Australia Continues Down The Slippery Slope Of Censorship… 'For The Children,' Of Course

from the politicians-are-idiots dept

Australia has a long history of trying to censor the internet. As far back as 2002, we were talking about the infamous list of banned websites that absolutely no one but the government censors were allowed to know about. Australia required ISPs to block those sites, and there was no review process or appeals process to make sure those sites weren’t legitimate sites. Since then, the Australian gov’t has pushed for ISPs to be responsible for blocking all porn, and spent hundreds of millions of dollars on porn filters that are easily cracked. More recently, the Australian government pushed to allow the police to add websites to the banned list, again without any sort of due process. Instead, the police could simply tell ISPs they had to block any site that the police feel potentially “encourages, incites or induces,” “facilitate(s)” or “has, or is likely to have, the effect of facilitating” a crime. A fairly broad description.

That’s why it’s a bit weird to see the fuss being kicked up over the latest policy to force all ISPs to put in place mandatory filters that can only be surpassed by officially opting-out (the equivalent of making someone go register to get a “porn license.” There really isn’t that much new or different here, but it does have the standard politician pandering about how this is all to “protect the children.”

What’s most bothersome about this story, however, is the response from politicians to those who oppose this kind of censorship: “If people equate freedom of speech with watching child pornography, then the Rudd-Labor Government is going to disagree.” That’s not just misleading and wrong, it’s obnoxiously incorrect. In one single move, the politicians brush off anyone concerned about this program as being supporters of child porn. That’s a pretty good way to kill a rather important debate. The people who are opposed to this kind of plan aren’t “equating freedom of speech with watching child porn,” and it’s an outright fabrication for any politician to suggest such a thing. What they’re complaining about is the idea that the government can force private companies to block access to certain pages on the internet itself. For those who point out that these sites are illegal in themselves, then shouldn’t the government be going after those who are responsible for the sites? That’s the problem that people have with this. The government is effectively blocking sites without any due process, while failing to actually go after those who may be doing something illegal. Yet, rather than deal with that issue, the politicians brush off all criticism by suggesting all criticism comes from people who want to look at child porn.

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Comments on “Australia Continues Down The Slippery Slope Of Censorship… 'For The Children,' Of Course”

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51 Comments
Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

“Can kids see R or X rated movies? Sure, but why not make it more difficult?”

You cannot seriously be comparing a movie theater with the Internet. The internet allows ideas and news to be shared – and while this time they might be blocking kiddie, next time they might be banning sites that are for an opposing political party. Who would know?

Liquid says:

Re: Re: Re:

exactly… And the fact that they are makeing and passing these laws knowingly with out “due procress” is apalling… You’re right what else might they decide to pass laws on out side of the whole internet thing… “It’s now illegal to watch american tv, or listen to american music” because its bad or can insite “Violent Crimes”… Sounds more like a dictatorship to me..

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

In the US, a young person needs a license to go see an R or X rated movie. Its called a drivers license.

wrong…

1) in Australia, “the government” can (or would be able to) pretty much add any website they want to the ban list without any due process, so don’t even start with that comparison

2) you don’t need jack shit in the US to go see an R rated movie. There’s no law that requires you to be 17 to see an R or NC-17 (actually that has been upped to 18) rated movie (without being accompanied), it’s a voluntary (civil) system that is not being enforced that strongly/widely. In fact, if you would go to a theater, see a 15 y/o be admitted by him/herself to a R-rated movie, calling the cops wouldn’t do much since by the act of admitting in itself, no law has been broken

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

The difference is that movie rating in the US is done by the MPAA which is a private organization (evil? yes, but private not government), and there are no laws mandating that theaters check for proof of age (drivers license is not required, only proof of age, there are many people over 17 who don’t have a drivers license). Massachusetts may have some state laws requiring enforcement, but everywhere else the rating system is entirely voluntary with heavy pressure to comply by the MPAA and major studios. Still an evil system, but less evil than a government mandated system. Responsibility to “protect the children” falls on the parents.

Just Me says:

??

