When Australia's Prime Minister Kevin Rudd apologized for the treatment of its Aboriginal peoples, there were mixed responses. Some of the non-indigenous Australians were enthusiastic about the possibilities for reconciliation; others felt that apologizing would give credence to the Aboriginal land claims, and, you know, they'll just want more restitution. Give them an inch, and they'll take your house, and all they'll do with it is move in twenty-seven family members and start sniffing gasoline. Indigenous Australians were equally ambivalent; many appreciated the Prime Minister's words, but felt it was too little, too late...or were concerned that non-native Australians would think that now all they wanted was land rights and financial compensation, rather than access to their traditional lands or ways of life.
Nothing new. But now, the same Australian government that apologized for its treatment of Aboriginals is trying to limit everybody's access to the internet through an ISP-level filtering program. The filter is ostensibly designed to weed out access to "dangerous" child pornography websites, and the list of websites that will be on it (the "blacklist") will not be available to the public. Basically, you'll know when something's been filtered, because you can't get to it. Needless to say, there are websites on the list that have nothing to do with child pornography; they include websites with content that is currently legal to transmit and possess in Australia.
This filter is sneaky, and it's bad news. Limiting access to information, especially SECRETLY, can only lead to misinformation, segregation, and control. China has limited residents' access to websites that it deems to be sowing controversy against the Chinese government...including Facebook, Twitter, and even the community art project PostSecret. Commonly called the "Great Firewall of China", the Chinese government uses it not only to control what information Chinese residents see, but also keep track of who is trying to access that information. Interestingly enough, and perhaps relevant, China has the highest execution rate of any country in the world, with 1718 executions in 2008, as compared to 38 in the United States.
So what does this mean to Australians? well, increasingly limited access to websites means no having any free will over your viewing habits. The difficulty in locating child pornography websites, and their short-lived nature, means that content the filter is being touted as restricting will actually be just as accessible as it ever was. The filter also does nothing to protect children against cyber-bullying, inappropriate chat room conversations, identity theft, or viruses. The filter will not stop acess of criminals to child pornography materials, as it filters only normal web-surfing activity ("HTTP" websites) -- this will not have any impact on underground networks, where child pornography is primarily being traded. The filter is a technical and logistical nightmare, which will result in slowed internet access times, and be much less effective than an individual, computer-based program at home. The filter's plan to block HTTPS sites (secure websites) will make online banking, shopping, and business sites less secure, while increasing the risk of identity theft.
This filter is BAD NEWS. But you'd be amazed at how few people know about it. Australia is fixing to join a club of which Burma, China, and North Korea are the founding members...is this really what we want for a supposedly progressive government? To help, write a letter to the editor of an Australian newspaper about your feelings on this issue...stand up for everyone's voice to be heard, through the free dissemination of information.