Turning Chinese: The Great Firewall of...Australia

♠ Posted by Emmanuel in at 6/22/2010 12:49:00 AM
Ah, yes, protecting innocent minds from the evils of the Internet. China famously employs an alleged 30,000 censors to stop all sorts of filth from contaminating the minds of the people. Apparently, these sorts of measures are no longer just fashionable with authoritarian regimes, but even in the outback as Australia gears up for (ostensibly) controlling child pornography and other forms of degeneracy. In the Aussie case, the digital czar is one Stephen Conroy. From TIME:
The concept of government-backed web censorship is usually associated with nations where human rights and freedom of speech are routinely curtailed. But if Canberra's plans for a mandatory Internet filter go ahead, Australia may soon become the first Western democracy to join the ranks of Iran, China and a handful of other nations where access to the Internet is restricted by the state.

Plans for a mandatory Internet filter have been a long-term subject of controversy since they were first announced by Stephen Conroy, the Minister for Broadband, Communications and the Digital Economy, in May 2008 as part of an $106 million "cybersafety plan." The plan's stated purpose is to protect children when they go online by preventing them from stumbling on illegal material like child pornography. To do this, Conroy's Ministry has recommended blacking out about 10,000 websites deemed by the Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA) to be so offensive that they are categorized as 'RC,' or Refused Classification. (See pictures of Chinese mourning the loss of Google.)

The government won't reveal an official list of the URLs on the current blacklist, but Conroy's office says it includes sites containing child sexual abuse imagery, bestiality, sexual violence, detailed instruction in crime, violence or drug use and/or material that advocates the doing of a terrorist act...

Since then, criticism of the proposed Internet filter has escalated. "Nobody likes it," says Scott Ludlam, a senator from the Australian Greens Party. "Everyone from the communications industry to child protection rights and online civil liberties groups think this idea is deeply flawed." Throughout 2009 GetUp!, an internet-based political activism organization, launched an advertising campaign to raise public awareness about the government's proposal.

In February, Anonymous, a community of Internet users, which include hackers, shut down the Australian Parliament's web site in their second attack against the filter, which they called "Operation: Titstorm" — a reference to the sexual content that the filter will be blocking. Save the Children has questioned the efficacy of the filter in protecting children, and in March, Paris-based Reporters Without Borders listed Australia as a country that's "under surveillance" in its annual "Internet Enemies" report, which rounds up the "worst violators of freedom of expression on the Net."
And while search engines Google and Yahoo! got into hot water in China over their willingness to bend over backwards to accommodate the PRC (at least initially), they are of a different mind in Australia. Insofar as Australia's mind control regime slows down searchable items, the quality of search results as well as the speed of their retrieval may suffer:
But the most high-profile criticism of the filter has so far been from net giants Google and Yahoo. In March, Google wrote to the Australian government with concerns that the scope of the filter was too wide. The search engine also warned it may slow down search speed. "Filtering may give a false sense of security to parents, it could damage Australia's international reputation, and it can be easily circumvented," the California company wrote in a submission to Conroy's Department of Broadband Communications and Digital Economy...

Indeed, only a cluster of Christian groups and child safety advocates have come out as supporting the filter. In a June 5 poll conducted on the web site of the Sydney Morning Herald, 99% of the 88,645 people who responded to the survey said they were against the Internet filter. Nevertheless, Conroy told the Sun-Herald in May that the policy "will be going ahead...''

Many say the biggest problem with the plan is that it simply won't work. "I don't see the point of blocking a site that no one would have come across, and making the criminals aware of the fact they are being watched. I am much more interested in seeing the Australian Federal Police work with international law enforcement agencies in tracking the site," Ludham of the Greens Party says. Jarrod Trevathan, a technology lecturer and researcher at James Cook University, agrees. "Once people know their site is being blocked they will just open up another URL, and then the filter will have to block that URL. Eventually the blocked list will contain countless URLs which will drastically slow down the speed of the Internet..."

Still, it's hard to see why the government is pressing ahead with a scheme that, in the view of many, will do more harm than good. "It's like trying to ban burglaries by banning pictures of crowbars," says Geordie Guy, vice chairman of Electronic Frontiers Australia, a non-profit national organization that has been vehemently opposed to the filter since its conception. "You stop burglaries the same way you stop pedophilia — by catching the perpetrators. If the government closes these websites than the [Australian Federal Police] will find it harder to track the real criminals."
The qualm many have isn't over freedom of speech per se but the implementation of the scheme. Still, it may portend even more similar efforts worldwide.