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Australian government walks the line on Internet censorship

The Australian government is all set to pull the plug on inappropriate content with its Internet censorship program.

The Australian government is all set to pull the plug on inappropriate content with its Internet censorship program.

An excerpt from BBC:

The Australian government's aim is to ensure that children only have access to family-friendly Web sites. Service providers will be expected to stop the flow of pornography and other X-rated or violent content.

The government is set to compile a list of unsuitable sites, although at this stage it is unclear what will be deemed unsuitable.

There's speculation galore on the exact definition of inappropriate content. While you are able to opt-out of the program (users are opted-in by default), it does pave way to questioning.

This move is compared with the censorship laws in China, a veteran at implementing mass blackouts on the net.

Though the Australian government seems to be wrapping the program with reasons of public goodness (as most government programs are), it's interesting to note that a similar filtering mechanism last year was hacked by a 16-year-old school boy.

More information:

Australia joins China in censoring the Internet (TechCrunch)

Oz government pushes mandatory net filters (Register)

Labor online strategy slammed (Australian IT)

Is government-sponsored censorship the right approach to curbing side-effects from the Web?

49 comments
yellow911
yellow911

i am australian. i have no interest in kiddy-porn or bomb making and have no time for those who do. HOWEVER, i do not like "nanny state" legislation, in principle. we went through this kind of rubbish, here in australia, in the 60's and 70's with books and magazines. censorship failed then, so why do we have to visit it again with the internet? it is ultimately pointless and an infringement of MY civil liberties (and yours).even tho' i voted for "kevin '07", our new p.m. worried me immensely, prior to the election, when he made a sniveling apology on television, for once visiting a strip club ('tho i believe he didn't inhale), i was convinced by his dedication to broadband distribution up-grades here(and his support and understanding of technology in general). i should have known better, hmmm....politicians who pander, by abject and unrequired personal apology, for something i believe every australian male has probably done at some time, just to gain the conservative/ right wing/ religious sector vote, should never be trusted. mr. p.m. even though you are a fluent mandarin speaker,i would remind you we are australians, not residents of china....leave us to decide for ourselves what is "appropriate" content. quite aside from the technological difficulties involved in censorship of the webs, whilst, at the same time, endeavouring to achieve the stated political aim of supplying high speed internet access to a very large land-mass, with a scattered population, it simply reeks of a government that has no confidence in it's own citizens and their ability, in most cases, to make sensible choices as to their site viewing. if, as they state, they are "concerned for the children", then how about promoting safe and responsible parenting, vis-a-vis their children,s internet access, rather than make us ALL into kindergarten kiddies, again. it would seem governments, of all leanings, just CANNOT help themselves when given the power to censor their own citizens. thank you.

JCitizen
JCitizen

Say NO to big government in any form; was the Republican mantra. Unfortunately they managed to both pander to the religous zealots, and anger the conservative and religous "moderates" at the same time. My feeling is the US public is tired of religo-fanatics as my Democratic buddy likes to say. I feel no matter how much the world tries to control the web - the free flow of information will win the day just as sure as the sun is coming up tomorrow.

eM DuBYaH
eM DuBYaH

First off, it's assine to "filter" the internet to the point of being appropriate for an 8 year old. I'd like to know where in the WORLD, the internet was EVER mandated for children in the first place. For crying out loud, parents need to keep their brats off of the internet to begin with. All of the nasties and no good nics out there, and little johnny or sally is allowed on there? Would these same parents allow their children to run around in an inner city at 3:00am? I bloody hope not! Once again the all mighty government comes to save the children. RUBBISH. Goverments anywhere/everywhere just want to have 110% control over the internet, tax the hell out of it, and have full control. This "for the children" crap is just a smoke screen.

