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.

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Comments on “Likely Winner Of Australia's Imminent General Election Sneaks In Last-Minute Plan To Impose UK-Style Opt-Out Censorship — Then Denies It”

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Anonymous Coward says:

It’s not Internet filtering that’s the problem. It’s overblocking. If legitimate websites are blocked, people will try to get around a filter — and if they know how to get around it, websites where blocking was appropriate are just a small step away…

The solution isn’t blocking. We should warn users that a site isn’t good for them, tell them why and give them a chance to continue at their own risk if they have established this is an incorrect warning. Eventually, a message can be sent to inform parents if a child chooses to continue so the parents can check if this continue-option isn’t abused.

The most important part of this is tell them why. People are way more likely to do the right thing if they know why it is the right thing. That isn’t just a job for the “website blocked” pages though, it’s mainly a job for parents and eventually educational institutions.

To summarize:
Educate children about bad websites. Warn them if they encounter one. 99% of the problem solved, and no unnecessary censorship.

Internet Zen Master (profile) says:

Re: Re:

But you’re forgetting that parents don’t seem to want to deal with their kids anymore. They want the TV/computer/State to do it for them.

Exhibit A: all the outrage over underage kids getting their hands on M rated video games with all sorts of adult content even though the parents are the ones who bought the game and the rating is posted on the front of the fucking case!

[mini-rant there, sorry]

But yeah, education about the issue is a much better solution than censorship of the issue, especially because it deals with the problem instead of trying to push it out of sight.

he Old Man in The Sea says:

Re: Re: Internet filtering

I don’t know about you, but Firefox has a local file that gets updated regularly with a list of sites that are shall we say “dubious”. The system simply puts a warning about the site and then leaves it up to you as to whether or not you continue.

This is useful as it is a local file. Now there can be problems here if it is subverted of course, but on the whole it seems to work without being intrusive.

External filtering is however a problem. Whether or not you, as a parent, take hold of your responsibility in training your children, it still remains your responsibility. Children will push the boundaries, that’s life. It is up to us as individuals how we train up our children.

We can only train, our children at adulthood are then responsible for their choices and actions, including whether or not they agree with us.

Anonymous Coward says:

What databases does the navigation data end up in ?

Given the current findings showing NSA and governmental bodies monster appetite to plug into ALL possible citizen digital surveillance sources, this might not be a coincidence to see plans to inplemement default filtering platforms in UK, Australia and who knows where else…

That One Guy (profile) says:

Re: What databases does the navigation data end up in ?

That is actually a very good point.

The ‘for the children’ bit might have been nothing more than a smokescreen, an excuse to get people to, like it or not, instal monitoring tech(the ‘hardware included on an internet connection in each user’s home’) that would completely bypass the need to go to the ISP’s to get that data, snagging it directly, and since people would be ‘voluntarily’ installing the devices in their own homes, no need to get a court order either.

Two faced Tony is not your friend says:

Two-faced Tony Abbott said only a few months ago that he didn’t need to import policies or staff from overseas (unlike the Labor govt in power) as he could think quite well for himself. However he is also on record before the last election that unless it is in writing he may be telling porkies, and is also on record for telling lies about the ‘in writing’ bit too as soon as the parliament reconvened and his Liberal Party didn’t manage to do a deal with the liberal independents to form a minority government. His negative bully-boy campaign for the last 3 years has left a nasty taste in people’s mouths, but despite that he will most likely get into power anyway. Try ‘the worst government in history’ on for size despite the ruling labor govt keeping us from recession for the last 6 years, a AAA credit rating, low interest rates, fair unemployment levels and many nation building programs put in place.
The constant attacks on the Labor government from Rupert Murdoch’s press with an unprecedented front page hate campaign has seen the sheeple believe that Australia is doing worse than the Greek economy (we’re not). This is payback for the $250 million ‘Australia Network’ deal done with PM Rudd to get him into power in 2007 that was scrapped when his own party dumped him for Ms Gillard who was recently dumped for Rudd again.
Even Getup has had their anti News Corp advert blocked from the Free To Air commercial networks so as they don’t upset Rupert who provides plenty of advertising dollars for them and the fact that News Corp in Australia can crucify anyone that gets in the way due their total dominance of the printed press in Australia.
Then there is Tony’s plan to replace Labor’s fibre to the home NBN with a fibre to the node with slower speeds and constant breakages in the current copper network. Abbott is proud of his technological ignorance which resonates well with many voters who also have no idea about technology.
If there was a Broadband Olympics Australia wouldn’t even get past the selection stage it’s that poor here with many of us still only on ADSL until the NBN completes it rollout, if ever.

he Old Man in The Sea says:

Re: Australian politics

You seemed to have forgotten what Australian Politics is about. It’s about a bunch of tantrum throwing children in Adult bodies having a bully-the-people contest.

