By Luke Cuthbertson

Help! My Government Wants To Censor My Internets

By Luke Cuthbertson you hadn’t heard, the Federal Government of Australia (where SitePoint is based) is planning legislation that will force ISPs to filter the websites that Australians will be allowed to access.

The filter will block access to every website on a ‘blacklist’ – a list of websites that is controlled by the government and kept secret. I am not making this up – it’s really happening.

Why a democratically elected government would do this is difficult to get your head around when you work on the Web every day. For me, it’s not that I don’t understand the goal the government is trying to achieve, or why they’re trying to achieve it. I have three kids of my own who I love more than words, and I want to protect them just like any parent should. And I find particularly abhorrent the suggestion that my opposition to the filter means I don’t care for my kids. This insinuation alone has cost this government my vote at the election later this year.

The reason I feel so strongly about this issue is because I’m a parent – my kids bring the emotions out more strongly. And I resent the idea that a democratically elected government in a free country thinks that they can tell me what to read.

The Biggest Problem: It Won’t Work

I have to wonder who is giving Senator Conroy his advice. I can’t conceive of how anybody with a decent background in information technology would support the ”clean feed”. It simply can’t work – and you don’t need a degree in Information Technology to understand why:

  • The Internet is simply too big. Take YouTube as an example. YouTube’s owners recently stated that their site alone has 24 hours of video uploaded very minute. It simply isn’t possible to view the new material as quickly as it appears – imagine the size of the government department that would be needed to do a decent job of categorizing it!Then consider that YouTube is one of an estimated 200 million web sites that exist today. Like I said, you don’t need an IT degree to understand the flaws in this plan. The logistics required to successfully censor the Internet make re-organising a health system look like a short stroll in the park.
  • The filter won’t block all content that is inappropriate for children. With the proposed filter in place, there will still be an enormous amount of content available that is inappropriate for children. In fact, it’s entirely possible that the filter might result in Australia’s children being less safe – if the government goes ahead and enacts this legislation, is it likely that some parents will be lulled into believing that their kids are now safe online? I think it is, and this would be one very expensive negative outcome.
  • The filter won’t block peer-to-peer file transfers. It’s unlikely that individuals determined to share child sexual abuse material do so out in the open. This filter won’t prevent these individuals from continuing to use these mediums.

The Other Problem: The Secret Blacklist

As if this expensive and misguided plan wasn’t bad enough, there’s more to be concerned about here: the fact that the government does not want to make public the sites that will be censored. This is downright scary. There are a bunch of unwritten statements in the message that this sends :

  • “We do not trust those who voted for us.”
  • “We don’t need to be held accountable by them.”
  • “We don’t trust the scheme we’re implementing (because if it really worked, people couldn’t look at the material anyway)”

So there are some of my criticisms of the logic behind what’s happening. I could go on and on! But, as a rule I don’t like people who stand on the sidelines and throw stones. It’s too easy to do, and I think that being constructive is a far better use of anybody’s time.

There is a very real problem here that our government is trying to solve: the Internet has arrived very quickly, and we as a community are ill-equipped to deal with it. Our kids could potentially have access to online content that most of us would agree is totally inappropriate.

So what do we do..?

My opinion is that we should talk about it, educate and support each other and make a real attempt to put things in place that will make a difference. Approaches to how the Internet is used around kids and in the home should be a hot topic at the community level. I believe that the best solution is a social one, not a technical one.

Technology is not magic and it can’t be used to solve every challenge – even the ones it might have helped create. What do you think?

Further Reading

  • davviau

    My thoughts exactly. My biggest fear is the ‘secret list’. Potentially they could put anything they wanted on that list and we won’t know anything about it. It’s sounding very much like Google vs China. I hope someone gets through to them that this is a very very bad idea.

  • I’ll be back to comment on this further, and will be spreading the word. Thanks Luke, this is indeed something that needs to be discussed at length, with level-heads.

  • The obvious goal of Australia’s government is not to protect its citizens but to shakedown a method of blocking sites the government deems threatening. So I think you’re missing the point when you focus on practicality; if many sponsors of the plan really thought it would work as they suggest, I’d be surprised.

  • Totally agree Luke. My thoughts are more practical more than emotional, but as a young kid whenever someone told me I couldn’t do something, it immediately promoted me to investigate how I could — and the ways around this a just to easy.

    I also think what they are trying to do is noble — but the methods to achieve this fall into my ‘you can’t be serious’ bucket. Great post Luke.

  • claudescali

    God, it feels like something from the past, when governments talked openly about their “controlling tricks”. I really thought that nowadays that would be a no-no.
    Obviously politicians here in Australia can be quite naïve at times…

  • Chris

    I love the argument “It won’t work” so don’t do it. Imagine if we took that attitude on everything? Why bother having police? After all, people still break the law. So having police obviously doesn’t work.

