access to a government-supplied blacklist containing "refused classification" (RC) web content. That would include nasty stuff like child pornography, but also a broader range of content: fetishy sex, instruction in crime (such as euthanasia), any computer game not suitable for under 18s. The list will be partly generated by complaints from the public, and may include lists imported from overseas police departments.

While this is sold as a kid-friendly measure, to "improve safety of the internet for families", it's clearly nothing of the sort. A few thousand URLs hardly constitutes a national net nanny. The list would almost be laughable if only it was not mandatory and secret - unlike censorship decisions made in other media, blocked URLs will remain secret and expressly excluded from freedom of information requests. Just as worrying is the fact that once this list is in, a conga-line of special interests will be approaching the government to have their pet peeves added to the list. It's not much of a stretch to imagine AFACT (Australian Federation Against Copyright Theft) clamouring to have bittorrent trackers added, and several parliamentarians are on record calling for a ban on pro-anorexia sites and pornography in general.

It looks like the Australian blogosphere and twitterverse are in an uproar, and the media have not been very kind. What remains to be seen is how much this issue can crossover into the mainstream public consciousness. If the policy is seen as a vote-loser rather than a crowd pleaser, the Government might be a little readier to see reason.

So is Australia the new Iran? Should you encrypt your hard drive or install a VPN before visiting Australia next year? Well, it's not the law of the land yet, but unless the political winds change, Australia is set to join a club with some rather unsavoury members.


  1. What can you and I, just normal Internet using people, do about this?

    Comment by Adam on 18 December 2009 at 08:04
  2. Adam - The only thing we can do really, is make it known to your local Member of Parliment that it's a pretty ridiculous idea and then urge everyone you know who is against it to do the same.

    As regular people in regular jobs, that is pretty much it. If protests get organised, JOIN! if nothing seems to be happening, START ONE!

    basically get into it, and make sure everyone you know is 100% convinced it's a dumb idea.

    Comment by Dave on 18 December 2009 at 08:59
  3. from Germany:

    we have you on the monitor ;)

    come visit:


    add #zensursula tag to your tweets and reach german anti-censorship activists

    @Adam: tell your neighbour, your friends etc:

    Comment by #zensursula on 18 December 2009 at 09:03
  4. In response to "What to do".

    I've written to my local member (National Party) whose reply while having a hint of opposition showed a profound ignorance of the issues. I've written to all the senators in my state promising to vote 'below the line' and put them at the bottom of my ballot paper if they vote for Conroy's bill. No response from these, but one can only hope that the staffers, before they binned my correspondence, at least put a tick in the 'political oblivion' side of their boss's political ledger.

    Does anyone remember when videos classified 'X' became illegal to be sold in the states because an ALP attorney general either from dullness of mind or being in the thrall of some medieval cult, thought that 'X' meant depictions of actual sexual violence?

    It is most likely that Conroy's position is informed by dullness of mind and the religious right. The ruling class in general will be supportive too as they have been of the gradual establishment of a police state which they believe will be necessary to maintain their privileges and lion's share of scarce resources as the oil economy collapses, the world economic focus shifts to China and the effects of global warming become apparent. Internet censorship is just another component.

    Unfortunately I believe more ground will be lost before it can be regained.

    Comment by Michael Rogers on 18 December 2009 at 09:44
  5. I've emailed the local MP twice (thought I had the address wrong the first time) and have managed to convince the 'rents to help out (I'm two years away from voting age, unless the group campaigning for the right to vote at 16 gets something done here).
    What I also find funny is how nobody seems to have noticed that a lot of ISPs are doing this kind of thing on their own anyway. I have Optus as my ISP, and I've found more than a few blocked websites - mostly bittorrent trackers.

    Now, don't get me wrong - I don't mind the censorship of child porn sites and some of the truly disgusting stuff on the Internet. It does need to go, and if we can't remove the sites, we can do the next best thing. I'd like to see it done in a way that a) doesn't cripple small ISPs and b) doesn't destroy our already-atrocious internet speeds...
    There is no mention of oversight committees. There is no mention of *how* committee members will be selected, and how it will be ensured that they have no bias. There's no mention of what organisations will or will not be involved. And the lack of these details being released is very, very fishy to me.

    Furthermore, I don't see why general pornography or fetish sites need to be blocked. Granted, there are a lot of kids out there, but there are also a lot of parental control programs that are ridiculously cheap (and some you can actually get for free from your ISP if you ask them about it) and just because one household has three children in it doesn't mean that every household does, nor does it mean that the entire household are children. As far as I'm concerned, if adults want to look at pornography, that's up to them - if they're old enough to vote, drink, drive, fly overseas on their own and sign contracts, they're old enough to have clear judgement. And Internet filters will not stop people - if anything, they'll encourage them. Not to mention that not all pornography is on the internet - though the vast majority is, there are physical mendiums as well.

