Likely Winner Of Australia's Imminent General Election Sneaks In Last-Minute Plan To Impose UK-Style Opt-Out Censorship — Then Denies It
from the screaming-U-turn dept
Australia goes to the polls this weekend, and the likely winner quietly added Net censorship to its platform, as spotted by ZDNet:
A Liberal National government in Australia would adopt the opt-out UK approach to filtering the internet for all Australians.
The policy comes less than 41 hours before polls open for voting in the federal election where the Coalition is currently expected to win. It is also almost a year after the Labor government abandoned its plans for mandatory internet filtering, and three years after the Coalition announced that it would not support a policy for mandatory internet filtering.
As that notes, the current Australian government dropped plans for mandatory censorship, after many years of trying to bring it in. This makes the Coalition’s unexpected decision to add it without any public consultation deeply disappointing. Although the justification for this move is the tried-and-tested “for the children” argument, it seems to have been a last-minute decision. That’s suggested by the lack of information on how exactly the system would work:
much of the detail was still yet to be worked out on how the filter would work, but would likely be hardware included on an internet connection in each user’s home.
That doesn’t really make any sense. Does that mean that everyone would be forced to install such filters, and then opt out from using them — which seems an unfair extra imposition and expense for those who don’t want to be censored? Will the hardware filters contain the blocking lists? If they don’t, and they draw on server-side lists to function, would removing the filters allow anyone to circumvent the blocks? If they do hold the lists, how will those be updated, and what happens when that process goes wrong, as it inevitably will?
As well as the rather underhand way that this major shift has been introduced, another troubling aspect is the fact that the document “The Coalition’s Policy To Enhance Online Safety for Children” (pdf) cites the UK’s censorship plans, which are highly controversial and still under discussion, as if they were done and dusted:
As has recently been achieved in the UK, we expect these standards will involve the major internet service providers providing home network filters for all new home broadband services, which will be switched on as the default unless the customer specifies otherwise.
Despite that unequivocal statement about bringing in mandatory filtering with opt-out, something explicitly confirmed by a politician in a follow-up ZDnet story — “The key thing is it is an opt-out” — the Australian Coalition is now desperately trying to deny this was ever its policy, presumably taken aback by the growing outrage over the move:
The Coalition has never supported mandatory internet filtering. Indeed, we have a long record of opposing it.
The policy which was issued today was poorly worded and incorrectly indicated that the Coalition supported an “opt out” system of internet filtering for both mobile and fixed line services. That is not our policy and never has been.
The correct position is that the Coalition will encourage mobile phone and internet service providers to make available software which parents can choose to install on their own devices to protect their children from inappropriate material.
The policy posted online today is being replaced with the correct version.
Note there that the mysterious “hardware filters” have morphed into the very different “software”. Of course, this screaming U-turn inevitably raises the question whether the policy might magically return if the Coalition does indeed win this weekend’s election. This episode also shows once more how bad Internet policy ideas tend to spread rapidly among politicians, and why therefore they need to be fought vigorously when they first appear.