tonyc
tonyc

or if you abstain, you allow others to make the choice for you). Anarchy doesn't work and never has - government (or governance) provides the process for setting and policing rules and standards that allow society to operate. Freedom is itself a myth - I am not free to kill or beat up people that annoy me, I can't molest young children or expose myself in public and it is illegal for me to discriminate against people on the grounds of the race, colour, creed or sexual orientation. In other words, my freedoms have to be weighed against the freedoms of the rest of the people in my community and it is the job of the government to draw the so-called 'lines in the sand' - if they get it seriously wrong, they are replaced at the next election. Will the proposed censorship work? Yes and no - it won't work as a stand-alone measure, because there are always those who will apply their effort and ingenuity to beat the rules, but it may provide some measure of protection for those that do want it, while providing opt out for those don't. Like pretty much everything in life, it is a compromise. We know that driving vehicles very fast on public roads increases the likelihood of accidents causing death or injury, so a totally arbitrary speed limit is set and policed. Could we safely drive faster than that limit under some circumstances? Absolutely - just as under some circumstances the limit will be set too high. The speed limit doesn't 'work' - people still get killed or injured by those who are observing it and there are always those who will exceed it. However, it still serves a useful function as ONE of a raft of measures to improve road safety.

Tony Hopkinson
Tony Hopkinson

And I bet this policy wasn't printed up in big letters as a vote catcher in the election. Ingenious kids will get round this, never mind 'bad' guys.

mjwx
mjwx

ISP's over here gorge on people who have large download limits, to have a 5 GB limit is cheap(25 AUD if you bundle with a phone line), want a 20 GB limit and you are looking at 50-60 AUD a month, want a 40 GB limit, 70 AUD a month, 60 GB limit 90-100 AUD a month (limits a halved as well so only 10 GB of a 20 GB limit can be used between the hours of 7am and 12 midnight). To charge more this would be bad business, The cost currently is at the limit of what people are willing to pay, any more and it will push many people into choosing smaller download limits. It would only take one ISP to say "we opt out by default" and charge a few dollars less (as they are not charging for filtering) to send people flocking to them seeing as it is illegal to lock people into 12 or 24 month contracts here This legislation wont decrease traffic either as those who want a way around it will either opt out or encrypt. ISP's have little to gain in reduced traffic compared to the overhead of URL filtering (lets not even think of the cost of packet filtering) considering Australia downloaded 27 Exabytes in the first quarter last year. Industry doesn't run the the AU government like it does in the US (We've got more in common with British government, incompetence included) but a concerted effort from an entire industry can push it around a bit, especially with a bit of legislation that few care about seeing in daylight. The filtering plan is being attacked in main stream media http://www.news.com.au/story/0,23599,22999659-2,00.html and if Murdoch and Packer have a problem with it I doubt its not good for big business.

Tony Hopkinson
Tony Hopkinson

why any ISP would want to do this , more cost less traffic. Huh ? Get ready for even higher bills.

mjwx
mjwx

But the Labour party didn't win by a landslide, there is still a considerable Liberal presence in Parliament. This is an attempt to secure the support of the Liberal (conservative) parties mainstay (Religious "think of the children" types). After 15 years on the opposition I think Labour MP's are still a little scared. As for the ISP's there's plenty of choice due to rigorous regulation of monopolists (all ISP's overcharge so there's plenty of choices between rip-off merchants). I think some ISP's or at least some plans will be opt-out by default. Besides this kind of thing has been bought up before (by the previous Liberal government) and was nearly unanimously opposed by ISP's claiming it was too expensive to implement (Despite the high cost of Internet in AU most ISP's operate on razor thin margins). You're right of course Tony, its a well known fact that the filters are inadequate, even the Main Stream Media is saying so. Take the example from last year where a 16 yr old broke the free filter provided by the Lib's in 30 minutes(great way to spend 150 million tax dollars mr Howard and he wonders why they wont even let him into the cricket any more.) Between political pandering and the bottom line, I bet on the bottom line. Even if this is mandated I only expect a half-arsed implementation from ISP's, they are right about filtering being expensive.

jdclyde
jdclyde

if you do the "opt-out" in order to get the "unsuitable" content?