    No one expects any form of laws or censorship to be perfectly effective. But, just like having a police presence or putting adult magazines in plastic covers, it adds a level of difficulty and a deterrent.

    Further, the argument it will slow down the internet, is weak too. OpenDNS serves 18 million clients with billions of page requests per day. They wouldn’t be doing so if the performance was too slow.

    And the argument about “parent’s responsibility” is a joke too. As ShayneTilley said above, kids will always push the boundaries, no matter what their parents have taught them. Kids already know they shouldn’t look at porn, therefore they will try. So we need to put difficulties in place for them. And their parents can’t be with them all the time and they can’t trust that every other kids’ parents will employ the same levels of watching or controlling their kids’ internet access.

    Just like when I was about 15 and there was no porn in our house, one of my mates brought porn mags to school because his dad was careless with them. So despite my parent’s best efforts, they couldn’t stop me seeing it. But at least there were laws and censorship on place to make it much more difficult. If there wasn’t that’s all we would have been reading at school!

    And, it’s not just kids we’re trying to make it difficult for. It’s adults too who are trying to access illegal material.

    ISPs missed the boat big time on this issue. All they had to do was implement their own filtering but with a paid-for “Adult” option in their plans to disable it. They could have made a lot of money.

    Also, self regulation is not working. Take for example. Enter your birth date to enter the site, where you can get a tour and see full-on adult images, with lots of close ups. Nothing left to the imagination. All the drooling 14yo boy has to do is the maths of 2010-18 and he’s in. And that’s an Australian site that is against filtering. Yet they are a perfect example of why the government wants it. Self regulation is not working.

    It’s your second argument about the potential for a government to exploit the filter that is where our concerns should really lie.

  • boltronics

    I’m still having a hard time understanding how this is still going through. First we had Google and now the US government raising concerns, but Conroy will listen to no one.

    I fully agree Luke. We need a social solution to potential Internet threats. An Australian Internet filter will do more harm than good.

  • fattyjules

    Have I missed something? Why not give families free/cheap internet filtering software, which they can install at their discretion?

    I generally prefer the Labor party over the opposition, but this issue has cost them my vote. I will be voting for a minor party this election.

  • Kids already know they shouldn’t look at porn, therefore they will try.

    Chris, you are correct. But this filter won’t block most porn, just the really abhorrent stuff.

    Take for example. Enter your birth date to enter the site, where you can get a tour and see full-on adult images, with lots of close ups.

    I agree that the easy availability of this kind of content to children is a massive issue. Problem is, the filter won’t block *that* site either.

    Tell me again why you think “it won’t work” isn’t a valid argument? I don’t believe Luke referenced self regulation in his post, but encouraged parents and communities to take responsibility. Your very argument of “self regulation will never be perfect” could be made to argue against your reasoning for why the filter should go ahead.

  • …Conroy will listen to no one.

    That has been exhibited many times over the R Rating for Games in Australia issue – Conroy has no interest in actually serving his people as a democratically elected leader is supposed to.
    Our government has forgotten the fact that they are meant to make laws for-and-on-behalf of us as a people, hence why we are required to vote.
    The thing that they’ve forgotten most is that they’re supposed to listen to the voice of the people, and then argue on behalf of the majority in their electorate, not use their own personal feelings and religious motivations to just do whatever the hell they want.

  • Luke Cuthbertson

    And the argument about “parent’s responsibility” is a joke too. As ShayneTilley said above, kids will always push the boundaries, no matter what their parents have taught them. Kids already know they shouldn’t look at porn, therefore they will try. So we need to put difficulties in place for them.

    I agree kids will always push the boundaries. I also believe it is a parent’s job to put those boundaries in place – and also to slowly remove them as they teach their kids morals and values. The day comes when the boundaries are gone (like it or not) – and all you’re left with is the values you taught them, and their own decisions about what they do with them. I just don’t clearly understand how a government can play a practical role in this process, and I certainly believe that the filter being proposed does nothing to help it at all.

    Take it with a grain of salt – There’s a post from a self proclaimed insider over at Slashdot that suggests the government knows that the filter will not work, and is simply doing it to position itself as being perceived to have done something in any future political argument. I really hope that they’re not that cynical, because that really does nothing for anybody…


  • boltronics

    Have I missed something? Why not give families free/cheap internet filtering software, which they can install at their discretion?

    I agree. However that would be an “opt-in” solution (originally promised at election) which Conroy has changed his mind about.

    According to this article, Conroy has said that

    the Government didn’t provide opt-in measures to other forms of media, and that the internet was not a special medium

    I wonder what made him change his mind?

  • I also think what they are trying to do is noble

    I see nothing noble about it. Censorship is censorship, no matter how many scary boogeymen they trot out to convince us that “in this one instance, we need to control what you see and hear.” This is absolutely hateful. As an American, I encourage all of my Aussie friends to stand up and fight this tooth and nail.

