Kevin Rudd's plans to crack down on Internet content appear to have drawn the attention of no less than the Chinese Government. The website of the State Council Information Office recently featured an article (Google translation here) on Rudd's endorsement of an "online ombudsman" to deal with inappropriate Internet content and discusses the upcoming mandatory filtering legislation. The article reads in part:
Kevin Rudd told the media that the spread of pornography online in Australia was shocking, and presents a great danger for young people. The government must take all practical measures to severely crack down on online pornography crimes.
It goes on to report on the filter, saying that Parliament is considering legislation to automatically block such sites in future.
It's not surprising that these initiatives have gained some attention in China. The Chinese Government have come under considerable pressure recently with Google's threat to withdraw from the Chinese market due to onerous censorship and aggressive state-sponsored espionage, followed up by a stinging and unequivocal condemnation of Internet censorship worldwide by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. This puts Australia in the unenviable position of introducing a significant system of real-time internet censorship just as the tide is turning; the events in China and Iran have precipitated a significant backlash against such censorship in the West. Yet rather than back down, our government is amping up the rhetoric. This includes the online ombudsman idea, more restrictive hate speech laws, and the unnecessary and ill-thought-out filter itself.
This highlights the concern among many Australians that a new era of domestic Internet censorship will put us in some very bad company. Joining this club of censors will grant legitimacy to regimes that are using censorship for political as well as prurient purposes. Google, no strangers to the issues surrounding censorship in China and elsewhere around the globe, wrote this in their submission to the Department in February:
Could damage Australia's International Reputation - Mandatory filtering by Australia could be argued to confer legitimacy upon filtering by other Governments. Australia is rightly regarded as a liberal democracy that balances individual liberty with social responsibility. The Governments of many other countries may justify, by reference to Australia, their use of filtering, their lack of disclosure about what is being filtered, and their political direction of agencies administering filtering.
It appears this could already be happening with respect to China. No doubt they heartily approve of what is going on here. Indeed, the language attributed to the Prime Minister in the article above sounds suspiciously like that used by the CCP itself to justify its own censorship.