Electronic Frontiers Australia Inc.
December 19th 1999 NET CENSORSHIP - SECRET AND UNACCOUNTABLE The Federal Government has demonstrated its contempt for the intelligence and values of Australians, Electronic Frontiers Australia said today, following the approval of a Code of Practice for Internet Service Providers. The new rules require Internet users to purchase an 'Approved Filter' at a charge determined by their ISP, unless they have already installed one. There was no public consultation in the choice of 'approved' filtering products. "In no other media does censorship operate with so little accountability", said EFA Board member Danny Yee. "The Government had promised that the scheme would be complaints-based and that only material found by the Australian Broadcasting Authority (ABA) to be 'prohibited' would be blocked, but commercial filtering products block millions of pages not reviewed by the ABA. Why has the government handed over its censorship powers to private companies who are not accountable to the Australian public?" "It is particularly worrying that the block lists are secret and that the sites blocked are not informed that they are being blocked," said Yee. "This is not consistent with censorship of other media in Australia. Information about what is banned or restricted by the Office of Film and Literature Classification is available to the public -- and parents and citizens would rightly be outraged if books were secretly removed from school libraries or syllabuses in response to complaints." "The approved suppliers are mostly United States companies or Australian companies reselling United States products under different names. Such software typically reflects the values of the United States 'Bible Belt', with some products openly blocking feminist, gay and lesbian, and left wing political information." Studies carried out in Australia and overseas have demonstrated that filtering software causes extensive 'collateral damage', blocking many innocuous sites. Some ironic examples are the blocking of the National Party of Australia site and of Queensland parliamentary records. And many filtering products censor massive amounts of valuable information by blocking entire domains such as geocities.com, ozemail.com.au, or deja.com. "Trying to force filtering software on unwilling adults will be as ineffective as it is repugnant", said Yee. "And only filtering products that use open blocklists and algorithms -- available for public scrutiny -- should even be considered for use in schools. The process by which products are selected needs to be open and transparent, not carried out behind closed doors. And content providers must be informed when their content is blocked, so they have a chance to appeal the decision." [ENDS] -------------------------------------------------------------- Electronic Frontiers Australia Inc -- http://www.efa.org.au/ representing Internet users concerned about on-line freedoms Email: [email protected] Phone: 02 9255 7969 Fax: 02 9255 7736 -------------------------------------------------------------- BACKGROUND ABA registers code of practice http://www.aba.gov.au/about/public_relations/newrel_99/134nr99.htm IIA Code http://www.iia.net.au/code6.html DCITA press release "Decisions on content will be made by the NCB based on an established classification system. Decisions will not be based on personal whim." http://www.dcita.gov.au/nsapi-text/?MIval=dca_dispdoc&ID=4226 Office of Film and Literature Classification http://www.oflc.gov.au/ Conservative, Bible-Belt communities, are helping to set the standards for what students in more cosmopolitan places are allowed to see: http://www.nytimes.com/library/national/regional/121599ny-schoolfilter-edu.html (registration required) Censorware Project (detailed studies of filtering products) http://www.censorware.net/ An EFA study of Internet Sheriff http://www.efa.org.au/Publish/report_isheriff.html
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