Programming - - By Luke Cuthbertson

Help! My Government Wants To Censor My Internets

http://s3.sitepoint.com/other/no-clean-feed.jpgIf 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?

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