  • Anonymous

    Tell me again why you think “it won’t work” isn’t a valid argument?

    Because something is better than nothing. Why bother having porn mags in plastic covers in the newsagent when you know that kids are going to get hold of them anyway? Because something is better than nothing.

    Why have speed cameras when people still speed? Because something is better than nothing.

    Is the internet filter the right or best “something”? Not necessarily, but it’s better than anything anyone else has suggested.

    Fighting something “because it won’t work” is pointless and defeatist and often proven wrong.

    For every 1000 people who say it can’t be done, there’s someone somewhere making it done.

    Take OpenDNS, for example. They prove unequivocally that filtering can work without impacting performance or personal liberties.

    No one has ever claimed filtering will stop kids (or adults) looking at things they shouldn’t. But it should make it a bit harder, and deter them a bit. Something is better than nothing.

    But if they really want to find it they will. And if people really want to speed or drive drunk, they will.

    We shouldn’t be defeatist. We should not be saying “This won’t work”, but rather “How can we make this work?”

    If all the many experts out there who are against filtering actually stopped fighting against it, and started looking for the best solution to provide Conroy, well, then we would get the best solution.

    I agree with Luke there has to be a social, community solution. But just like other things we need to back it up with a technical solution as well. We backed up the “Drink drive, Bloody idiot” campaign (the social solution) with booze buses (the technical solution).

    They need each other. One will always struggle on its own.

    Conroy is trying to do something. Instead of support from the people who should know best about the best solution, he’s had nothing but resistance.

    It’s not enough to leave it to the parents, or give them a copy of NetNanny. Many will not do enough. Just like my mate’s Dad who didn’t do enough to keep his porn mags hidden.

    As Matthew Magain points out above, there’ll still be plenty of stuff accessible. So we need a multi-pronged approach. We need to enforce self regulation (so sites like AbbyWinters don’t show stuff so easily); we need a social campaign; and we need filtering (or something) to block “the really abhorrent stuff”.

    It’s time for the IT community to step up to the plate with the **right** technical approach to backup the social campaign and law enforcement.

    Because, by whinging and bitching and being defeatist and unhelpful, we’ll ended up getting a filtering system most don’t like. I guess it’s what we deserve.

  • Paul Annesley

    Is Conroy Gone Yet?
    (not yet)

  • Chris McKee

    @Chris The technical solutions are there in the form of SquidProxy which has been used for filtering for a long long time and implemented properly can even increase browsing speeds.
    The problem shouldn’t be considered technical but ethical; at what point do you want the government to stop telling you how to behave and run your life? They ‘allow’ you to drive a car, once you get a licence, insurance, tax it and pay some more tax on your fuel; they don’t then go and stick a GPS Speed limiter on your car to force you to drive the speed limit, its left to you to adhere to the law.
    There are way too many people who scream ‘what about the children’ at the government; what happened to parenting. Your kids, your responsibility. It’s about time people stopped expecting corporations and governments to control their lives, and bring up their kids for them. Society will always have a part in providing moral guidance and an ethical view of the world; but its not for the government to force that on people.
    It’s much the same with the argument for more and more and more CCTV; I live in the UK, you cant sneeze outdoors without it being recorded. There are 27 cameras and 4 speed cameras on the 1.2 mile journey to the supermarket from my house. We shouldn’t be instilling in the next generation the rule of the stick; you will behave or you’ll be punished; the next generation needs to learn the same way we did, doing the right thing because its right, not because if they don’t it will be recorded or they’ll be caught.
    Australia’s not exactly got the best record for human rights over its short history and it appears you’ve still not got the hang of freedom in any sense.

  • Wardrop

    I’m personally not at all concerned about the filter, simply because it’s too ridiculous to last for any substantial length of time assuming it does get implemented, which it likely won’t anyway. It’s important that authors write articles like these and that the population expresses their concerns and arguments, but beyond that, such a proposal as this internet filter isn’t worth any more effort. Be it now, or in a few years time, the filter we be dropped and forgotten by the mainstream media.

  • NetNerd85

    I’m personally not at all concerned about the filter, simply because it’s too ridiculous to last for any substantial length of time…

    Of course it won’t work but you MUST be concerned with the government acting this way.

  • markfiend

    I can’t believe that anyone is arguing in favour of internet censorship!

    1: How do you know it won’t be used like the Great Firewall of China, to silence dissent? Censorship begets tyranny.
    2: Who decides? (This is a particular worry when the blacklist is itself secret.) Some Christian groups would advocate blocking information on homosexuality for example.
    3: The net has areas not safe for children. Sure, everyone knows this. But why should I have my browsing curtailed because you can’t do your job as a parent?

