Wednesday, 28 November 2012

On the State of Internet Freedom at Australia

censorship [remix]

A couple of weeks ago we were advised of victory for all freedom fighters in Australia. Communication Minister Stephen Conroy has finally climbed off his beanstalk and announced his plans for an all-encompassing Internet filter for Australia have been stashed away.
I will call that a small victory, though. In the next sentence we learned Conroy is instead applying the Interpol blacklist of allegedly the worst the Internet has to offer and making it mandatory. Previously, companies like Telstra have volunteered to apply it (without asking their clients); now all Aussie ISPs need to apply it under the supervision of Federal Police.
Most people seem to accept that. Who would object to the blocking of the scummiest of the scum? Well, I do. And I do so for the following reasons:
  1. If the Interpol list is what it is said to be, as in a list maintained by the Interpol, then Australia is letting an alien organization dictate what it can and what it cannot access through the web.
  2. The Interpol list is unavailable to the public. We do not know and cannot know what we are blocked from knowing. This lack of transparency does not go well with the principles of democracy.
  3. If there are offenders of the scummiest of the scum type out there, isn’t it better to deal with them directly and have them shut down using existing laws instead of devising ingenious ways to protect us from them? The situation is similar to setting up sacks of sand to deal with a leak when one can just switch the tap off. On the other hand…
  4. It is incredibly easy to imagine how the scope of the blacklisting would be enhanced to include websites that offend this or the other, too. Once the filter is there, it is only a matter of days before the copyright lobby starts asking for the likes of The Pirate Bay to be banned. Yes, you can call me a cynic, but I would say the whole point of this useless affair is to serve the copyright industry.
  5. At its current implementation, the filter is dead easy to circumvent: all one needs is to use a different DNS server. In other words, the scummiest of the scum will not be bothered by this filter at all; the rest of us would.
By far the worst offender is this, though. The whole discussion on the Internet filter was there because the government needed to legislate for it. Public debate was triggered as a result of this need to legislate. Now, all of a sudden, Conroy is announcing our Internet will be censored by stretching existing laws, thus negating the need for new legislation and killing debate at its ebb. ISPs such as iiNet, who stood against the powers that be before, already announced their legal teams told them to comply (see here). If that is the case then why did we need to go through years and years of debating the matter of Internet filtering in the first place?
In effect, Conroy was able to censor the Internet without asking anyone. The Internet is not healthier for that. Neither is Australian democracy.

Image by the|G|â„¢, Creative Commons license

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