The Australian government has announced it will censor the Internet, imposing filters to keep out porn and violence in the interest of protecting children. ISPs will now have to provide “clean feeds” and filter out any objectionable content. The country’s telecommunications minister, Stephen Conroy, countered freedom of speech arguments with this statement: “If people equate freedom of speech with watching child pornography, then the Rudd-Labor Government is going to disagree.”
Duncan Riley of TechCrunch compares the censorship to that of China, noting that criteria for censored content has not been explicitly delineated by the government, and fears the measure leads the way to a very limited internet in Australia:
How far “inappropriate material” may extend was not made clear, for example questioning Government policy where it comes to Aboriginal people could be deemed to be discrimination under Australian law and hence blocked by the censorship regime. Worst still, bloggers or those (such as forum owners) who allow users to comment or post could find themselves blocked under this proposal should someone say or post the wrong thing. If there is one certainty in any country that implements broadscale censorship, once they start blocking content it doesn’t stop, and certainly every do-gooder group and special interest lobbyist will be wanting the Government to add to the list.
Bobbie Johnson at the Guardian Unlimited argues that Australian censorship is not like China’s, and that other democratic countries have such filtering in place:
But the Australian situation isn’t analagous to China, and it’s excessive and disingenuous to suggest so. In fact, by instituting clean feeds Australia is not alone among Western democracies: Britain (for example) has had such technology for a long time. Many of the major ISPs now use clean feed systems – we reported the developments in 2004 and then wrote about how the blacklist could actually be used as a guide to illegal information a year later, and more recently asked questions about the implementation.
Johnson notes that the difference is that China’s censorship is “ineffable and omnipresent,” but that Australia’s system is opt-out. Riley also writes that the cost of maintaining clean feeds may be passed along to internet users, increasing the cost of internet access.