There's a lot to like about Australia. John Howard wasn't one of these things. Now it seems new Premier Kevin Rudd can also be struck off the list, as Australia joins China in becoming one of the few countries where the government broadly censors the internet. The argument seems to fall back on that classic piece of hysteria: won't somebody think of the children:
'Senator Conroy says it will be mandatory for all internet service providers to provide clean feeds, or ISP filtering, to houses and schools that are free of pornography and inappropriate material.'
I'd like to know what consists of inappropriate material here. Techcrunch has a pretty good summary, which includes BitTorrent, online gambling, 'R' rated computer games, the vague area of hate speech, as well as criticism of government policy regarding Aboriginals. I'd also imagine particularly sweary sites like Devil's Kitchen, for example, could fall foul. After all, we wouldn't want the children to be exposed to bad language would we?
As the 'crunch say:
"If there is one certainty in any country that implements broadscale censorship, once they start blocking content it doesn’t stop, and certainly every do-gooder group and special interest lobbyist will be wanting the Government to add to the list."
In all honesty, there's no need for the Government to get involved. There's perfectly good software out there that can block sites, and if parents want better software, then there's enough companies out there making these products to provide even stronger controls. Absolutely no need for government interference.
What's also worrying is the opt-out nature of the service. As techcrunch points out, if you opt-out of the censorship, the government will undoubtedly ask questions as to why and start to take an interest. So that could lead to childless twentysomethings who've got no need for these controls, finding themselves snooped on by the state because they fancy doing a bit of gambling or BitTorrenting.
Conroy's defence is as daft as anything I've heard in a long time.
"Labor makes no apologies to those that argue that any regulation of the internet is like going down the Chinese road," he said.
Right, so you're happy, proud even, to follow the lead of a repressive illiberal regime? Nice one. What next? Rounding up dissidents?
"If people equate freedom of speech with watching child pornography, then the Rudd-Labor Government is going to disagree."
Christ. But this isn't about child pornography, which in turn has close to fuck all to do with freedom of speech. You're just using it as an excuse to slip in a host of other controls. And are you really so dumb that you can't tell the difference between a kiddy-fiddler and a libertarian?
"He says the Government will work with the industry to ensure the filters do not affect the speed of the internet.
"There are people who are going to make all sorts of statements about the impact on the [internet] speed," he said.
"The internet hasn't ground to a halt in the UK, it hasn't ground to a halt in Scandinavian countries and it's not grinding the internet to a halt in Europe."
And? What the hell does the speed of the internet in the UK, Sweden, or Belgium have to do with Australian censorship? What this clumsy sidestepping statement is probably dealing with is what Techcrunch raises concerns over:
'There is also a potential cost involved to Australian Internet users. The previous Government regularly cited feedback from ISP’s stating that the cost of implementing a “clean feed” would be passed onto internet users, who already pay some of the highest internet access costs in the Western world for on average slow services.'
Wonderful. I have, in the past, entertained ideas of emigrating Down Under. I won't bother now.
What worries me is firstly the number of people in the comments who think America could be heading the same way, and secondly that somebody from our wonderfully liberal government will think: "Hmm... so we've got ID cards coming through, what next? Ah, the Aussie internet initiative sounds like a good idea."