Communications Minister Stephen Conroy went in to bat for the Labor Government's mandatory internet filter again, reaffirming the commitment to the unpopular policy. Nothing has changed since earlier debates; the filter still has the same problems it has always had - it's useless, unworkable and expensive. It still won't help anybody.

The latest line, that the Minister trusts "to the common sense of the Australian public with respect to the classification system", is a little strange. Censorship policy is complicated, especially when it comes to the internet, and it's not clear how pursuing this scheme is somehow leaving the whole matter up to the folksy wisdom of the Australian people. Of course, if you ask people whether they want something done about child pornography (for instance) they are likely to say yes. Who wouldn't? But the more they learn about this particular "something", the more skeptical they become.

Last year, several large ISPs including Telstra, Optus and Primus announced they were voluntarily pursuing a blacklist filter against child pornography. It's disappointing, and a little surprising, that the Government did not use this announcement as a good pretext to put the filter policy out to pasture. The reason is, of course, that they don't believe it goes far enough. The Minister at one point in his remarks at the Estimates hearings commented that: "If you believe a voluntary filter should block child abuse, how would you justify having a voluntary filter not block a bestiality or pro-rape website?" This language will be very familiar to those of you who have followed Senator Conroy's role in the debate.

If, like us, you believe that the word "bestiality" does not automatically end a discussion, you can probably think of a few answers to that question. One reason might be that those forms of content, unsavoury as they may be, are not criminal to possess. Another reason might be that child pornography is defined in the statute books, but something like "pro-rape" is quite vague. Perhaps one calls to mind a website that encourages, and even provides instruction on, attacks against women - something none of us would tolerate. What about a website set up by fetishists to explore power games amongst consenting adults? It might not be popular, but is it a menace to public decency?

Playing the bestiality and "pro-rape" cards also begs some important questions. How many bestiality sites are out there? Is there any evidence that Australians are seeking them out? Would those who do be stopped by the filter? If they aren't stopped, will they be harmed? Of course, these questions are not answered by the Minister. If they were, the answers probably wouldn't add up to a public emergency that could be solved by the proposed blacklist.

We must be resigned to the fact that as long as Senator Conroy remains at the helm of internet policy, we're going to be hearing about this great Bestiality Shield. Luckily, there are others in Parliament who have weighed the policy more thoughtfully, and for now it appears the filter would be unlikely to pass through even the lower house. We still remain resolutely opposed to internet censorship, especially the Labor plan, and we'll work to make sure that those other policymakers don't fall for the moral panic line.

10 comments

  1. to the common sense of the Australian public with respect to the classification system

    Common sense dictates that we should've taken a sledgehammer to your head long ago.

    I'm just sick of reading the crap from this...he doesn't deserve to be called a "man", what else is more suitable...?

    Comment by Hyperion on 29 May 2011 at 14:30
  2. No doubt there are some members in the lower house who have weighed the policy more thoughtfully but do you believe that 50% of our pollies have good sense? I wouldn't be confident of that.

    In the absence of actual legislation, few pollies are going to declare their position. So for now it's just speculation.

    Comment by Netizen on 30 May 2011 at 09:44
  3. Not entirely sure if this is related to the filter as such, but as of today (1st July) btjunkie and other file sharing sites have vanished. At least as far as my access is concerned. I only dl files from artists who are pro file sharing, such as Trent Reznor, etc and don't want to start up a huge copyright debate, but I am curious. Has anyone else experienced this?

    Comment by Belle on 1 July 2011 at 23:47
  4. A quick addendum - a friend just tried to access btjunkie through a proxy and succeeded. I guess that means it's on "the list"?

    Comment by Belle on 2 July 2011 at 00:00
  5. Greetings... I am writing a report for the Association for Progressive Communication's Global Information Society Watch and would like to talk to Colin Jacobs or a representative of EFA Australia about this issue and several others. An email address would be sensational.

    Comment by andrew garton on 4 July 2011 at 22:40
  6. “Child pornography is great,” the man said enthusiastically. “Politicians do not understand file sharing, but they understand child pornography, and they want to filter that to score points with the public. Once we get them to filter child pornography, we can get them to extend the block to file sharing.” http://torrentfreak.com/the-copyright-lobby-absol...

    It's what I suspected all along, I guess Conroy took the bait.

    Comment by Anon on 10 July 2011 at 14:40
  7. They would be so much better off subsidizing "Net Nanny" censorship type software for the individual.

    Comment by Ben Allan on 13 July 2011 at 09:47
    • There is also the "Blind Censor" paradox to consider.

      Comment by Ben Allan on 13 July 2011 at 09:49
  8. I never used to care about such things but my eyes were opened one day when I realized what the social engineers like Conroy were taking away from us, piece by piece. It's not child porn they're 'saving' us all from, it's INFORMATION they don't want us to have. It's no coincidence that the number of sites that greet me with 'Connection has been reset" these days is creeping higher and higher. We Australians are so much like stupid sheep. We let our government order us around instead of showing them who's boss at election time. That miserable bastard Conroy has to go and anyone else who messes with our basic freedoms.

    Comment by Jeff Citizen on 25 January 2012 at 17:48
  9. Also, this is media censorship.

    Comment by Ben Allan on 13 July 2011 at 09:55