mjwx
mjwx

ISP's are very much market driven in AU. I think that if there is enough cause some ISP's will "opt out" accounts by default. Families are only the primary market of the rip-off ISP's (Telstra I'm looking at you). Any opt out option will end up being a button on the control panel where you check your usage for the month. It's the cheapest way to do it and no company in their right mind would decrease profits just to add politically motivated hoops for you to jump through. This law will probably go nowhere just like the filter plans under the previous government plus the university of Cambridge in the UK is already pointing out just how ineffective the filter will be http://www.news.com.au/story/0,23599,22999659-2,00.html. The current labour government is just trying to pander the "think of the children" family/church groups whom are mostly heavily conservative (our right wing nut-job party is called the "Family First" party and never gets more than one seat).

jdclyde
jdclyde

to be watched for deviant activity....

mjwx
mjwx

Yeah I kind of got that impression. I doubt such a list would exist but if it did it would be far too long to enforce, half the country would be deviants. This is nothing less than the Labour Governments attempt to pander to the Liberal Parties mainstay voters (The religious "family values" type). Nothing will come of this as it requires too much co-operation from ISP's. Monopolies are heavily regulated over here so it's easy to switch ISP's if one annoy's you, people do it all the time. Competition is too great for any ISP to think about using this foot shotgun. MP's will pander but ISP's will continue to conduct business as usual. This thing has come up before (under the previous Liberal Government) only to unanimously be put down by ISP's claiming its too expensive to implement.

Dr Dij
Dr Dij

that a 16 year oldhacked their filtering system. And probably MORE interesting to note that thousands of id10ts who what to build a home made bomb and set it off in the woods for 'fun' COULDN'T hack it. Just because someone might be able to pick a lock on your home doesn't meanyou don't lock the door. They have alraedy been filtering soem things such as bomb making, nuke making, etc. I really don't want it to be easy for people to find out ways to create mass destruction. That said, I can't see them evolving into harrassing people who make fun of poli's like the daily show does. Of course I did watch V for Vendetta, without safeguards any system can degrade to that, but in that case you have worse problems than internet filtering.

TonytheTiger
TonytheTiger

[i]They have alraedy been filtering soem things such as bomb making, nuke making, etc.[/i] ... informing the public of the procedures of building these things is good ... if they see someone doing these things, they'll know what they're seeing and can inform the authorities.

JCitizen
JCitizen

I feel it is much more effective to simply use sites that host crap like bomb making as a honeypot to catch near-do-wells who actually intend to do harm in such activities. Web evidence has already helped convict many a nut and sex offender weirdo! How are you going to track idiots like these, if they don't visit such sites? Believe me, they don't really need the internet anyway if they are truely bent on being a public enemy.

Dr Dij
Dr Dij

i.e. the site is NOT in the country with the law agsinst it, and you / the govt of that country CAN'T tap it, etc. anyway it is simpler just to block it. costs less. and hacking a site to intercept communications could be considered more morally objectionable than simply blocking it.

JCitizen
JCitizen

and our goverment sponsored black hats have tried to blow up such sites using underhanded methods. But supposedly the "terrorists" have become wise to this and have acquired the same defensive tech/posture that we in business do. Your right about expense; only in the US can the government afford high speed packet inspection to monitor traffic for suspicious communication. This obviates the need to hack the site as we can monitor traffic to and from it anyway. I suppose Australia and other countries don't have the same freedom of speech impediments that we do. As was pointed out earlier it is still not legal to yell fire in a crowded theater.

pr.arun
pr.arun

Is government sponsored censorship the right approach to curbing side-effects from the Web?

cgray1968
cgray1968

It's amazing to how many parents are not doing what they are suppose to do, and that is monitor their kids while they are on the internet. INcluding Not having the computer with full internet connection in the room with the kid / teenager. (Do not let me get on my soapbox on this)

normhaga
normhaga

Government has always attempted to control what they consider to be appropriate thought patterns. This is not, however, limited to government. Churches, hobby clubs, etc. have a great deal of input on this. For those that seek knowledge, they will find it. The vast majority who seek "Undesirable" knowledge do not use it; they are simply curious. Do not censor, just severely punish the prohibited acts. It is amusing, in the military classification is a form of censorship. Often, the more embarrassing something is, the more highly classified it is. This is also true of politics. The they do not want you to know what they are up to and about so they censor it. It is generally found out anyhow.

