So the government has, as planned back in Beazley times, decided that ISPs in Australia must now implement blocking of “pornographic and inappropriate” websites. Customers must opt out, rather than opting in, to a blocking system that is likely to be at least some of: slow, ineffective, expensive, and nonspecific. Labor reportedly hasn’t even finished its feasibility studies on a “clean feed” plan, but this has been rushed on through, perhaps in an attempt to slip it in while most people are distracted by New Year’s Eve.
Electronic Frontiers Australia offered an analysis of Labor’s plans back in 2006. Read it here.
Even attempts to block only the most vile and illegal sites on the internet on a content/keyword basis will result in false positives. There is simply no way out of that. To think otherwise smacks of utter ignorance and hubris. So here are the options: we are either going to have a content-based system blocking unreasonably, or we are going to have a tokenistic URL blacklist system that will be completely ineffectual. And either way, we’re all paying for it, and parents who rely on automated filtering to babysit their children are guaranteed to get a nasty surprise.
Content-based censorware has in the past blocked people from accessing sites on mushroom biology (war on drugs filter), feminist sites (they mention sex and rape), youth suicide prevention sites (where you can catch teh gay), survivor sites (child molestation!), birth control information sites (abortion), sites campaigning to stop prison rape, AIDS information sites, a blind children’s centre, a Jewish youth network, centres for religious tolerance, major newspapers, human rights campaigns, TIME magazine, literature routinely read in schools, the British Conservative Party, and the Vatican.
I’m guessing a blacklist-based system is more likely, but only from hints dropped about ACMA prohibited sites. I just can’t find enough detail in today’s news to be sure about that.
I’m also concerned about the opt-out nature of this filtering. If we opt out, who gets notified? Who’s going to be making a list, and who’s going to be checking it twice? In the age of the War On Terrah, it is hardly paranoia to be concerned about a government breaking privacy laws in order to find out who has chosen to maintain full internet access in the face of filtering of “pornography” and “violence”.
This should go without saying, but just to dot all the Is: “inappropriate” is in the eye of the beholder. One person’s rude words is another’s well-crafted snark. In another recent example, it is reasonable to assume that a working-as-designed GFoA would block a site like the (munged) four*ch4n. If that were the case, feminist bloggers would be unable to track the planning of an organised campaign of attacks against them. Are we happy with blocking university professors in certain social sciences (linguistics, say, or English, or women’s studies) from accessing research data that contains naughty words or pictures?
As the news.com.au article says, “It is unclear exactly what will be deemed inappropriate material”. No, really?
It’s a shame my Peacefire shirt is all worn out; now would be a good time to start wearing it again. Conroy has just plain got it wrong on this one. You can tell him so on his Myspace page, if you like.
Happy New Year.