The internet should be the ultimate platform for free speech – a place where anyone, anywhere can share information with others. Unfortunately, in recent months the Australian government has set its sights on web censorship – an agenda more often aligned with that of more controlling governments, like those in China, Iran, and North Korea.
Late last year, Federal Communications Minister Stephen Conroy was the leading advocate of government efforts to implement a $44.2 million censorship plan for the internet. Proponents of the plan argued that it was designed to fight child pornography, but its scope went far beyond that goal. If it had been implemented, the plan would have blocked “inappropriate” content on all Australian servers and created a blacklist of undesirable sites.
The government would have had complete power to decide which materials and sites should be deemed “inappropriate.”
In the original version of the plan, internet users could have opted out of the censorship by contacting their internet service provider, but that provision was wiped out, meaning that the filtering would have been mandatory.
The censorship plan raised many concerns throughout Australia and overseas about freedom of speech, as well as restricted internet access, higher costs, and slower internet traffic. Some initial testing of the proposed filters indicated that approximately one in 12 legitimate sites would have been caught accidentally in the net of censorship, blocking Australians from access.
Fortunately, the plan has since been defeated. However, the government’s interest in web censorship is still apparent. All Australians must remain vigilant against the slippery slope into web censorship. Although most Australians would agree that certain sites shouldn’t be available on the internet or elsewhere, blocking sites is not the solution. Web censorship restricts’ individuals rights and the freedom of information, and that is a price that is far too dear to pay. Let’s hope that Senator Conroy hears the message loud and clear.