This afternoon, Senator Stephen Conroy, the Minister for Broadband, Communications and the Digital Economy made the announcement so many of us had been dreading – that the Federal government would be going ahead with its plans to filter Australian Internet access and unnecessarily protect us from nasties we neither want nor need to be protected from.
It represents imposition of Nanny State government of the worst sort. Arguably, it places us alongside extreme and totalitarian states such as Iran, China and North Korea in the level of control placed upon Australians’ Internet access.
It would appear that vested interests, dominated by appeasement of fringe Senators such as Steve Fielding and their constituencies in the moral and religious right have wielded their increasing power and brought about the policy position they have been pushing for, as on first reading, the report doesn’t provide compelling enough numbers to justify moving forward and, as we’ve seen many times in the media, community support for this policy is not widespread.
The reaction on Twitter, a place that politicians are now listening to, is singularly passionate. As I write, WhatTheHashtag has recorded in excess of 6000 tweets in just a few hours and the tag is the #4 trending topic overall. It’ll be swamped when the Americans wake, unless we all tell our American friends who can then laugh at the stupidity of the entire exercise.
This issue is the #1 reason I stood for and am now on the Board of Electronic Frontiers Australia. I am passionately against the foolish policy position that this represents and am keen to hear from any reader who wishes to email me or comment here. I’ll make sure your views are taken to Parliament House in Canberra and given to the right people.
There are any number or already well-discussed reasons why this plan is folly – expense, ease of circumvention, lack of widespread public support, lack of transparency and adequate governance in the blocking process. There are any number of far less controversial measures the government could undertake that would satisfy both sides of the argument on ‘Net filtering. Let’s start with opt-in filtering for both homes and ISP’s as noted by Internode tech and outspoken anti-filter campaigner Mark Newton. There’d be little outcry if this was the policy executed. People could choose to filter on their PCs at home, or if that was too challenging, choose to use an ISP that offered a filtered feed. Everyone ends up happy as those who don’t want filtering get to have unfiltered connections too.
The arguments that are pro the filter are incredibly spurious and usually couched in “it’s for the children” terms. We’re supposedly going to protect them from ‘Net nasties and the burgeoning ranks of pedophiles waiting to pounce on them online.
My 12 year old daughter uses a completely unfiltered Internet connection. She also has root access to the network at home and to the computer she uses. Yet she’s never encountered any of the problems Senator Conroy and the likes of Senator Fielding seem to believe are rampant – no nasties, viruses, stalkers or any other undesirable in several years of using the Internet unfiltered and mostly unsupervised. And you know why? Good rules and decent parenting (well, certainly the first and hopefully the second).
Yes, there are risks to being online, They’re remarkably similar to the risks you face in meatspace. Here’s a handy list of things to try to effectively protect your kids online in case you’re confused at this point:
- Make sure the computer your kids use is in a public, well-trafficked part of the house
- Educate yourself as a parent so that you have as much knowledge or more than your kids about the risks of being online
- Establish reasonable expectations for their Internet use in terms of time online, acceptable standards of behavior in terms of online activity and what the real risks are (they’re much smaller in my view than the government, Federal Police and parts of the media would have you believe)
- Teach them strategies to deal with undesirable content encountered online
- Live up to the expectations you set for your kids in terms of your own Internet use
- Impose penalties for breaches of the rules you set and stick to them
It’s my desperate hope that this foolish policy and the legislation necessary to make it happen are defeated in Caucus. If not, it’ll be one of the few times I’ll support a vote the Liberals take in the Senate when they vote against it.
Others have written their own thoughts over this important matter:
- Téa Brennan, who makes an impassioned pleas for sense and proper parenting
- Craig Wilson, who speculates the intelligent folk of the Australian blogosphere might just bring the government down
- Crikey’s Possum Comitatus, who examines the possible electoral fallout
- Will Briggs, a pastor in Tasmania whose faith-based views contrast strongly with others such as Senator Fielding
- Gary Sauer-Thompson, on his well-regarded blog, Public Opinion
- Jeff Waugh, well known Open Source and Software Freedom proponent
- technology educator, Dean Groom
- Chris Chesher from the Digital Cultures program at University of Sydney
If you’d like to do something effective, email and write (on paper) to your member and Senators and let them know how unhappy you are about this decision. If you’d like some guidance, EFA’s No Clean Feed campaign is a good place to start. You should also take a look at EFA’s response to today’s announcement.