shardeth-15902278
shardeth-15902278

But it does reduce the likelihood of my three year old daughter being exposed to footage of someone "loving" a horse.

normhaga
normhaga

I am somewhat anachronistic. I believe in some very old ways that have nothing to do with modern law. In fact, they stem from my Norse heritage. Harm done to one by another is taken care of by the clan or the family. While on a theoretical level I understand what you are saying, it does not necessarily comport with my beliefs or actions. I have a daughter that about a year ago was assaulted with a knife at work (her coat was cut off with several thrusts). She did not tell me because, frankly, I would have shoved the shiv up the guys arse sideways. Where she works has cameras in every corner and the act was taped. Spring went to the company authorities. The guy was not disciplined or fired. The local yocals also failed to prosecute. Their claim was that the company destroyed the video tapes and so there was no evidence. From my point of view, it was first the husbands job to take care of the problem, second, mine if I knew, third the companies, forth the police, fifth the prosecutor. It is now to late for me to do anything about it, which is why it was concealed from me at the time. The husband had a talk with the guy, but Dale is weak willed. Every once in a while I do get bit by my beliefs, but that is also a part of accepting responsibility. I have spent some of my life in dark places indeed. Several months back, I had a neighbor who was spiking my tires. When I confronted him, he told me to call the police since I had no proof. I told him that I do not call the police, that I handle things myself. Funny, the tire spiking stopped. It may have helped that a few weeks before this poor guy witnessed me charging out my front door with a Katana to run off three gang bangers with guns. Bear in mind that once in a while I lose, when I do I end up in the hospital for a while and have been in ICU more than once. This, too, is one of the consequences of self-responsibility. My beliefs do not however mean that I do not obey various laws. I do make judgments based on the situation and I am intently aware of various consequences. I do not hold this out to be the answer for all!

shardeth-15902278
shardeth-15902278

And getting robbed or killed sometimes gets thrust upon us as well. That doesn't mean the laws against stealing and murder are of no worth. Technically in absence of the law, If you were to kill me, the consequence would be mine (I'm dead) and there is no consequence for you. The law establishes the consequence (you will be killed back, or thrown in Jail, or the gods will smite you...). I feel that part of dealing with life is trying to find ways to improve the experience (not just for self).

normhaga
normhaga

When I speak of responsibility for ones actions, I am also speaking of the responsibility for the consequences of any action taken. Everything has a consequence somewhere. For good or bad, when you take an action, there is a price to pay. As to having something thrust upon us, this is a fact of modern life, and probably ancient life as well. Part of the process of growing up is to learn to handle what we would rather not.

shardeth-15902278
shardeth-15902278

Hence the opt-in/opt-out. You do bring up a good point - A single 'line-in-the-sand' would not be effective.

shardeth-15902278
shardeth-15902278

Tony, that's pretty good. And true of the way laws are generally enacted in present day. I think there is an alternative way to manage enactment, when government stops being 'them' and starts being 'us', but that probably puts 'us' back at responsible, which would negate the need anyway wouldn't it? *shrug*

Tony Hopkinson
Tony Hopkinson

ID when they ask about evolution. Or Right To life for abortion. Or animal rights when searching for dugs, or how to freebase for that matter. Aside from the futilty of the censor ship method, who decides what is acceptable, you? For your kids, then hell yeah, not for me or mine though.

