The Australian Government has announced that they will be joining China as one of the few countries globally that broadly censor the internet.
The Labor Party’s policy was announced prior to the Australian Election in November (release here) and was justified on the basis that the previous Government’s policy of providing free copies of NetNanny to all Australian households who wanted it didn’t adequately protect children.
As recently as the week prior to the election, Labor Party candidates were telling those concerned about the proposed law that the censorship wouldn’t be compulsory, and that the “clean feed” would be opt-in, not opt-out. Today’s announcement by Telecommunications Minister Stephen Conroy states that the censorship regime will be mandatory, although people will be able to opt-out of it. The problem of course then becomes if you opt-out questions will be asked as to why you want out, which in itself may lead to Government monitoring.
To be censored by the Australian Government is “pornography and inappropriate material.” X rated pornography is illegal online in Australia, as are casino style internet gambling, certain forms of “hate” speech and R rated computer games. BitTorrent would be a possibility, even if certain downloads for personal use may be legal under Australian law, sharing those downloads would not be. 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.
There is also a potential cost involved to Australian Internet users. The previous Government regularly cited feedback from ISP’s stating that the cost of implementing a “clean feed” would be passed onto internet users, who already pay some of the highest internet access costs in the Western world for on average slow services.
Notably Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd was a former Australian Diplomat in China, and speaks fluent Mandarin; given Australia’s boom is fueled by mineral exports to China, it would seem that Australian Government policies are now by China in return. This video from before the election may have foretold some of the future.