  • pufa

    I would be very afraid. The children excuse is realy a weak one. Parents are still and always be the primary responsibles for there childrens education… controling what children do on the internet is a parents reponsability… not a goverment responsability. Ditch your goverment!

  • this is ridiculous and I can’t believe that some people are justifying it. I honestly assumed it was all about blocking child porn sites (and a blacklist seems like a waste of time for that anyway as they are already extremely sophisticated at getting around all manner of tracing, law enforcement etc.). Then I read it was about making the web only content suitable for children! For goodness sake, half the fun of the web is the bizzare-o japanese squid pron etc – and I’m a middle aged mum not a raging pervert. If it’s kids you are worried about seeing stuff, get one of those filters. There is a whole industry devoted to censoring what your kids can see and even spying on their every movement online. Sure, kids will look up rude things but kids have always been like that. In my experience kids actually spend MOST of their time doing age-relevant things like playing silly games and chatting with their friends. If they are old enough to surf for porn in a serious way then it’s doubtful the word ‘child’ still really applies.

    Also – on a side note, I was about to say I don’t really spend a lot of time looking at weird japanese porn but often people link to content for a laugh on chat sites (or in IRC). Then I realised that there is a big question whether this filter would be any good at all for the kinds of internet weirditude I’ve seen – as this is usually how I found it. To be honest the most far-out things are nothing I would ever have dreamed of googling for.

  • We’ve got something similar happening in the UK – it’s called the Digital Economy Bill (twitter: #debill). There is plenty in the bill to help the digital economy in the UK, such as legsilating to allow the switchover of analogue radio to digital broadcasting and laying the groundwork for the next generation of broadband infrastructure to be built. However, the controversy lies with how certain clauses intended to curtail copyright fraud/theft on the internet have been badly drafted and how these clauses will inevitably be abused:

    “The draconian law is opposed by industry experts, internet service providers (like TalkTalk and BT), web giants including Google, Facebook, Yahoo and Ebay and many other groups. Despite all this opposition, the Government is trying to rush it through quietly just before the election without proper debate – without a chance for us to voice our opposition.

    There’s plenty to oppose in the Digital Economy Bill, it gives the government the ability to disconnect millions. Schools, libraries and businesses could see their connection cut if their pupils, readers of customers infringe any copyright. But one group likes it, the music industry. In a leaked memo a few days ago they admitted the only way to get the bill through would be to rush it through without a real parliamentary debate. Let’s stop that happening.”

    (Taken from

    What really annoys a lot of people (aside form those draconian measures) is the way the bill will be passed into law, in a period known as “Wash-up”, where bills are rushed through Parliament without proper debate so they can become law before the election.

  • Chris

    @Chris McKee said:

    Your kids, your responsibility. It’s about time people stopped expecting corporations and governments to control their lives, and bring up their kids for them.

    Most parents try to be the best parent they can, raise their children the best they can, and instill in them the values that they believe…

    But see, that last one, not all parents have values that fit with a cohesive community.

    (And as teenagers, the last thing any kid wants to do is live by their parent’s values. :) )

    I remember when my eldest (I have four between 9 and 15) was in his first year at school. In about the first week or two he came home excited about Pokemon. We’d never let him see or know about it. We were shocked. We’d just learnt a major lesson – we were no longer the only parents of out children.

    Our kids would be influenced by the parenting of other people through their children. And some of them I’d strongly disagree with. Sure I Can, and have, stopped them from seeing certain kids out of school, but I can’t stop who they talk to or play with at school.

    I can’t spend all my time with my children. I can’t follow them into the newsagent and tell them not to look at the adult magazines.

    Fortunately I can trust that the government has put in place means to make it difficult for them, and that the distributor will also do their bit to ensure my child doesn’t gain access to those magazines through their outlet.

    So I have also learnt the the whole community, governments and corporations included, do already take responsibility for raising and parenting my children.

    They don’t interfere, they just assist.

    Parenting is a community responsibility, just like it was in tribal societies.

    Parenting should not end as soon as the kid is out of sight of his parents. We

    I’m glad the government enforces wearing seatbelts, because I know some parents my kids travel with wouldn’t care otherwise.

    I’m glad the government is bringing in filtering, because I know some parents at places my kids will visit, wouldn’t implement any themselves.

    Besides the opportunity for a government to exploit the filter, which is a very serious concern and the one we really should focus our energies on, I can’t see why filtering is such a problem.

    If all it can possibly achieve is block the “abhorrent stuff” as Matthew Magain suggested above, what is wrong with that? Who wants to or has aright to see that, anyway?

    If it means it’s a bit harder for kids to access porn on internet, either accidentall or deliberately, what is so wrong with that?

    We already have controls over TV content but no one says “TV stations should be able to broadcast anything, and it should be the parent’s responsibility to make sure their kids don’t see the bad stuff.”