Tony Hopkinson
Tony Hopkinson

From Ancient times Stealing the stuff of the guy with the big stick is liable to get you hit. Magna Carta improvment. Use you big stick to steal off people with small sticks, and him and all his mates will kick your ass. Professional Judiciacy 'improvement' Redefine theft in terms no one else can understand so they won't notice we are robbing them blind. The law is what the powerful say it is, they ain't that powerful though so my law is what I say it is.

shardeth-15902278
shardeth-15902278

still doesn't invalidate the value of having the law. Sure is everyone would act responsibily there would be no need for laws. Unfortuantely, that is not the case, so it is necessary to enact laws, to ensure my irresponsibility does not take away your freedom. As for the child, I am not really referring to ensuring she does things my way, hence the choice of 3 as the age in my analogy, vs say 13, when she might be actually making her own informed choices. I am not referring to her seeking it out, but rather having it thrust upon her.

shardeth-15902278
shardeth-15902278

I'm not talking about restricting their choice to view (nor is the au gov, as it is op-in/opt-out). It isn't about them seeking out 'offensive' material, it is about them being barraged by offensive material that THEY don't wish to be exposed to. They shouldn't get an eyefull just because they type whitehouse.com instead of .gov, or mispelled super8 when looking for the Hotel.

normhaga
normhaga

If you knew me on a personal level you would find that I am devoutly anti organized religion; none-the-less in the old testament, proverbs I believe, there is a stanza that goes along the line of raise your child in the way he should go when young and he will not depart from it when old. I raised two girls. One is a real work of art, but also is an independent and critical thinker. The other is a good society girl that believes all the spin the news media spews. I am aware of the trials raising children; it would be nice if they came with an owners manual! The only thing that I can suggest, and others would probably disagree with it, is to teach each child to fend for themselves and to think critically about everything, especially popular notions. Don't teach them to blindly obey laws or whatever, but to think about why they should or should not obey in any given situation. As an example, would you choose to obey a speed limit, or the flashing lights behind you when your child is gushing blood from an accident and you are speeding to the hospital. The cop will usually understand this situation, though he may try to feed you a line about how he could call the paramedics and get the girl to the hospital before you when you are 5 minutes away and the paramedics are 20. If the cop does not understand, the judge will, and there are exceptions for life threatening situations. I believe that every person is responsible for their well being. Taking that responsibility away makes the person a victim rather than a responsible proactive person.

Huntsman.ks
Huntsman.ks

You are an optomist! If your 3 year old is that smart, you should have already imposed browser restrictions or locked the PC, so they couldn't browse. If you don't know how, it's time you found out. As a parent I supervised my childrens' Net activities, but you won't stop them. Children are always inquisitive and once they reach the teenage level, they will find out, one way or another. If you think government censorship will protect your child, your living in fairy land. This attempt by our government is no more than a political stunt and will do no more than push up the cost of broadband for everyone. Come on parents! Stop coping out!..do your job and stop making excuses.

shardeth-15902278
shardeth-15902278

And I need all the help I can get. :) There is actually an story behind the example I provided... An acquaintance of mine - a very innocent young woman from a vary small town - was looking for pictures of people working with/caring for horses. "Horse" and "lovers" was not a real good choice of keywords, and she wound up being 'punished' for her naivety. The other day I followed a link from a site with a nice inspiring new- years resolution message - I don't recall specifically what the link was but something to the effect of "higher education - a call to action", and was greeted by a handful of F-bombs and pictures of streakers. Yes, it is my job to teach my children and participate in their lives. I can teach my kids to obey traffic laws for instance instance, but can't protect them from every idiot who ignores the law and drives recklessly. But that doesn't mean traffic laws aren't worth having.

normhaga
normhaga

Forgive the curt reply - That is your job!

shardeth-15902278
shardeth-15902278

when individuals don't use that freedom responsibly.

Dr Dij
Dr Dij

Ok those of you who would NOT block sites that simply showed how to make bombs: would you block a site that showed simple instructions on a topic perceived as even more evil? and would you ban it only if it suggested using it or only if it showed you the steps without mentioning hating or killing anyone with the produced weapons? e.g. would you let sites post with material showing step by step instructions on how to grow (and maybe aerosolize) your own bio-weapons, i.e. anthrax, bubonic plague, etc.? I'm really interested in the answer. I believe in free speech and there are not always right and wrong or clearcut answers. Yes or No?