“…shouldn’t the government be going after those who are responsible for the sites?”

Wouldn’t that depend entirely on where this site is hosted? If it’s in Australia sure – go after them, but what about every other country?
If its content is legal in the country it’s hosted in then what can they do, aside from blocking at the ISP’s?

Not saying that blocking is right, or would work (look at the failure of the Great Firewall of China) but thought I’d like a clarification on what that point was supposed to be suggesting.
If kiddie porn is illegal (as it should be) then I can’t argue against blocking such things to Australians, but there has to be some due process involved.

SailorRipley says:

Re: ??

aside from blocking at the ISP’s

one could argue that, even though the server/site is abroad, the server/site is still sending the information/webpages/… into Australia and hence would still be subject to Australian law. Or could be made to still be subject to Australian law. (As is the case for “physical” goods).

Furthermore, since IP addresses are known, it would be just as feasible for any company/server/website to block requests from an IP-address originating in whatever country (yes, yes, I know one could bypass this with proxies, but seriously, that’s a minority), hence putting the responsibility where it belongs: with the content-provider (as in maker), not the ISPs who do nothing but transfer the data

Rich Kulawiec says:

I’ve noticed that any time politicians claim
to be do something about technology “for the children” —
say, trying to regulate video games, or censor the
Internet — that this is nearly a 100% reliable indicator
that they’re about to specify something stupid, impossible,
counter-productive, pandering, or all of the above.

This Australian move is of course “all of the above”,
and therefore will be aped as soon as possible by
grandstanding politicians elsewhere. (Has anyone
informed Ted “Tubes” Stevens yet? Surely someone of
his jaw-dropping idiocy would want to be in the vanguard
of pushing similar legislation here in the US.)

Anonymous Coward says:

Taking a page from American politicians.

Sounds just like the Innuendos the Republicans make that if you in any way question the war in Iraq or Bush or his policies, That you “Don’t support our troops!!” and are a “Bad American”.. It’s sad that a kindergarten tactic “If you don’t lick that dead frog your a pussy!” works on so many people nowadays.

Liquid says:

For the Children

It’s not the governments GD job to censor the internet it’s the lazy arse parents job to monitor what they children get into plain and simple. The wineing “Well I don’t have time” blah blah blah… MAKE TIME… I don’t give two ****’s if you work 40 hours a week… I do to… and I still have time to make sure that anyone who uses my computer or what ever doesn’t get into anything they are not supposed to… It’s not that hard to walk by the computer and SEE what is on the screen… Not that hard… Stop putting computers in their rooms… It’s not that hard to tell a kid the workd “NO”… Who cares if little john down the lane has on in his room your not going to…

iMacDave says:

Re: For the Children

I agree. It’s not the government’s job to censor the internet and it’s not the school’s job to BABYSIT THE CHILDREN. although, I think some people out there would like to believe that it is the government’s job. Which reminds me, if you are going to come to this country for any given length of time, you should know some of the basic history behind it and TAKE SOME RESPONSIBILITY FOR YOURSELF. Remember, it is an absolute privilege to have the amount of freedom we do here in the US and in a select number of other countries.

Happy Aussie Citizen says:

Children First

I think the new censorship plans for the internet in Australia are fantastic. As a family minded person it means a lot to me to know that the internet will be safer for children. It is not a violation of freedom of speech to want to collectively protect children from pornographic and violent web sites. Ok this means adults are going to have their internet content filtered as well – I would much rather put the child first.

Mike (profile) says:

Re: Children First

As a family minded person it means a lot to me to know that the internet will be safer for children.

And that’s your first mistake. This won’t make the internet safer for children. If anything, it will do the opposite. Right now, you know that the internet is not safe, so I hope you teach your kids right from wrong and how to avoid dangerous sites. However, once you think the gov’t is doing that for you, your children won’t have the necessary instruction to avoid bad sites — and, trust me, they will still be out there.

It is not a violation of freedom of speech to want to collectively protect children from pornographic and violent web sites.

No, it’s not. But it is a violation of freedom of speech to make such blocking mandatory on the part of an ISP.