The policies of the major parties are all disastrous in some form or another. None of them are focused on the full breadth of Australian Electorate. We have lost our manufacturing, primary production, high technology and research areas under all political brands.

Mr. Abbott may be too faced, Mr. Rudd may be a vicious meglo-maniac, Ms. Gilliard may be a back-stabbing opportunist, and what’s his face may be waiting in the background to slash the Abbott throat. So both sides are dangerous for this country, none are serious about fixing the underlying problems and for the foreseeable future we are in big trouble, no matter who wins on Saturday.

So my advice is, stop complaining, get out and speak to your local representative about what matters to you and be active in your community to bring about change for the better.

droozilla says:

They've caught up.

Yep, that’s right Aussies, you’ve finally caught up to your Yankee cousins. Remember that last election you had, where you elected that sheila that says there’d be no carbon tax, and then the first thing she did was put in a carbon tax? Now you have this to follow it up.

Congratulations, you’ve caught up. You lie to your people down under just as well as we do here in the Land Of Propaganda. Well done. Have a slow belly clap.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Liberals...

The real problem – the liberal media’s lack of backbone to hold the liberal moronic/greedy/corrupt politicians AS accountable as the moronic/greedy/corrupt conservative politicians.

Libs can go on TV (Obama lying on Leno) and TestaLIE in front of congress (Clapper)and the media regurgitates the Phony Scandals line without so much as a follow-up question.

The Old Man in The Sea says:

Re: Liberal Party in Australia is not the same as the liberals of USA

The corresponding match up between Australian and USA political standpoints are:

Australian ——————————-USA
Australian Labour Party/Greens____________Democrats

There are still major differences between Australian and USA political standpoints.

G Thompson (profile) says:

Re: Re: Liberal Party in Australia is not the same as the liberals of USA

Not sure that any Republican presidents or politicians would be the same as Our ones though.. Can you see any USA ones doing this?

[warning this picture is real of Tony Abbot and what has been seen cannot be unseen etc… oh and they are called Budgie Smugglers]

Anonymous Coward says:

it also shows to me, that the entertainment industries have been extremely busy in the run-up to the election, with hard core lobbying! i would really like to know how much money they have thrown at how many politicians to try to get this included as part of a manifesto. no government should do anything that favours any particular industry or group. they are there to carry out the wishes of the people, not to implement something that no one, apart from those in the particular field, wants. if they cant carry out the wishes of the people, they dont deserve to get votes. the problem obviously comes after the election, when the ‘thrown on the scrap heap’ proposals suddenly come back into play and with a vengeance. those sort of turn arounds should not be allowed. if something is left out of the election proposals, it shouldn’t be able to be brought back in once the election is won. that is not only sneaky and underhand, that is rubbing shit into the faces of the voters and should definitely carry repercussions!

Bpat says:

Labor failed to get the filter implemented and now the liberals are going to f@c# us in the a$$ anyway.

Both political parties in australia only get in because 99.99% of people are idiots who don”t think about politics and vote as if it was Big Brother or Idol. Congratulations Mr and Mrs Public: You are now on Big Brother, and there is no escape…

Anonymous Coward says:

When I was younger I was told that when you went to vote, you found a party that you agreed with, had policies you could get behind, stood for principles that you believed in and in some ways I did look forward to being able to vote

But now that I can vote, I’m left wondering whether things have changed so dramatically or if people have always just be disillusioned with their choices, because all I ever seem to do is toss up between which person I hate less

Anonymous Coward says:

Gun…meet foot. This is so typical of Abott. He is incapable of straight talking. This was all apparently a “quality control error”. Yeah right. The policy had to be written by a person and approved by Abott. This brilliantly illuminates the underhanded tactics of political parties that try to get this sneaky shit through five minutes before an election and hope that no one will notice. I thought all this filtering/censorship nonsense was over. Apparently we still have to continue the fight to prove that as adults we are perfectly capable of looking after ourselves without Big Brother Tone looking over our shoulders.