    Why are we expecting parents do go it alone? What is so wrong with giving people some assistance?

  • markfiend


    Your argument amounts to “it is only viewpoints and opinions of which I disapprove that are being criminalised and censored, so it’s fine.”

    Do you not realise that when your political enemies (rather than your political allies) are in power, then your opinions might suddenly be censored? The very power you are willing to give to your government might end up being used against you.

  • hk

    Wow, what a mess. A giant pool of, for lack of a better term, ignorant people, from concerned parents to ISPs, each too shortsighted to see how and why this filter is implimented. And Stephen Conroy’s political talk doesn’t help much, either.

    Rather than trying to explain why governments employ censorship, I’m going to look at some of the viewpoints that have been taken against the filter.

    “The Internet is simply too big.”
    The filter is not supposed to cover the entire internet. Even Conroy knows there’s too much data out there to provide complete censorship for, and that was never its design. What the filter does allow us to do is to block RC-rated (already banned) content that the government has been made aware of to most internet users. How does the ACMA build this blacklist? Through reporting. Currently, when a user reports RC-rated content to the ACMA, there is little they can do. If it is hosted in Australia, it can be taken down, but if not, and that content is not illegal in the country it is hosted in, all they can do is hand out a free single serve filter for that user alone. The ‘clean feed’ makes it possible for reported content to be blocked as it would be with any other medium.
    “But you can’t block it completely.”
    Of course not. I doubt there will ever be a way to do that. The filter blocks web page content for the average user, meaning that unless the user is determined to access that particular content, it is less likely they will come across RC rated meterial that has been reported and made aware of to the ACMA.
    “Not all RC rated content will be detected.”
    Indeed. But it is the government’s reponsibility to ensure that laws are not only adequately provisioned but also enforced. No RC rated material can be distributed or sold within Australia (possession legality depends on content), and comparatively this has been generally accepted by the Australian community. If these laws, like any other laws, were not enforced, their existence would be pointless. No filter will be 100% effective at removing prohibited content, but this does not mean the government shouldn’t do its job by implementing an enforcement to the best of its ability.
    “Scanning pages could be inaccurate.”
    Yes, which is why the government is using a blacklist. Some people have been concerned about trial methods involving exhaustive measures, however these are unlikely to be used in the final implementation.
    “We can’t rely on end users to report websites.”
    The blacklist will not and is hardly intended to cover every single RC rated web page. It is there so that laws can be enforced should a particular user take offense to any one page they see on the internet.
    “How do we know which content will be blocked?”
    Conroy has stated several times that he only intends to block RC/X18+ rated content and MA or R rated content that is not behind a restrictive device. I don’t have a quote. Look it up yourself.
    “The filter won’t block all content that is inappropriate for children.”
    No, that is what end user software packages are for. The filter is not and never was intended to protect children per se, this is just an idea linked with censorship in general and a common tactic used by the government used to gain the support of parents. As a result, there is a large misconception that the filter is supposed to block anything innappropriate for children. It isn’t.
    “The filter won’t block peer-to-peer file transfers.”
    So first you don’t want any filtering, then you want it everywhere? Blocking P2P traffic would be a huge undertaking that would either rely on inaccurate keyword matching or having the ACMA actually leech all these files for verification. In other words, a huge headache. The filter is built for web pages, and that’s what it does.
    “It won’t get rid of child pornography.”
    Of course it won’t. It is unlikely the filter was ever targeted at actual paedophiles, most of which wouldn’t access material out in the open anyway. There are dedicate police squads who investigate such crimes.
    “It will slow down my internet connection.”
    With a simple URL or IP address blacklist it is unlikely to do this. Tests that were conducted by the government indicated a range of performance effects, though in effect most computers use blacklists. Ever heard of a HOSTS file? Not all that different. At most it could slow connection times by milliseconds, though continuous connections such as downloads are unlikely to be affected.
    “They’re withholding the blacklist – we have a right to see it!”
    The blacklist supposedly includes a lot of child pornography. If you cannot figure out why the government would not publish a list of child porn websites, I have no hope left for you.
    “The blacklist will be leaked, and then the paedophiles will get a hold of it.” (Strangely opposite of last arguement).
    Yes, it’s possible. There has already been a leak although it wasn’t ‘the’ blacklist. It’s one of the downsides. Somehow though I don’t think paedophiles are going to access websites that they know the government is watching. That’s like trying to hide out in a police car.
    “We should take responsibility for our own kids.”
    Yes, you should. The government is not your baby sitter. Go buy a NannyNet filter.
    “Why should I change my surfing habbits just because you can’t control your kids?”
    The censorship system in place relates to all Australians. RC ratings are applicable to anyone, not just kids.
    “They could block other content and try to cover it up. You know, like blocking websites of other political parties.”
    They could. They could also have Harold Holt’s body buried 6 feet below a gum tree in their back yard, but shhhhh… nobody knows about that.
    “Only child pornography is illegal, not RC content. They’re blocking too much.”
    Just because it isn’t a crime to possess, it doesn’t mean it can be distributed. Prohibition of RC content applies to all mediums, including DVDs, cinema and broadcast. So far, due to the rapid development of online technology, its increasing size, and the slow pace of legislation, the law has not been able to keep up with enabling the enforcement online distribution of prohibited content. This has led to an ‘anything goes’ attitude on the internet and increased acceptance of obscene material as well as a large number of promoters of what may be referred to as ‘free speech’. RC content cannot be sold in on any platform, including the internet, and to allow such material here and nowhere else would be very inconsitent and disruptive to the stability of the classification system.
    “We should be able to decide what we see, and to exercise ‘free speech'”
    Like most developed countries, we have created a censorship system to block material which is socially unacceptable. The issue of what should and should not be blocked does not even come into this – it has already been decided. If you want to change those classifications, you can write a letter to the OFLC. The issue here is not what to block, but how to block it. In addition, content does not necessarily constitute free speech. In Australia, you have the right to say what you like, but if you express yourself in an audio or visual format or any form that may be considered a publication, you are bound by the same laws as everybody else.
    “I have a porn site and now they want to block it!”
    While you may be used to X18+ (hardcore porn) material being widely available on the internet, you may not realise that it can not be legally sold in most states in Australia. The government still has a responsibility to enforce our current classification system consistantly with other formats, so if you’d like X18+ material to be available in on the internet (and in stores), please contact the OFLC. This is a seperate issue.
    “I’ve never come across RC rated content online before. This thing is a waste of money.”
    You may not have, depending on your surfing habbits. Remember that RC rated content does not necessarily include child porn. It can also include graphic violence, obscenity, extreme fetishes or sites that encourage criminal activity. Much of this content is circulated around the internet, completely unregulated. It is not too uncommon for someone to come across or be sent a piece of content that could not be legally distributed in Australia. “2 Girls 1 Cup”, as an example, was a viral video spread around the internet for the pure purpose of grossing out its recipient. The content of this video would most likely be rated RC, yet many heavy internet users fell victim to it as one friend showed it to another. I agree it may be a waste of money, purely for the fact that the government tends to invest hundreds of millions of dollars in things that shouldn’t really cost hundreds of millions of dollars.
    “If we find illegal content, we should just take it down rather than block it.”
    That’s easier said than done. One one hand the internet is completely global, but on the other hand, each country has its own laws regarding what is legal and what is not. If certain content being hosted overseas is legal in that country, there is no way to take it down and currently no way to prevent it from being transmitted to Australia, even if it may be prohibited or even illegal here. On top of that, it may be harder to enforce the law in a developing country or where their censorship laws are less defined.

