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Jan 23, 2009

So Conroy’s Internet filter won’t block political speech, eh?

Conroy's protecting us from ped-philes, stopping terrorists, that sort of thing. It’s like the regulation we have for TV, films and books. Except it's not. It's not even close, writes Stilgherrian.

“Freedom of speech is fundamentally important in a democratic society and there has never been any suggestion that the Australian Government would seek to block political content,” intoned Senator Stephen Conroy on Tuesday.

Yet the very next day, ACMA added a page from what’s arguably a political website to its secret blacklist of Internet nasties.

The page is part of an anti-abortion website which claims to include “everything schools, government, and abortion clinics are afraid to tell or show you”. Yes, photos of dismembered fetuses designed to scare women out of having an abortion. Before you click through, be warned: it is confronting. Here‘s the blacklisted page.

Mandatory Internet filtering, says Senator Conroy, is only about blocking the ACMA blacklist. The blacklist, he repeatedly insists, is “mainly” child-abuse and ultra-violent material. He’s protecting us from ped-philes, stopping terrorists, that sort of thing. It’s like the regulation we have for TV, films and books. Except it’s not. It’s not even close.

As always, Irene Graham’s meticulously-researched Libertus.net explains how Internet censorship actually works now and what the Rudd government has been planning.

This pro-life nasty may not be suitable for children. You may or may not agree with the website creators’ political views or their tactics. However, it does represent their sincere political beliefs and, no doubt, derives from their strong moral beliefs. It’s perfectly legal material for adults to view. These pictures could be shown on TV news, just like the all-too-frequent photos of war casualties, provided we were warned “some viewers may find these images disturbing”. You can decide for yourself whether to avert your eyes or hustle the kids out of the living room.

Because it’s The Big Bad Internet, though, things are different.

This content is hosted outside Australia, outside ACMA’s jurisdiction, so they can’t demand it be taken down or guarded by an age-verification mechanism. They can only add it to the blacklist — and under Conroy’s plan, everything on the blacklist is blocked, secretly, for all Australians. No choice.

“The Government does not view this debate as an argument about freedom of speech,” says Senator Conroy.

But that’s precisely what it is. Internet filtering is about what information may or may not flow through the public internet. This case highlights some of the flaws in the Rudd government’s plan.

Just where does political speech begin and end? Scholars and judges have wrestled with the boundaries of political speech for centuries, from John Milton to Alexander Meikeljohn. Has the Rudd government suddenly found the magic answer?

Peter Black, who lectures in internet law at QUT, reckons it’s probable this website does indeed constitute prohibited content or potential prohibited content under the Broadcasting Services Act.

But that is only because the definitions in the Act inevitably treat all content in the same way; the same standard applies to political and non-political content,” he says.

“Ultimately the fate of this website is an illustrative example of the dangers inherent in any Government censorship scheme. Issues of political speech, classification and accountability are without doubt both complex and important, and any notion that they can be adequately addressed and balanced by a Government regulator engaging in prior restraint is somewhere between being unbelievably naive and downright dangerous.”

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25 thoughts on “So Conroy’s Internet filter won’t block political speech, eh?

  1. JS

    There is pornography and there is hard-core. A gulf exists between the two. The latter is generally unreservedly misogynist.

    Follows is the tone of hard-core porn that I found on the first page of a Google Search. And you will have to concede that this gives only a hint of the nature of hard-core.

    Is it a fundamental human right that people have access to publish and read material that is derogatory of half the people on the planet.

    “Hardcore fucksite packed with German filthy whores pumping their wet twats with fat cocks and big dildos”

    “Even though she’s got a very unpleasant face on her, this chick really loves doing the nasty.
    She starts out fucking her hair free fuck tunnel with a vibrator then takes things internal.
    Letting her hung ex boyfriend wreck her furburger while she uses her vibrator to nail that swollen
    clit until she cums…”

  2. Mim

    I’ve pretty well resolved to vote that other party in next election. I’ve never voted for them in my 40 years of voting, but the Rudd government has snookered me. It’s not the labor party I used to know. I thought Howard was bad, but at least every one knew he couldn’t be trusted. These guys came in pretending they were going to return democracy. They’re doing the opposite. Of course, the rate they are going, there won’t be any more elections. We are but children and the government knows best.

  3. steve martin

    Free speech is certainly worth fighting for, so I agree with the gist of this article. But hasn’t Crickey been attacking the Age over a “antisemitic” piece written as I understand it by Backman. I haven’t read it so I have no idea whether it is antisemitic or whether it is fact only anti-Israeli. There is a difference.
    ” I disagree with what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.” -Voltaire

  4. Mark Newton

    @JS:

    The mistake you’re making, which is the same mistake which virtually everyone of your ilk makes, is that you appear to be absolutely OBSESSED with pornography.

    I can guarantee to you that most of us on my side of the fence aren’t so myopic to focus the complete totality of our energies on pornography. Indeed, most of us hardly ever think about it at all.

    What we are most concerned with is our Government lying to us to make the case for a system that can potentially control us.

    If the Govt came out and said, “We have this problem, and we think it’s serious, and we have this narrowly targeted solution, and it’ll work, what do you think?” we’d all give it a good solid chuck of consideration before passing judgment on it.

    But the Government has lied about the problem, clearly lied about whether they take it seriously, have a solution that’s so broad that it protects children from illegal material by banning anti-abortion sites ferchrissakes, and which can never, even in some imaginary utopian reality, ever work.

    Some of us think that’s stupid.

    My answer to the Govt is pretty simple:

    There’s no real problem to solve.
    Even if there was, the public hasn’t asked them to solve it.
    Even if they had, this is a bad solution that won’t work.
    Even if it worked, it’d be too expensive.
    Even if we could afford it, it’ll be implemented by the same style of incompetents WHO BAN FREAKIN’ ANTI-ABORTION SITES, DAMMIT!
    Even if it was implemented perfectly, the blacklist behind it will leak, thereby enabling perverts all over the world.
    There is no possibility that the list won’t leak.

