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Labor’s Cyber Safety Policy May Still Not Get Through

Posted Jun 01 2010 9:01pm

If we’re lucky the legislation to impose mandatory filtering on internet providers may not actually get through this parliamentary term and be abandoned. As per the Sun Herald article on 30 May, “Filter goes ahead regardless”(1), Senator Conroy wanted it passed by June but it is now been delayed for ‘fine tuning’ and be ready by the second half of this year which could be any time from July to December.

What this could mean is that when the PM calls an election, one of the following may occur. Labour is returned and Senator Conroy is still the minister for his current portfolio, the legislation is introduced in the new parliament. This would be the worst case scenario because even if the Greens gain the balance of power in the senate (2) it won’t have any effect until after July 2011, by which time the legislation would have passed. Or here’s hoping Senator Conroy is shuffled to another less controversial portfolio and the filtering policy is ‘fine tuned’ like their ETS policy in an attempt to save political face.

The unknown in all this is the Coalition. A few Liberals like Joe Hockey have spoken against this policy(3) but we still haven’t had a clear position statement from Tony Abbott(4). If the Coalition wins and Tony Abbott utilises he political antennae, he will allow further ‘fine tuning’ i.e. give it to a senate committee to report at later date. Or revisit Howard’s optional filtering system and adopt similar measures as is done in the UK through greater education of internet use and reporting of illegal websites.

The U.S. State Department raised concerns about this filter(5) and their own ambassador to Australia stated on ABC TV, “we have been able to accomplish the goals that Australia has described, which is to capture and prosecute child pornographers and others who use the internet for terrible purposes, without having to use internet filters”(6).

The federal government argues that ISP-level content filtering is already occurring in other countries, including Canada, Denmark, Finland, Norway, Sweden and the United Kingdom(7), However they fail to mention that according the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission, Canada does not regulate the internet(8). The United Kingdom promotes self-regulation via IWF Internet Watch Foundation an ISP established service allowing the public to report on criminal online content(9). Electronic Frontiers Australia report on government policy and/or laws regarding Internet censorship in various countries around the world listed the various approaches that governments have taken on illegal material(10).

The federal government’s approach to use offline material that is regulated as refused classification as a basis to filter internet content is a burdensome and heavy-handed way to deal with illegal material. The Howard government’s free internet filter (11) may have had its flaws but at least was optional. If Senator Conroy succeeds, I wholeheartedly endorse all efforts to subvert this filtering system(12) and declare that this Minister is a clear and present danger to our democracy. His Stalinist approach in formulating and pushing this policy through against all reasoned protest is nothing short of fascist obstinacy.


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