    Last of all, with the blacklist staying secret, what's to stop other content being filtered? What is to prevent websites containing, say, content critical of our current government from being blocked? Not much.

    I think the main issue is that Conroy and his supporters seem to believe that the public doesn't know what's good for them and aren't tech-savvy enough to not accidentally visit pornographic websites. In my experience, people don't just stumble across these sites; they know what they're in for, and more often than not they looked for them deliberately. I'm seeing a very overprotective attitude by the government here, and I don't like it at all.

    What I wouldn't give to be a part of Parliament right now...

    Somewhat off-topic, but I also would like for malware-installing sites and scam websites to be added to the blacklist. IMHO, producing or distributing malware or spyware deliberately should be a criminal offence. I know there isn't much that can be done about sites hosted in other countries, but if Conroy is serious about protecting the public, then he'll call for malware and scam sites to be added to the blacklist. One virus is a lot more damaging than a hundred nude photographs. Nude photographs can't steal your identity or destroy your hard drive, but a well-placed piece of milicious code can do that and a lot more. And while most scam websites are just plain annoying, sadly, some people are drawn in by them, and can wind up losing their money and their identity through them.

    Comment by dartigen on 18 December 2009 at 11:16
  6. This filter is ridiculous, I cannot believe that this will work properly. This old man should listen to something like 90% of Australia and drop the poorly organised filter idea. Obviously this is not an issue many parents are concerned with and there are already measures that parents can take at home rather than blocking and filtering information to the entirety of the Australian population.

    This poor umbrella, coverall attempt will most likely filter useful, legitimate and "appropriate" websites too. Couldn't there be an ISP level filter that can be easily installed per household by request (as in NOT GOVERNMENT FORCED)? This is like the entire class getting in trouble for something that the one idiotic child did at the back of the room.

    Conroy and his supporters in the Government should stop wasting time forcing their religious and moral beliefs on us all and actually put effort into directly finding and eliminating the source of the problems with the internet.

    Comment by Taylor on 18 December 2009 at 11:28
  7. Props to Dartigen. This is my exact opinion on the matter - sure, stop child pornography sites and other things like this - but what they're putting together was either not thought out at all, or there is a whole lot that the government is not telling us.

    My school has an internet filter currently in place, one that managed to block a government website with information I needed for an assignment, but students could still break through for other social networking purposes. Is this going to be what Google-ing information will turn into at home as well?

    The Australian population in general is not as computer-illiterate and unsafe on the internet as the government seems to think, and for those who may not know better, couldn't they be taught?

    I'm 16 and sick of many adults thinking that my opinion doesn't count because I'm not old enough to vote to fight for what I want.

    Cheers for the filter sending us back into dark-age download speeds, too. That will be great.

    Comment by Vicky on 18 December 2009 at 11:54
  8. Mark Newton, an engineer from the ISP Internode has really got to the core of this issue. There will never be ILLEGAL material in the filter list, if its ILLEGAL then the ACMA is not even told about it, its a police issue. The list contains IMMORAL sites as defined by the ACMA as controlled by the government of the day. When you understand that, and don't take my word for it you can see what they are trying to build, the great MoralWall of Australia.


    Part of Marks blog post:

    So lets clear the air a bit: What, exactly, is "Refused Classification" content?

    It's fairly simple. Picture Aunt Gladys from Cootamundra, who has rarely actually used the Internet but has some terribly strong opinions about what's on it. Aunt Gladys receives some spam one afternoon, clicks on a link, and finds herself looking at a pornography site.

    "This is terrible!" Gladys harrumphs, "Something must be done!" and she calls the police to lodge a complaint about the awful, disgusting imagery that she's only just now discovered is on the Internet.

    Following up her complaint, the police examine it, and determine that there's nothing illegal there. But Gladys is insistent: Something must be done! Brushing her off, the police tell her that she can submit Internet content complaints through the Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA) so that she can run away and hassle them instead of wasting police time.

    So she bustles herself back to her telephone and calls the NetAlert Hotline, disturbing ACMA from their Kyle Sandilands deliberations for long enough to take down the particulars of her complaint. Three months later they finally get around to looking at it, and send her a sympathetic email message confirming that the web page she's found is Refused Classification and Prohibited Content. There there, my dear Gladys, have a pat on the head and an elephant stamp on your wrist. Consider yourself validated.

