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Magazine of the Socialist Party in Australia

Conroy’s censorship crusade

The Labor Government is planning to force all Australian Internet Service Providers (ISPs) to filter internet traffic and block any ‘inappropriate’ material. Under the guise of ‘protecting children’ the Government plan is set to censor thousands of internet sites.

The announcement by Senator Stephen Conroy comes only nine months after a leak of potentially censored sites was uploaded on Wikileaks, a site where whistleblowers can easily leak official documents to the public. The list brings into question the Government’s stated aim of ‘protecting children’ from Restricted Access sites.

While the list did contain some Restricted Access sites that included images of child abuse, it also included Youtube sites, Wikipedia entries and web pages that were entirely political or religious in content.

For example a site that discussed the geo-political reasons for terrorism was on the list, as were pro-Euthanasia sites, anti-abortion pages and the pages of various fringe religions. The list even included the site of a Queensland doctor and a tour operator, a testament to the software’s inaccuracy. The leak is a strong warning of the potential for political and ideological repression.

One of the fundamental problems with the Government’s plan, aside from its imprecision, is that the transfer of illegal material like child pornography often occurs outside of internet pages – through file sharing and various other avenues. No filter, regardless of its precision, will succeed in eliminating this.

More concerning, however, are the political implications of online censorship. Some of Australia’s leading media academics have slammed the Government’s proposals stating that there are ‘very strong political motives behind this’ and have argued that filters present a major concern for the civil liberties of those that challenge Government or business policy, particularly when coupled with the Government’s draconian anti-terrorism laws.

According to some experts, previous government policy of providing free home filters to households was a far more effective approach to preventing access to sites that include child pornography. This suggests that the Government has ulterior motives.

The reality is that mandatory filtering has little to do with protecting the rights of children. The biggest supporters of the plan are the big business entertainment companies. Companies like Village Roadshow, Universal Pictures and Warner Bros are set to profit greatly from mandatory filtering as it will make it much harder for users to download music, movies and images without paying royalties.

With Labor pushing the plan it is no surprise to learn that, according to the Australian Electoral Commission website, Village Roadshow alone donated more than $1.3 million to various Labor Party branches between 1998 and 2008.

The problem with the mandatory nature of Labor’s plan is who actually decides what is acceptable content and what is not? The state should not have any role in telling people what they can and can not read or look at.

Aside from helping the big entertainment companies to maximise their profits, Conroy’s censorship plan is a major attack on civil liberties. A campaign needs to be waged against mandatory filtering because, just like the anti-terror laws, this type of censorship will be used against any groups who oppose the Government. The need to defeat this legislation is particularly urgent in the light of the looming class battles that will be brought on by the global economic crisis.

By SP reporters