    You, Sir, appear to be against pornography. How will you feel when Senator Conroy’s officially sanctioned list of child porn sites (+ at least one FREAKIN’ ANTI-ABORTION SITE!) shows up on Wikileaks.org? A bit foolish?

    This whole proposal is, at its base, stupid. People who support it ought to be ashamed of themselves.

  5. Greg Angelo

    Never trust a politician from the right or left. I agree that Conroy is the Kevin Andrews of the Labor Party. Can you imagine what Kevin Andrews would do with this type of control if the Liberals got back into power. Free speech is the essence of democracy. After some of the gratuitous violence shown on commercial television, I can see no reason why we should be ups set by a few dismembered foetuses.

    In respect of the recent craven supplication of The Age newspaper to the Zionist lobby in relation to the Backman article we have much to fear from censorship whether it be overt or covert. According to the Zionist lobby it is racist to publicise their fascist bully boy tactics against civilians, therefore this type of information must be suppressed by the carefully greased response machinery maintained by the Zionist lobby. This is not to justify a similar brutality, albeit on a smaller scale, by Hamas. In a liberal democracy we should be able to see all points of view and make up our own minds.

    I fear that the Labor government is pandering to Family First rather than protecting our democratic freedoms for which the Labor movement has fought for over a century. Conroy’s duplicity in relation to these matters is an utter disgrace and a reflection of the arrogance of the Rudd government.

    The tools that the government is apparently putting in place are no different from controls use by despotic governments in China, Burma, North Korea, and less repressive but similarly obsessive governments in countries like Malaysia. If we allow this ISP filtering control to proceed we are potentially facilitating “Big Brother” controls for a despotic future government

    We must preserve our democratic right of access to information, ideas and images no matter how challenging. Internet filtering in the children’s section to libraries and schools where parental supervision is not possible is quite acceptable but mature adults should have the right to see what they want

  6. The Colonel

    So that’s it then-if Conroy has blocked even one website that isn’t as he claimed he is an absolute liar. This is disappointing as he now joins the lacklustre AG Robert McClelland who mistakenly believes his role is to “protect the Commonwealth”, (his words) rather than-as the countries no 1 legal identity-ensure correct law and order prevails, as in letting off the hook the AFP over their outrageus actions during the Haneef affair.

    Sad to see 2 Labor donkeys so far. The worst aspect-Conroy has fallen for the claims of a tiny handful of creepy NGOs like ChildWise who have become self appointed media whores to justify their inflated government grants-not one penny of which is used to help desperate children. This is the real scandal. Millions of taxpayer $$ will go to private corporations when it could have been used to help abused children here and abroad. Conroy is a disgrace-he should investigate the reputations in Asia of those pumping for this useless filter and he may find them wanting.

  7. Tom W

    For it to be prohibited, it must be illegal content. It has not been explained how this is as such. If it is not, then the government should be contacted ASAP to remove this from the blacklist.

  8. Bohemian

    Whether Conroy is sincere or merely naive doesn’t matter. The next minister may be fully aware and committed in their attempt to stifle political comment. This is not about kiddie porn or any other porn as these suppliers invariably find a way to meet demand. This is and has only ever been about control over the freedom to comment on what the state is up to or trying to get away with. This is such a perfect example of exactly that. It has to stop. It isn’t yet a dictatorship and by Crikey it is not going to become one – depression or no!

  9. The Colonel

    So who made you God JS so they you may pronounce that porn shouldn’t be available ?. Another cretin that doesn’t even understand the nature of the rampant porn industry today whch has become a backyard industry. It’s probably supporting tens of thousands of families !. As for your fatuous implication that somehow woman are forced into the porn industry-grow up. No-one is forced to and if you don’t like it-stick your head in the sand and turn your comp off so you can’t see it.

    If you think you and someone else wants the power to decide what I should see or read I’d like to come around and knock your head off. What a cheek-what a goose and f***wit you are-actually telling people if all they do is a bit of shopping on the net they should buzz off out of the argument.

    Christ-and people try to claim there aren’t mini dictators surrounding us ! Fielding can rot in hell as well because he’s a faux Christian that won’t be ending up in paradise.

  10. JS

    With Conroys ISP filtering proposal the thing most submissions on the internet are claiming
    a terrible concern about is freedom of speech. As if they are part of activist group risking
    life and limb working to bring down some dictatorial regime. I find this disingenuos.
    The vast majority of internet traffic has nothing to do with political and social activitism. So please do not
    feign outrage about your freedom of speech being curtailed if all you have used the internet for
    in the last week is shopping and reading your daily newspaper.

    This is not to deny the internet has been a massive move forward in gaining and propagating information
    about injustices and unfairness. I just find it odious that in defending the hard-core pornography
    industry, the rallying cry of the ‘Freedom of Speech’ is used.

    Is the concern that if the government builds the infrastructure to filter hard-core pornography
    that they will then filter material critical of government? Maybe so, but western governments
    have been spinning and repressing information in the medias forever. It is a constant battle
    between our right to know and the governments desire to censor.

    Question. If every woman in the world had complete self-confidence and respect, where
    would we find all these girls for the hard-core porn industry. We don’t allow the display of such material
    on the newsagent stand. We do not allow it be broadcast on TV or radio. The internet is no different.
    The internet is still young and I bet there is plenty more potential yet to be found.
    But we should not be afraid to experiment with ways to ensure that the internet is not exploited by a few
    to profit off the publishing of material that we do not condone.

    And if you condone some of the crap to be found in hard-core porn you should consider yourself on the fringe.