Tuesday 1 January 2008

Web of control

I was glad to see the Australian Tory government of Howard voted out, if only for their role in supporting the occupation of Iraq. Yet, so soon after their election victory, Australia's new Labor government is going the same way as its British namesake.

They want internet service providers in Australia to filter web content, the stated aim being to protect families from pornography and violent web content (BBC News: Australia plans tough web rules). This move has been condemned by civil libertarians, but the Australian telecommunications minister, Stephen Conroy, is dismissive - saying that "if people equated freedom of speech with watching child pornography" he would disagree with them.

Child pornography (indeed paedophilia in general) has many parallels with terrorism; universally disliked and virtually impossible to defend, it is often used as the "thin end of the wedge" to drive through measures which may potentially have draconian consequences.

In this case, as soon as the state starts encouraging internet censorship, it is unlikely to stop with child porn. Will they then block file sharing sites, unlicenced web broadcasters and podcasters, left-wing or other anti-Establishment political sites? When I see how anti-terrorism legislation has been abused, I am not so sure :-(

As for protecting families and children from porn and violent images, there are already several programs which can be used, many of them free, such as KidSurf, Kidsplorer, etc.

I find myself wondering, why is Australia one of the first countries to consider such a move? Could it have anything to do with Australia being home to the media baron Rupert Murdoch - who has more time for populism than he has for human rights (his News of the World newspaper in the UK fuelled the notorious paedophile witch hunts back in 2000, and his papers regularly vilify immigrants in the name of "protecting us from terrorism")? After all, Mr Murdoch seems to exert a lot of political influence, not least upon the UK Labour Party. He couldn't possibly be exerting such influence on their Australian namesake, could he?

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