    That’s about all the points I can think of for now. If you have any more arguments, please let me know.
    To summarise:
    The issue of what to block is already decided by our current laws, which the government has a responsibility to enforce. The filter will not block all RC content, it will not prevent determined individuals from accessing illegal content, and it will not protect your children. It is designed to prevent access for the average user to known prohibited content in Australia if such content cannot be removed.

  • Brad

    Senator Conroy recently talked about the filter on ABC National [link]. I’d recommend anyone interested in this discussion hear from the horses mouth. Unfortunately the major concerns I have in regards to this filter are not mentioned until the end and are only mentioned in a very brief manner. We need to forget about the technical side (as with technology anything is possible with enough time and money).

    As some have mentioned my primary concern is that the list is kept secret and that the criteria for urls to be added to the list fall under the term of “Refused Classification”. Whist Senator Conroy is getting feedback and trying to address making the black listing process more transparent I am still concern of potential abuse by our government but particularly any future governments.

    The potential for “feature creep” is my greatest concern. Laws could be changed in the future that adjust the scope of this filter. As all web communication will be routed through a single location it may be techically possible to “spy” on all internet communications. Something I’m sure the music industry or others concerned about their bottom line will be interested in… like what Chris from the UK has mentioned.

    So its the future I’m thinking of here… once the hardware is in place I’m sure its going to be harder to take it out.

    As Chris mentioned… the commercial sector has truly missed the boat. There are ISPs that filter all porn and other content (WebShield for example). Why on earth this whole thing isn’t driven commercially I’m totally amazed at. For those here concerned about their children accessing content… direct your enquiries to your current ISP and push them to filter your connection… not mine.

    P.S. On another note as this list will be “Refused Classification” does this mean sites having content regarding games that were refused classification (e.g. video reviews) will have some of their pages blocked?

