I’m posting this on my American blog because the Australian government, through the Australian Communications and Media Authority is fining people on Australian sites who give the links below the fold $11,000/day. Pretty well everything I feared about censorship by the internet filter and heavy handed government action is coming true.
First of all, it transpires that only one bureaucrat at ACMA is required to block and ban a site, with no further oversight or redress. Second, it turns out that yes, ordinary and popular pornography sites are being blocked, so that if the filter becomes mandatory, these legal sites will effectively become censored for no apparent reason (other than political whim or special privileges). Thirdly, the whistleblower site Wikileaks is blocked by the ACMA blacklist. Oddly, I am now finding that it is taking too long to access. It was fine a while back. They have listed the blacklist there. If anyone can send a copy to me (encrypted please), I’d be very interested to see what they are filtering out. I don’t like Star Chambers.
Crikey has an excellent discussion up right now on why this is wrong:
Like New Labour in the UK, the ALP has now abandoned that [civil liberties movement], for a number of reasons. Once it committed itself to neoliberal economics (“social capitalism”) Labo(u)r became freaked about the social dissolution and rupture, the desocialisation created by turning the polis into a giant market of winners and losers. The tough answer to this is genuine social democracy, in which people have a social being not entirely defined by whether they’re a “winner” or a “loser”. The easy answer is to let the market rip, allow it to change the culture, and then seek to control and reshape people’s behaviour, selling it to them as “protecting the many against the few”.
Politically, this also serves as a way of outflanking the Right on the law and order issue, with a distinctive centre-left twist. The Right can talk about “throwing away the key”, “three strikes”, etc, sounding increasingly olde-worlde, while Labour can offer filters, ASBOs, CCTVs and so on, portraying themselves as both cutting-edge, high-tech, and hardline. And any objection concerning an open society from within its own ranks can be dealt with by reference back to the way in which “rights stopped Labour achieving real change” — high courts striking down tax laws etc etc.
The result — a party committed to a timid shadow of social democracy, waging a foreign imperial war, and trialling a world-standard setting system of secret censorship is obviously a force that is neither progressive, nor politically liberal nor left in any sense of the terms, and which has jumped wholly across to a space on the reactionary right (some might argue it always was, save for the period between the 60s and 90s, but that’s a historical discussion).
I am very angry. This is not the Australia I like, nor is it one I will acquiesce in. I can only repeat what I wrote on my local blog:
Yes, I object to the fact that clean feeds are impracticable, will degrade internet performance, and not do what they set out to do (which is protect children), but fundamentally the main reason for not adopting them is that it gives power to governments and their instruments to decide sub rosa what we can and cannot see. Suppose that the present government and all the members of the department of telecommunications are exemplary individuals who not only have our best interests at heart, but do so intelligently and effectively. Can we guarantee that the next government, or a much later bureaucracy, will consist of these people? Not at all, which is why checks and balances are a crucial aspect of democratic government.
And I do not trust this government. They have made way too many religiously-based noises about what is and is not permissible in public. This is to my mind only the thin edge of the constant presumption of religious organisations and culture that they may rightly interfere with other citizens’ behaviours, whether they are of that religion or not. That the balance of power is held by a religious political candidate in the Senate is only the tip of that iceberg.
We are a secular nation! It’s in our constitution. We do not arrange our public polity on the basis of what suits pastors and cardinals and imams. We do so on legal principles of liberal democracy. For this reason, people are calling for our representatives to oppose the movement coming out of Islam to protect religions against “defamation” speech. Religions have no rights to not be offended by the behaviours of those who are not in their community (and no rights to impose upon their members by legal or other force the views of the hierarchy). And the very idea of handing to potentially religiously motivated censors the power to control what we read, see and hear is just frightening.
I’m not impressed either by the constant refrain by the minister and his allies that to oppose the clean feed is to support child pornography and abuse. Of course I do not. This is exactly the argument that George Bush’s administration used to take away civil rights of thousands – if you oppose us you support terrorism. One can be vehemently opposed to child abuse, and terrorism, without wanting to grant unsupervised people unfettered rights to control us. Child porn is illegal – so use the frigging laws to prosecute child pornographers. Give the police the resources they need. There are sufficient criminal investigative powers and laws under which such activities may be prosecuted – you don’t need to treat us all as criminals to do so. I think the reason why Labor are so hot for the clean feed is that they really don’t want to give the police the resources and to manage them. It’s so much easier to simply make other people, the ISPs in this case, stop the porn. Make it their problem and it’s no longer yours.
So by all means point out the practical difficulties, but even if you have the perfect means, I am not sure the ends are justified, and I certainly want judicial, community and user oversight on what gets censored and why. And I want a redress system for those incorrectly included (which must include damages – if the authorities don’t have to pay for their mistakes, then they’ll be a lot less careful). And I also want prosecutorial avenues for those who do abuse this system. Put all that in place, and you may convince me of the rightness of this approach. But leaving it in the hands of Labor or Conservative party hacks who have obligations to religious figures who may have helped them get into power? No way. That takes us back to the Bad Old Days of Mannix. Learn from some history…
Later: Yes, it seems Wikileaks has been blocked by Primus.
Much later note: Wikileaks is back up, so ti looks like a normal outage, maybe traffic based.
Very much later: The Grauniad is reporting that Wikileaks was taken offline for a while. It is now back up. Also read this piece at Dangerous Intersection, which adds some wisdom and much needed outrage.