Besides, as a parent, you have every right to install filters for your children. No one is trying to take that away from you. The problem is that this is now mandatory for ISPs to act as parents.

Hulser says:

Re: Children First

OK Children First, in the off chance you’re not a troll, let me ask you some questions…

Don’t you think it’s the parents’ responsibility to monitor what their own children are viewing on the Internet?

Don’t you see that any system that is put in place to filter out sites that “incite or induce crime” can be easilly abused to filter out political dissent too?

Instead of forcing everyone in Australia to live with these filters, would you have been OK with them funding free filtering software to its citizens so it would be voluntary?

Pat says:

Re: Children First

Good for you. It’s not really about these folks who are blazing mad that censorship is being leveled on people, it’s really that they fail to realize it’s not only the families tending to what their children have access to, but the monsters out there who manage to take advantage of children in spite of the family efforts. It’s way past time to put a stop to the filth filtering through the Internet in the name of ‘free speech’. That’s a cope out that doesn’t hold any water anymore. Free speech does not mean freedom to offend and corrupt.

Chronno S. Trigger says:

Re: Re: Children First

You do realise that odds are much much more likely that your child will be abused by you than just some stranger who got some bad ideas off the web. Statistically speaking your more likely to hit the lottery. Most incidents happen with people the child knows like a close relative, teacher, or a priest for example.

How about you worry about something that might happen like your kid might get hit walking down the middle of the road. That’s something I would like to see drilled into peoples heads. Or maybe we could concentrate on getting the assholes who put the child porn up in the first place or maybe the people who look at it. Sounds like a novel idea to me.

Watch what you say with that crap about “Free speech does not mean freedom to offend and corrupt.” Define offend and corrupt? I’m all for stopping pedophiles but stopping offending material is not only impossible but will do much more harm than good. Some people find all porn offending. Some find Victoria Secret catalogs offending. I find them offending. How douse that fit into “PC”?

We need to stop putting a bandaid over a broken bone, we need to get to the core of the problem and mend it. Find the assholes doing the crime (happened long before the Internet), don’t just try and hide the crime from society.

rollin says:

Children First or the Toilet

At least the Australians are trying to do something about the problem, and recognize it as a problem……

While here in America, trash assaults our ears on the radio, and television and the internet invite you to stick your head in the toilet.

We need to Clean Up America’s Airwaves! Those who need porn and crap can always find it…..we don’t need to put it onto the front page for them……

Mike (profile) says:

Re: Children First or the Toilet

At least the Australians are trying to do something about the problem, and recognize it as a problem……

Er, but they’re not actually doing anything about the actual *problem*. They’re trying to sweep the problem under the rug by not dealing with it.

We need to Clean Up America’s Airwaves! Those who need porn and crap can always find it…..we don’t need to put it onto the front page for them……

Um. There’s a HUGE difference between forcing ISPs to become mandatory filters and putting content you don’t happen to like on the front page.

Pat says:

A country with guts

Good for Australia! Finally a country with enough guts to fly in the face political correctness – the inability to do that is killing America. If that’s what it takes to stop child porn, then good enough. Call it what you will, make all the excuses you want, but freedom of speech ends when pedophiles are taking advantage of the Internet and taking advantage of our children.

Sean says:

Re: A country with guts

“If that’s what it takes to stop child porn, then good enough.”

So if having a camera follow every person around 27X7 recording every moment is what it would take to stop child porn you would be fine with it?

It will not stop child porn anyway the people that want to find it still will and most likely are using proxies to hide them selves and this alone would allow for them to get around the filters. People have been taking advantage of kids since the beginning of civilization and will not stop any time soon if ever.

