The mandatory blacklist and computer games

The Goverment's mandatory Internet-censorship policy was, of course, always justified as a child-protection measure. Protecting young kids as they use the Internet, or, as the political tactics of the day dictate, cracking down on illegal child-abuse material on the Internet. A cursory analysis of the scheme shows that neither is achievable, but the scheme continues to gather momentum even as public opposition grows.

The leaking of the ACMA blacklist caused significant embarrassment, containing as it did a broad range of harmless and controversial material. As a result, the Government has since that time been presenting the blacklist as an "almost exclusively RC-only" list; that is, that it will contain only material that would be Refused Classification by Australia's Classification Board. The implication is that such material would only contain shocking content that would be highly illegal, such as child abuse or violent pornography. In fact, material could be refused classification for a variety of reasons such as "providing instruction in criminal activity", such as euthanasia. It's legal to view most RC content, except as specifically outlawed by statues combating child abuse material.

Our concerns about the scheme were heightened by a recent clarification by a Government spokesperson on the list concerning video games. In Australia, there is currently no R-18+ category for video and computer games, with MA-15+ instead being the highest category. This means that any video game containing material deemed too confronting for a minor is refused classification. The Government has now confirmed that web sites dealing with games that are mature or unrated will be subject to blacklisting:

The Government is considering mandatory ISP level filtering of Refused Classification content as identified by the ACMA complaints mechanism. This could potentially include URLs of websites which make available Refused Classification computer games such as web-based flash games and downloadable games, if a complaint is received and the content is determined by ACMA to be Refused Classification.

Computer games that exceed an MA15+ rating are deemed to be Refused Classification as there is no R18+ or X18+ rating for computer games in Australia.

This is alarming for many reasons. Computer games that are downloaded or are predominantly online are not usually rated in Australia. This would include simple Flash-based web games, but also online games like World of Warcraft, EVE Online or Second Life whose content is substantially or primarily user-generated. Because an environment like Second Life is so vast, it can and will contain material created by adults and for adults, causing it fall afoul of the MA-15+ rating. Thus, secondlife.com could end up on the blacklist, with no method of review or appeal. It would simply be banned for all Australians, even though the program and its contents would still be entirely legal to own and use in Australia.

This shows just how broad the new censorship scheme is, and how easily it can be expanded. How does preventing adults from viewing sophisticated adult content in a virtual world help the Australian public? That's a question our elected representatives have not answered. If you find this alarming, you may want to contact them and demand an explanation.

For a quick overview of the filtering scheme and information on how to contact the minister, see our campaign site at nocleanfeed.com.

For a more detailed overview of the plan, see EFA's mandatory filtering fact sheets.

For information on the classification of video games, see EFA's R-18+ Games site.