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I’ve written before that our government is planning to implement a compulsory filter on Internet access in Australia, blocking all “inappropriate” material.

Australia already maintains a secret list of websites that Australians are forbidden to promote (one would think secrecy works against that goal, but in that case one is not part of Australian government), and which will be compulsorily blocked under any mandatory filter. Recently there was drama when the alleged secret list was leaked — appearing to contain many harmless webpages. The Minister for Broadband and Communications, Stephen Conroy, insisted that this was a fake list because Australia only blocks illegal websites. Furthermore, whoever published this totally fake list will face criminal charges if they can track them down.

To demonstrate Australia’s commitment to censoring only genuinely illegal material, our government subsequently blacklisted a press statement condemning censorship and a list of sites that are blocked in Denmark.

Once the filter is implemented, Australians will not be able to see such blacklisted material. Australians will not be permitted to read press statements condemning censorship. Shouldn’t that worry us?

Australians who speak out against these proposals are accused of being in favour of child pornography. At the very least, that is what Conroy told Greens Senator Scott Ludlam — “I trust you are not suggesting that people should have access to child pornography.” Their attitude seems to be: if you want to keep your rights, you must be abusing them. I am very concerned by that.

Even if we lived in an ideal world in which we could be certain that only genuinely illegal sites would be blocked, this plan would still be a bad idea. Why? Firstly, it’s the kind of plan in which everyone suffers and nobody benefits. Secondly, it won’t even work. That’s kind of why nobody benefits.

Everyone suffers because by implementing a filter the Internet will be slowed — for everyone. ACMA, the governmental body responsible for the filter, has admitted that the Internet could be slowed by up to 75%. Australia’s Internet is already pretty slow, by international standards. Why slow it down further?

Child porn will not be eliminated through the actions of the Australian government. The issue is a global one, and our leaders are kidding themselves if they think they can stop children being abused overseas by blocking Australians’ access. Most importantly, they’re not even blocking Australians’ access. Any determined Australian can access illegal materials in other ways — through proxies, through torrents. The filters don’t affect those. The plan achieves nothing.

But in fact, it does achieve something. It establishes a working framework for the government to block other websites. It’s already said that the child porn thing is only step one. In addition to the mandatory filter there will be an “opt-out” filter in which many, many more things will be blocked. Legal porn will be blocked, but also sites about euthanasia and anorexia. In short, anything the government (or alternatively, some unelected bureaucrat somewhere who will never be identified) believes poses a threat to social cohesion. Such as press releases condemning censorship. Only that was actually on the mandatory blacklist.

And that thought worries me… it worries me a lot. I don’t want to live in the kind of the society where the government tells me what I may or may not know, what I may or may not read, what I may or may not think. Every time I find another nugget of news about this, I get even more concerned. Where is this all headed?

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