    ACMA is the agony aunt of the Internet. Their job is to listen to all the Gladys' of Australia, the people who want to complain about things that aren't actually illegal, a veritable online version of the Letters to the Editor page in the Northern Territory News.

    None of that tut-tutting would happen if Gladys had found actual illegal material. If she'd reported illegal content to the police, they'd have never referred her to ACMA, they'd simply start the process of gathering evidence, issuing interception warrants to find out who had published the material and who was downloading it, and generally doing whatever they need to do to get distributors of illegal content behind bars. They'd do the whole thing in secret, like they do with every other criminal investigation they conduct, and both ACMA and the Classification Board would rarely get a look-in.

    If Gladys had reported illegal content to ACMA, they'd send it straight to the police too. That's what they have to do -- The Broadcasting Services Act compels them.

    If content is actually illegal, there's no ridiculous time-wasting messing around with blacklists, the material is supposed to be taken down and the perpetrators arrested, no questions asked, no second-guessing.

    To summarise: The only content that's ever blacklisted, RC or otherwise, is that which is legal, but offensive to people like Gladys. That's the purpose the "RC" category serves under Australian law.

    Comment by Scott on 18 December 2009 at 17:50
  9. Is there a petition or pledge that I can sign that looks like the following?

    Comment by Ramana Kumar on 18 December 2009 at 20:44
  10. For some reason, the rest of my comment didn't go through. I think because of the quotation marks. I'll try again:

    Is there a pledge like the following:

    I am enrolled to vote in the next Australian election. I pledge not to vote for a representative of any political party that supports a mandatory internet filter, as long as an alternative vote is possible.

    If not, I think we should start collecting signatories. Can anyone see any problems with the wording or intent of such a pledge? I suspect it wouldn't be too hard, although it would take some publicity effort, to get a very large number of signatories - enough to make the government reconsider.

    Comment by Ramana Kumar on 18 December 2009 at 20:46
  11. Here is my poster. Disribute as you see fit.


    Comment by tp on 18 December 2009 at 23:44
  12. Whoever advocates net censorship is a piece of shit

    Comment by Joseph on 19 December 2009 at 01:42
  13. Why not create a seperate department to deal with issues and legalities over the internet itself ?

    Comment by KC on 19 December 2009 at 02:47
  14. If you ask the question : 'Public Filter' or 'Filter Facility in each Personal Computer' . The government has responded with Public Filter . This , I think , says a lot about the government's attitudes and intentions . Ask the government - why not put together a freely available filter package that everyone can install on their PC's and allow it to access a data base of categorised ( ie. with censorship categories ) or banned web sites and prevent access to those sites - under user control . The government's response will indicate just how they regard - you - us - the voter . Further , don't forget , Google already filters , under user control , it's search results . Also ask whether it's just a distraction from the government not going after the real paedo sites and associated real paedos .

    Comment by Kim on 19 December 2009 at 13:01
  15. personaly i think we should start complaining about one site that should be blocked http://www.minister.dbcde.gov.au/home as no one should ever look at a hidious form that they depict on this website i couldn't belive what i was looking at wich they say is a honorable man it has no RC for the website and children should never see this website

    lets all start complaining about it so it should be taken down immediately i'm going to

    Comment by Adrain on 19 December 2009 at 14:51
  16. Paranoia kicks in quickly whenever I am in proximity to such stories.. what happened to the smh article?

    Comment by K on 20 December 2009 at 01:35
  17. @16 - I got the same 404 error too on the SMH article link "We could not find the page you requested."

    A taste of things to come?

    Comment by MF on 20 December 2009 at 10:33
  18. Adrain has a point above, if this goes through compleatly (which it shouldnt) and we are lumpped with this then i think our only action at that stage is to complain about everything and anything.. Flood them with useless rubish.. A real life denial of service attack.

    Who's to say what does and doesn't offend me.. Today i felt that the colours on google were too bright for children to look at.


    Comment by treb on 20 December 2009 at 20:45
  19. FYI. The Sydney Morning Herald link is wrong.. There is no such thing as .html] just remove the square bracket.

    Comment by treb on 20 December 2009 at 21:02
  20. i may just chunder in my keyboard.... games i like was be enough this is just outrages, and a suppose we cant do anything about it now that its "official" meaning its "officially" bull Sh** (NOTE TO GOV: sorry lads but i censored it myself)

    Comment by jesse on 21 December 2009 at 18:21
  21. I hate this federal government so much. I'll give my vote to nazi's before I ever give it to these bozos; being libertarian left that's really saying something...

