The Great Australian Internet Blackout

The Great Australian Internet Blackout

Continuing on with the internet censorship theme, this week marks The Great Australian Internet Blackout – a campaign orchestrated by activist Jeff Waugh and supported by the Electronic Frontiers Australia in protest against government plans to push forward legislation that will lead to blanket censorship of the internet for Australian users.

Over 500 websites are taking part in the protest, along with many more users of social networks, all of whom will be blacking out their website or avatar for the week surrounding Australia Day to bring attention to what many are calling ridiculous and ineffective measures to combat cyber-crime and obscenity.  Although not technically based in Australia, Future Conscience will be joining the protest in order to highlight the draconian policies that could be implemented.

The protest isn’t just in the hands of low-level activists either, with many politicians within the Australian parliament openly supporting and participating in it.  A spokesperson from Australia’s Green party, Senator Scott Ludlam, has stated that:  “The Government’s plan will not protect children, will do nothing to crack down on criminal activity online, and sets a dangerous precedent of centralised net censorship.”

The proposed filter will work on a blacklist principle, with sites deemed to have inappropriate content being banned to all Australian internet users.  Not only is the criteria for inappropriate content too wide, but a blacklist principle will also be incredibly ineffective at dealing with any real problem sites such as those that host child pornography or incite violence.  Quite often, such sites only exist for short periods of time before moving to new locations and a blacklist filter would always be one step behind.

In addition to having their internet freedom curbed, Australian users would also have to cough up for the bill as ISPs would pass on the hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of costs that they would incur in trying to meet the demands of the new censorship requirements.

It is very interesting to see such a move come from Australia, a country that is usually seen as being a strong proponent of freedom of speech and expression.  However, the country already has a long-running history of censoring videogames by refusing to issue an 18+ rating certificate; effectively banning any game that would rate higher than M15+.  Such policies are always promoted as ‘saving our children’ in one way or another, pulling at the emotional strings in what is effectively an oppression of civil liberties.

There are elements of the internet that need to be controlled to some extent, to be sure, but wide-reaching censorship and national bans are not the way to do so properly.  Such measures only lead to many legitimate sites being blacklisted whilst the real criminals will continue to get away with circumventing the laws and regulations as they always have.

Internet censorship in all of its forms needs to be fought against wherever it arises.  It will be interesting to see whether or not Australia manages to bring in such legislation – and if they do, how capable they are of enforcing it and keeping the blacklist up-to-date.  Hopefully this campaign will have the desired effect and this ridiculous attempt at social control won’t make it passed the gate…

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