Tony Hopkinson
Tony Hopkinson

I'm sure a suitably remote location could be identified so they had no fear of discovery. Wouldn't want them to feel unsafe or anything....

normhaga
normhaga

I support allowing unrestricted access to even hate sites because it most often exposes shallow mis informed minds. I believe Mein Kaump should be mandatory HS reading and analyzed for the well thought out shallowness that it really is. Lets see, you want to make anthrax? Spend ten minutes on the WEB. The Genie is out, no educate about the genie.

NickNielsen
NickNielsen

Do you think we can get the suicide bombers together someplace for a few live fire training exercises?

Tony Hopkinson
Tony Hopkinson

Bomb making is common knowledge, censoring the net for it is a waste of resources. You'd be better off checking out the people who visited the sites. Better still set up sites, with mistakes in them. Take a nice clean cup, microwave to sterilise it. Carefully pour in material into cup, imporant breathe shallowly.... Or my favourite. To test your detonator.... You can't put the genie back in the bottle, you have to trick him....

shardeth-15902278
shardeth-15902278

It gets a little tricky to draw the lines when it come to purely informational material. I have known farmers who used homemade explosives to clear stumps for instance. So there are non-evil uses of that information... How about encryption, it can be used for evil purposes, should that knowledge be banned? OR blacksmithing - one could use that knowledge to make weapons... Where do you draw the line, and how do you derive the metric for defining the location of that line?

jdclyde
jdclyde

is the intent of free speech has been so perverted over the years, it no longer even resembles the intent of the founders. Free speech was never intended to be anything but freedom to speak out politically, even on unpopular subjects. Nambla posting a "how-to" on seducing little boys was not and should not be a part of ANY "free speech". The ACLU has done a lot of harm to the world, and moved their intended and stated communist program forward.

Dr Dij
Dr Dij

appropriate for ANY media including the web? There are bans in the US on inciting violence. If you say 'kill so and so..' you are doing just that. This is not broad censorship and hopefully won't evlove to that. However they are censoring those who say 'fire' in a theater and those who say 'fire at Will' (will being some person of race / religion they don't like), or 'Kill Bill' :) (ok I haven't seen the movie but my wife says while fantastically violent, they are NOT trying to kill a fellow named 'Bill' but is a list of those to kill.

Tony Hopkinson
Tony Hopkinson

is a stupid way to deal with it though. Prosecute them for incitement, libel, having no moral fibre, tax evasion, spitting in public. Something, anything.... Sweeping it under the carpet, which is all censorship is, futile.

rizlin608
rizlin608

In the present USA taxes are being used to eliminate the middle class, What woild be so difficult to do the same to those that want to disperse and consume these arguable sites with poisonous content. Freedom is not free, FREE is a 4 letter "F" word. Tax the hell out of this portion of the net, and use the proceeds to reopen the mental hospitals where these crazies should be receiving therapy and guidance.

Tony Hopkinson
Tony Hopkinson

Any fool can make a bomb, if they want to. I know a whole range of places you can find the info. It's just a feeble attempt at appearing to do something by the politicians. As soon as you start letting those wankers do what's best for you, they start doing what's best for them and tell you it is. All of a sudden your website becomes immoral, or dangerous, contrary to public safety, unaustrailian.... Thin end of a very big wedge. The tax evasion thing was a reference to Al Capone. They can always get the people they want with something.

Dr Dij
Dr Dij

but simply putting up ways to kill people and make bombs out of ammonia and... THey're not evading taxes and it is moral to sell books in general (e.g. loompanics which sells this kind of anarchist stuff as books, CDs, and I'm sure they DO pay their taxes on it) That is what the Aussie govt had been banning previously.

jdclyde
jdclyde

Bill (David Carradine) is the leader, and Uma set out to kill HIM. Everyone else just gets in her way. Lots of sword play, and not for kids, that is for sure.

Dr Dij
Dr Dij

It was just the opposite. I thought from the name it would be like a shopping list for killing. "kill bill" "get eggs, flour, kill bill".. My wife hates violent stuff, I don't object unless it is propaganda aimed at stirring up hate. Unhappily, some rap music falls under this and some black persons have even railed against the violence in rap music.

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