    Comment by cybergrunt on 22 December 2009 at 08:08
  22. That is a really silly comment @cybergrunt

    Comment by Adam on 22 December 2009 at 08:12
  23. all governments make mistakes in policy or execution thereof.now we just wont know.they employ media advisors,spin&secrecy.they will never admit to error.

    Comment by thomas vesely on 22 January 2010 at 01:53
  24. adam ,that is very censorious.what we need is to give support,not lip.have a good day...............

    Comment by thomas vesely on 23 January 2010 at 02:14
  25. Everyone listen and keep this quiet. Google has been rumoured to be putting up satellites in space that will give anyone on the planet wireless access to a unfiltered internet. Please remember this is only a rumour but one from a very good source but a rumour just the same. Apparently this project has been going on since 2006 when all the filtering talk started heating up. The pollies will jump on this, after all they don't want to lose their pron either.......Lets see how it all pans out. Rumour is the google thing is almost complete right now.......Fingers crossed.........

    Comment by snh on 23 January 2010 at 19:14
  26. Often we forget the little guy, the SMB, in our discussions of the comings and goings of the Internet marketing industry. Sure there are times like this when a report surfaces talking about their issues and concerns but, for the most part, we like to talk about big brands and how they do the Internet marketing thing well or not so well.


    Comment by kiramatalishah on 6 February 2010 at 04:39
  27. If she’d reported illegal content to the police, they’d have never referred her to ACMA, they’d simply start the process of gathering evidence, issuing interception warrants to find out who had published the material and who was downloading it, and generally doing whatever they need to do to get distributors of illegal content behind bars.
    Sell Gold

    Comment by sell gold on 9 February 2010 at 20:57
  28. Australia, you just lost all my respect. You used to be a land of the free..of wide, open spaces and friendly people. You do this and you'll go back hundred's of years.

    What on earth are these people on? Seriously..the Internet is a public system, not a private one. Who the HELL are they to deny me my free speech? This is basically a ticket to do what they want - they're using one thing as a catalyst for something else, as the vast majority of people are against things like child-porn and terrorism. No, they aren't just stopping at these things..they're classifying practically anything they don't like as the new terrorism.

    No, no NO. Don't tread on our freedoms. We can just as easily vote these people out as quickly as we voted them in..in the meantime, these laws aren't just suddenly happening down under, there are similar things going on in Europe and the United States.

    And get this. According the Gartner report, online traffic is going to increase by upto 6x over the next five years..THAT's why data centers are being built, to get everyone stamped and confined, like some packaged meat with a bar code. The Internet can be dangerous, nobody here is disputing that. But to some, so can..free speech. The Internet has empowered millions and gave them a voice they would otherwise never had. There is no onus to believe their point, either..that's the beauty of this mechanism. By restricting these things you're going back to the dark ages, and I feel that if these laws do go ahead then ultimately the backlash will be unsustainable.

    Too many people are getting pissed off with having their rights pissed on, and we outnumber the people doing it, many many times over. I support peaceful protest and laws that represent the majority, I do not support the suppression of free speech, it's what built these nations. Remove those things and you may be viewed as a terrorist yourself.

    Comment by William on 12 February 2010 at 13:52
  29. Don't be so sure, when it really comes down to it, the citizenry doesn't realise that any government WILL take a fall for the greater agenda when they are told do. Then the next party that comes into power won't relieve the evils the last one has done, saying it's too late, or whatever. Events over take us. Don't be surprised if labour falls on it's sword over this one and takes one for the team. We have to realise that we live in a one party system, with two arms a right and a left, both designed to keep us shepherded within the play pen of acceptable reality. The truth is corporations run and own Australian politics and the media and democratic system is just a framework to keep us occupied until the new world order steam rolls over us few Aussies and the latch closes on the open prison called the technological enslavement grid that our tax dollars and selling of rights has paid for. I do hope and pray that this evil law gets squashed. It will help all the pedophiles in government keep their activities under the radar and stop things getting out on the internet like the Aberdeen government child abuse case here: http://www.tpuc.org/node/34 and http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SlXjX_lTguM&fe...

    Comment by Michael on 15 February 2010 at 02:39
  30. Is there a petition or pledge that I can sign that looks like the following?

    Comment by yemek tarifleri on 17 March 2010 at 14:55
  31. i really want to know about some petition or pledge that looks like the following? I really want to sign it. Waiting for reply.

    Comment by used cisco 2600 on 25 March 2010 at 13:33
  32. the same thing is happening in the U.S.A. we are cesoring are vido game. when will we stop this bullsh*t.

    Comment by fedup usa on 27 November 2010 at 15:29