John Robertson says:

Section 44 Aus Constitution

Not to worry. The Sep 7 Election will be voided by the High Court of Australia. The Liberal Party and Liberal Candidates will become insolvent because they cannot possibly pay the costs of the damage they are causing.
Section 44 of the Australian Constitution prevents every Liberal Candidate from having a Seat in Parliament.

G Thompson (profile) says:

Re: Section 44 Aus Constitution

Unadulterated Bullshit!

Oh and your tinfoil hat is slipping… especially since I am assuming you are waffling on about point (i) of s44 of COACA in reference to allegiance, obedience, or adherence to a foreign power. Your pissing up a rope with that idea and the HC won’t ever hear it since the words allegiance, obedience, and adherence have specific and absolute meaning in this context and NOT what your conspiracy buddies and yourself think they might mean.

Anonymous Coward says:

Yes our Libral-Nationals are a charlie-foxtrot waiting to happen (and polls suggest they only have to wait a couple more days).
The problem of-course is that you then look at our Labor party.

Lib: Opt out (now opt in) filter;
Lab: Mandatory Filter (not currently activly pursued)
It’s a wash, the Labor goverment found it could use the telecomunications act to black list websites with zero oversight and don’t have to report about it (in the interest of national security). I would expect either government would continue this trend.

Lab: Eavesdropping the underseas cable.
This is not points against Labor realy, the only reason Librals didn’t do it was because they weren’t in power… Have to keep the US happy…

Lab: (up to) 100 megabit FTTP
Lib: (at least) 25 megabit FTTN
Considdering 8 megabit is “good” (by our standards), and can stream HD, this quickly becomes a FUD thing in my mind. Labors is better tech, and more forward thinking; Librals is cheaper and allows for a transition to FTTP later (and they may be able to save more money by encouraging those who must be able to stream a dozen HD chanels at once to pay for their own last mile)… So this is a wash to me (it wpould be Labor all the way if you couldn’t pay for your own upgrade to FTTP).

Lib: We Hate Boat People, lets make their life worse
Lab: We Hate Boat People, lets make their life worse
… Nuff Said….

Lib:We hate gays
Lab:We like gays (but not enough to outwardly support gay mariage)
I know some will argue that Rug outwardly supports it, and he does. But it is still a conscience vote, and traditionally in Assie politics that equates to “We won’t do it, but we want points for trying”.

The Greens are the only Australian party that actually seems to care about the important things (and has logged policies to prove it), well ok, not the only one, just the bigist party other than the main two. They actually stand for peoples rights, and privacy, and the FTTP roll out, ect,ect. Don’t get me wrong they’ll probably gut our economy… but at least they want to treat people as people.

Anonymous Coward says:

Greens in Tasmanian Forestry

Weirdly, the at the state level, the Greens seem to be the strongest believers in free markets — both Labor and Liberal are deeply committed to massive government subsidies for industries that are deeply uncompetitive internationally.

It’s very hard to make a profit selling high-bulk low-value commodities produced in a high-labor location and that are a long way from market. But evidently easy to get government subsidies.

MadderMak (profile) says:

Oh thank god for that...

“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. “

This is perfectly reasonable. It’s not like you can buy filtering software for your devices yet, so they should certainly make the service provides write some.

If only (as a parent) I could download something *now* to protect my children…..

Anonymous Coward says:

Oz vs US

I think it’s more like:

National — Corn-belt Republicans (social conservative and economic protectionist)
Liberal — Northeastern Republicans (remember “liberal Republicans”? me neither)
Labor — white rust belt Democrats (think UAW plus a few progressives)
Green — Sierra Club and Greenpeace (but probably not PETA or Sea Shepard)

Overall, there are a lot fewer religious nutters than in the US. So far.

The OZ Senate races are a lot more interesting (more parties, better voting system than in the US.) Personally, I’d probably be deciding between Green (yawn), Sex, Pirate, or Informal-Dick-Balls.

Incidentally, Julian’s Assage’s Wikileaks egofest party has unsurprisingly self destructed. Basically, because his libertarians hate environmentalists more than they hate intrusive government.

As an aside, the now-retired Greens leader, former Senator Bob Brown was the most trusted politician in all of Australia. He may not have always been practical, but he’s honest and ethical. I imagine one of the other independents — Senator Nick Xenophon or MP Andrew Wilkie — would rank highest now. Politicians of their caliber is rare in the US system.

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