  • W2ttsy

    Chris, the fact that you prevented your child from being exposed to something benign like pokemon is a clear indication that you are a highly restrictive parent. What did you fear pokemon would do to your children? I don’t mean to criticize your values, as you are welcome to raise your kids however you like, but the small group of people that share these restrictive values shouldn’t dictate what the majority of parents do.

    The part that angers me most about this legislation is that its being wrapped in the “protects our children” paper. I can tell you now that it won’t be preventing anything. My girlfriends 10 year old son got his first shot at porn last year when he typed boobies into google. Even with family filters turned on, there was still some images that made it through. Where did he hear the term boobies? He overhead a grade 6 in the playground at school. The internet filter wouldn’t have protected him from that.
    Another example is the 15 yearold girl that was seduced and then killed by a 50 year old rapist after he met her on a “emo/goth” forum. Internet filter wouldn’t have protected her from that.
    How about me? I first was introduced to porn in grade 7 when i thought i was downloading a hollywood movie, ended up with a 2 hour porn flick that shared the same name. Internet filter wouldn’t have protected me from that.

    The government is talking about protecting us from stuff like child porn and beastiality content. I tried very hard the other night to track it down and it was not an easy feat. I’m 25, a software engineer and have a fairly good understanding of the internet and I couldnt really find any of this content easily, so how is a 10 year old supposed to stumble upon it? the answer is “they dont”. This filter isnt going to protect kids from being molested, it isnt going to prevent them from being exposed to porn and its only going to hamper the activities of adults who do want to look at adult content.

    Now the second half of the issue is how pervasive this filter will be when it comes to non adult content. Government doesnt like euthanasia? easy, block it. Government is feeling political heat for bad policy decisions? easy, block it. You happen to be a perfectly acceptable dental practice in south australia? easy, block it.

    I’m not sure if the Government has thought about the legal ramifications of this. For instance, say I was sitepoint and was running a campaign on child abuse awareness (the 5 for 1 type fund raisers), now if this filter blocked my whole site because of this, then I would be pretty upset, maybe to the point of suing the government for loss of revenue. Now imagine this was on a site where there were millions of dollars at stake and a simple slip up could cost people alot of money. As a tax payer, do you want to footing the settlement costs each time someone sues because the filter lost their legitimate business money?

    Ultimately the biggest issue is that both Kevin Rudd and Tony Abbott have strong christian values and instead of dealing with the real issues at hand in this country (infrastructure, health, education, employment) they are spending all their time impressing their own personal values upon a country that doesnt share the same ideals. Imagine if Ned Flanders was running the country, because thats what it feels like. The biggest insult is that even though we are a democratic country, both Kevin Rudd and Stephen Conroy have made a point of not listening to anyone on this, not Google, not the US Government and most importantly, they arent listening to the people.

    They are worried that our infrastructure won’t meet the population levels in the next 5 years… Thats ok, because if this filter is put in place, there wont be a population to need infrastructure.. Canada here I come!

  • Thanks for taking the time to comment, Chris and hk. I don’t agree with much of what either of you have said, but I appreciate you keeping it civil and am enjoying the discussion as an informed debate rather than the mudslinging match that topics like this often devolve into on the Web.

    @Chris: If you truly believe that the proposed filter will keep your children more safe online, even a little bit, then you don’t understand the issue as well as I thought you did.

    @hk: one thing that I take away from your missive is this: you concede that the clean feed won’t really be effective in terms of blocking RC content (except for those sites that are reported, or that are already known), and you agree that it will probably be a massive waste of taxpayers’ money. Based on this, I’m baffled why you’re still in favour of it, then?

    Indeed, as your ally Chris pointed out above, the most concerning aspect of this issue — the fact that the list of websites to be blocked remains a secret — is something you make light of with a Harold Holt joke, implying that the chances of the government blocking content for political reasons are so low that it’s laughable that such an improbable conspiracy could be considered a valid argument.

    I don’t know if your lack of skepticism on this issue is because of naïvete or because you’re actually a public sector employee with additional insight, but the fact is that this lack of transparency is a massive issue for myself and many other Australians, for the reasons that Luke spelled out in this post. The fact that content that is refused classification goes beyond child porn, bestiality and the like — which I think we all agree no-one needs to see — and starts venturing into territories like gay/lesbian discussion forums, movies that depict incest or sites with information about euthanasia, is when things become grey. Censoring content like this, which is given a rating of RC based on the values of some board within the government, is something I have a huge problem with, and it seems I’m not alone. You’ve mentioned that the filter will not block all RC content — if the list of blocked sites is kept secret, then how do we know that this is the case? Who draws the line, and to where will that line shift when the government changes hands down the track? This is too big a cost for the small benefits that the filter may or may not bring.

    Ultimately, it sounds like the government knows that the impact the filter will have on the areas that they are listing as reasons for why Australia needs it — protecting children — will be next to zero, but want to be seen to be doing something — even though it will cost what is, let’s face it, an enormous amount of money that could be spent on more worthwhile ventures. And you’re OK with that?

