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Ni Hao Australia: Say No to Censorship!

Australia is a democracy, or at least it was when I last visited. The laid-back land of no worries offers the right to vote, to live freely and as of now, the right to think for oneself – but that could all change if the current government gets its way.

There are plans afoot to censor internet content in much the same way that Communist China does. Prime Minister Kevin Rudd and his Communications Minister Stephen Conroy have outlined plans to force Internet Service Providers to block a blacklist of so-called refused classification or RC websites for all Australian internet users. If adopted into law, and let’s pray it isn’t, the screening system would make Australia one of the strictest internet regulators among the world’s democracies.

The blacklist would include subject matter that most of us find abhorrent such as child pornography, sexual violence, bestiality … but where do you draw the line? There’s a very real risk that that anything from regular porn sites and YouTube links to sites on euthanasia, anorexia, or fringe religions from satanic worship to fetishism and even Christian sites could slip onto the banned list. Not to mention that such a broad filter also runs the risk of restricting news coverage of illegal activities.

Political Suicide

The blacklist would apparently be compiled and updated based on complaints from the public, government censors and URLs provided by international agencies. How could these entities not know what’s best for us – let me count the ways! Not only is it is political suicide for a government with a national election looming, but fraught with all sorts of freedom of speech ramifications. Add to that the threat that real educational and informational sites could inadvertently be blocked, and the whole thing is a big, stinking, ill-constructed, and hopefully ill-fated, mess.

Sure, the motivation is noble. We all want to shield our children from seeing things they shouldn’t, which is why children have PARENTS and don’t need the government for a big brother. Besides, most children watch television and there is plenty of cursing, sex and violence on regular programming, let alone the slew of uncensored cable channels or ever-popular video games that anybody can get access to. Does the government plan to monitor and control these too?

That Australia would even toy with internet censorship – at enormous cost to boot – let alone allow the nation to be tarred with the same unfavorable brush as China, where centralized censorship abounds, is beyond me. Search giant Google has just pulled out of doing business in China, to protest such censoring; followed fast by GoDaddy.com, the Internet domain registering company.

Friendships in Jeopardy

Now Google and rival search engine Yahoo are condemning Australia’s proposal, dubbing it a heavy-handed measure that could restrict access to legal information. And even the U.S., Australia’s most coveted security ally, has weighed in. U.S. State Department officials reportedly raised concerns about the planned internet filter, which would defy the free-flow and ease of access to information that define democracy.

From a technical standpoint, the proposed filtering system is so broad that it would likely slow down Internet speed too. Interestingly, when my husband and I first visited Australia together about a decade ago now, technology-savvy husband was impressed at how advanced Australia seemed; the span and sophistication of everything from cell phones to internet speed were leading the pack. Our most recent visit in 2008, revealed something different. Australia, he said, had stood still, while everyone else had caught up and then some. Internet speed was already wanting, and with censorship proposals in the works, Australia could lose its footing as a player in the modern technology arena.

And one more thing, besides the obvious and indecent infringement on freedom of speech and thought, I wonder what happens if deviates can’t freely surf the Internet? Would they be more likely to act on unsavory urges? I’m no therapist, to be sure, but I can’t help but think that keeping cyberspace free and unfiltered is a good thing, especially if it keeps people inside glued to their computers rather than out on the streets causing trouble. This may be naïve of me, like I said I’m no therapist, but hey Prime Minister Rudd, it’s something else you may want to consider.