Pete says:

So who gets to actually decide what porn is? What are their guidelines? What are their limitations? And who will oversee these censors to insure that this system is not abused, oh wait we all know that no government would abuse any sort of power. Next question would be how do you build such a filter system, I mean we have been trying for years to build antivirus and malware systems and are still playing catchup there. Lastly do these people really think that stopping a few websites is going to stop pedophiles, child molesters and other such crimes against children, I mean be real here, try and think rationaly instead of jumping on the emotional bandwagon.
If I had children I would ensure that any computers in my house were setup so that I could control what they accessed and where on the net they surfed. Being a linux user I can attest to the fact it is not that difficult with linux and I would imagine both OSX and windows have the means to institute some sort of control

Happy Aussie Citizen says:

Children First

Obviously there are a lot of people in this comment space that are not familiar with the planned Australian internet filters. IF A FAMILY WANTS TO OPT OUT OF THE FILTER THEY CAN APPLY TO DO SO. The important point is that Australian citizens are wanting the status quo to filter first as an effective means to make the internet family friendly, rather than the other way around.

Mike (profile) says:

Re: Children First

Obviously there are a lot of people in this comment space that are not familiar with the planned Australian internet filters. IF A FAMILY WANTS TO OPT OUT OF THE FILTER THEY CAN APPLY TO DO SO.

Which we clearly stated in the post above, so I’m not sure why you think we’re unfamiliar with it.

However, the point of free speech is that you should have to “apply” for permission to speak freely. Besides, you do understand what a huge chilling effect it will have when you need to “apply” just to read the website about breast cancer because someone thought it was problematic? People aren’t going to want to “apply” to get past this filter, because it will brand them as just wanting to look at porn.

The important point is that Australian citizens are wanting the status quo to filter first as an effective means to make the internet family friendly, rather than the other way around.

Again, this makes the false assumption that filters actually make the web family friendly.

It also makes the false assumption that because *some* people want this, all need to live with it — especially when the some who want it already have plenty of filter options they can freely choose to use.

Unhappy Aussie Citizen says:

Re: Children First

I am appalled by a couple of the comments on this piece from people purporting to be Australians. Australia is being infected by U.S. style far right “family first” neo con “values”, starting with our new very Catholic Prime Minister.

There is so much which is wrong about this latest proposed erosion of freedom that one hardly knows where to start. One could argue that it should be “opt in” rather than “opt out”; that it should only be implemented once our broadband system is brought up to developed-world standards and cost; that filtering does not work but merely makes life difficult for legitimate users; that it will do nothing to stop child porn; that it is a new populist government pandering to the far right which is spreading like a cancer through this country; that there is a muddle in the argument between kids’ access to porn and kiddie porn itself etc. etc. But that would be to accept that our government has any business being involved in this sort of censorship in the first place. It does not!

Further, happy Aussie Citizen has no right to pretend to represent the views of Australian citizens, particularly since it is probable that he / she is actually a right wing American stooge and not Australian at all. The “family first” jargon strongly suggests that is the case.

Tamara says:

Re: Children First

No you can’t opt out of it. It still slows the Internet down. If you opt-out of it, you get added to a list that the Government has access to.

And you only get access to one list. You don’t get access to the totally banned list which supposedly only contains child porn sites, etc. but the Government doesn’t make that list available.

And you say Australian’s support this? Have you actually read any letters to the editor, looked at polls, etc? More than 90% of Australians oppose this.

Happy Aussie Citizen says:

Children First

If a family wants to opt out of the filter they can apply to do so.

This is an important statement that I felt the need to highlight reinforcing the point that this debate is not about free speech, but about who is responsible for making the internet safer for children.

Yes there are plenty of end user internet filters that parents can use and these have been freely available and advertised in Australia for some time now. I must then ask the question: why is it that the current Australian government, who recently enjoyed a windfall victory at the polls, used ‘cleaning up the internet’ as one of it’s selling points. The answer: Families are still struggling to keep the internet clean for their children and are looking to the Australian government for help.