  • hk

    Matthew, there is never a way to completely eliminate anything. The degree to which this will be effective will depend largely on the amount of reports received – if nobody has a problem, there are no reports, and life goes on. If however, members of the public lodge complaints about obscene content that should by our classification standards be removed from our shores, there needs to be a way for us to deal with that content. The ACMA has received several thousand complaints over the years, most of which mean nothing because at the moment we have no way to remove legal RC content hosted overseas.

    Therefore I do not think it the filter itself is a waste. It’s just that the government tends to overspend in these areas – a simple blacklist filter should not cost tens of millions of dollars. Then again, if you add up all the salaries of government employees who deal with censorship, they’re already spending millions every year. Plus it’s a bit late for a refund.

    I’m not a government employee and I don’t think of myself as naive. I’m a realist and I deal with fact, not paranoia. If you really want to indulge in conspiracy theories, you may, but no, I don’t think it likely the government will take advantage of the situation. The blacklist is maintained by the ACMA, who base their findings off the guidelines of the OFLC. I know of no cases where they have abused their power in order to restrict information based on personal beliefs (outside the classification). If a legitimate website does become blocked in Australia, this will become apparent and can be checked using a proxy. We’ll wait and see.

    I agree with you about the lack of transparency. Remember this is a political issue, and in this case it’s a debate of who’s morals are higher rather than the most effective way to control content. Transparency is not a part of politics, sadly.

    About RC content, let me clarify. An ideal filter would block all RC content, as the point of that classification is to ban content. The actual filter won’t and isn’t supposed to block all RC content, as that’s an impossible task. Instead it aims to deal with individual sites made aware of by internet users. You mentioned that you have a problem with a classification system “based on the values of some board within the government”. Well, nearly all our laws are based on those values. Without this, we would have no political system and no laws at all. The definition of what constitutes RC material was created a long time ago, and it has always been banned in Australia. It seems that you are either rejecting the entire censorship system or you think we should ignore this material only on the internet, simply because your beliefs do not match that of the OFLC. If you do not like what they define as RC, tell them, and help shape the content we’re able to watch. But understand that the issue of which content should be blocked is largely irrelevant to how it should be blocked.

    If you’re talking about that ‘grey area’ where it’s hard to define what is RC and what isn’t, it’s fairly straight forward. Your content has to contain material described in the guidelines, otherwise it would not fall under the RC classification and by law, the ACMA would not have the right to block you. Unless your forum/website involves or promotes actual crime, extreme sex, extreme violence or drug use, it should not be banned. Sites discussing controversial issues are acceptable. If it is banned anyway, I think the ACMA should be able to verify if a site is on the list rather than releasing the list itself, so that a dispute can be launched.
    Take a look at the actual guidelines:

    Films and computer games will be refused classification if they include or contain any of the following:
    Detailed instruction or promotion in matters of crime or violence.
    The promotion or provision of instruction in paedophile activity.
    Descriptions or depictions of child sexual abuse or any other exploitative or offensive descriptions or depictions involving a person who is, or appears to be, a child under 18 years.
    Gratuitous, exploitative or offensive depictions of:
    (i)violence with a very high degree of impact or which are excessively frequent, prolonged or detailed;
    (ii) cruelty or real violence which are very detailed or which have a high impact;
    (iii) sexual violence.

    Depictions of practices such as bestiality.
    Gratuitous, exploitative or offensive depictions of:
    (i) activity accompanied by fetishes or practices which are offensive or abhorrent;
    (ii) incest fantasies or other fantasies which are offensive or abhorrent.

    Detailed instruction in the use of proscribed drugs.
    Material promoting or encouraging proscribed drug use.

    I hope that helps. I believe the government should be clear and precise about its plans. But nevertheless you can breathe easy as most content you access will not be touched. The only thing that might be is X rated material (porn). I personally think it is inconsistent to give the graphic violence and cruelty in many horror movies an MA rating while we cannot access images of two people consentingly having sex, but that is a flaw of the classification board rather than the filter that may need to be addressed.

    And for what it’s worth, yes, I am okay with the government spending money to fix a hole in its censorship system. Perhaps that is because I value censorship more than others. It could also be because I am expecting the filter to do only what it is designed to do and I do not expect it to fight crime or ‘save the children.’

  • moretea

    I stand against pr0nography, hate speech, and censorship. Pr0n, etc. will be relegated to the dark corners and back alleys of the Web by their very nature, but free speech and the exchange of ideas must be allowed to proliferate of their own accord in a free society. Free speech should not be impeded by arbitrary governments (and the people who run them). People who don’t think that political dissent will be affected by government-sponsored “filtering” are somewhere on the spectrum between impossibly optimistic and downright foolish.

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