As to whether the proposed internet filter will work or not, I think that is the greatest assumption that has been made in this debate. I think it will be a work in progress and I wholeheartedly support the Australian government in its efforts to serve the interests of the Australian people, by trying to make the internet a safer place for children.

old_devil says:

Re: Children First

Without wishing to sidetrack this thread I would like to point out that people were prepared to vote for a Tony Blair lookalike here because we were willing to do whatever it took to get ride of John Howard and his miserable henchmen. It is beginning to look however as if the price may have been too high. Rudd has no mandate for this proposal (as Happy Aussie Citizen suggests), it was a Howard ruse designed to create a wedge which failed. Rudd was forced to let a lot of this rubbish pass in a disciplined campaign. John Howard has left the new Labor government many booby traps and time bombs, this is one of them. It looks as if Sen. Conroy (minister responsible) has fallen into this trap, or maybe the new Government is showing what they are really made of? Only time will tell.

Happy Aussie Citizen says:

Unhappy Aussie Citizen

Sorry Unhappy Aussie Citizen, I happen to be of good Aussie stock originally hailing from Cairns. I love to surf, barbie and play cricket. It seems your attack on family values as being American is misplaced and since when does someone need to be Catholic to care about family values. I’m no pretender, I’m a true blue!

John (profile) says:

An old argument

This is an old argument in the “war on porn”, but like Pete (post #19) pointed out…

1) What is the definition of “porn”? Yes, we can probably all agree on some definitions, but what about tasteful nudes? Is Playboy “porn”? Is Michaelangelo’s David “porn” because it’s nude?

2) The fallout:
Will the Louvre and other museums be blocked because they have nude, and therefore “porn”, images?

Will medical sites be blocked because they talk about “naughty” parts?
Will a site about breast cancer be blocked because it has the word “breast”? Will Australians need a permit to look at cancer research sites when their mother (or daughter) has breast cancer?? How does that “protect the children”?

3) Who decides what sites should be blocked?
In the US, the debate continues over “community standards”- one community may be more accepting than another one. Should a site get put on a black list because the stricter community standards view it as “porn”?

Today it may the Australian government that decides, but what happens when they decide to outsource the decision to a private company? What happens when that company decides to block a site due to bribery, political, or other reasons?

Suppose they don’t like a presidential candidate? Will they block his site, issue a “protecting the children” statement, and equate looking at his site with looking at porn? After all, people shouldn’t be looking at sites on the black list.

With no appeals process, anyone could end up on their list of blocked sites… without any good reason and without the company being accountable to anyone.

Happy Aussie Citizen says:

Unhappy Aussie Citizen

Sorry Unhappy Aussie Citizen, I happen to be of good Aussie stock originally hailing from Cairns. I love to surf, barbie and play cricket. It seems your attack on family values as being American is misplaced and since when does someone need to be Catholic to care about family values. I’m no pretender, I’m a true blue!

Thomas Anglero (user link) says:

Protecting children on the internet with WiHood

Protecting children online is complex. Technology can assist but nothing replaces the role of the parent. Parents should use the internet as a new opportunity to discuss life’s difficult challenges with their children.

Technology like what we use at WiHood protects children from inappropriate web pages and is updated daily. It is astonishing that every day over 100,000 pedophile, sex, and gambling web sites are created. Parents don’t have the time to find and block all these sites but they do have the time to learn with their children what good habits to have while using the internet.

The internet is a wonderful development and children should be allowed to use it but in a safe and secure environment. We have done this but we also emphasize that the role of the parent is the most important role of a child’s life…today and tomorrow.

Thomas F. Anglero, Father and CEO
WiHood
(http://www.WiHood.com)

Lisa P says:

preparing to handle their own finances

Even the family, as basic unit of the society should be given importance particularly the children in claiming their basic rights and of their protection. I admit that the way the economy has been going; I’ve been so focused on my own budget and credit repair that I’ve completely forgotten to teach my kids money management. I found an article about teaching kids how to use money responsibly. If I can teach my kids how to use money responsibly during a recession, they will be much better off, especially when the economy decides to turn around. I used to have credit problems, and if I could somehow prevent that hardship for my children, I would feel like an accomplished parent. I won’t let my kids out from under my roof until they are prepared to handle their own finances. I need to figure out a way to use visual aids to teach my kids the consequences of using credit cards irresponsibly. I got in a lot of trouble using credit cards. I’ve used credit repair services to get myself back on track. Click to read more on Credit Repair

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