19 December 2009

Liberal MPs and senators who have spoken against mandatory ISP-level filtering

Cory Bernardi, Senator for South Australia and Shadow Parliamentary Secretary Assisting the Leader of the Opposition, for The Australian, 6 February 2009:

I identify myself as a social and fiscal conservative and most people who know me would agree with that assessment. As such, one could reasonably expect me to support ISP filtering as a means of ensuring inappropriate content remains unavailable via the internet.

Yet I have grave reservations about the Labor Party proposal on mandatory ISP filtering which is described as a ‘clean feed’ – words that just sugar-coat compulsory censorship of whatever the government deems you are not allowed to see.

Dr Dennis Jensen, Member for Tangney, in the House of Representatives, 14 September 2009:

Computer users, particularly the more tech-savvy—and a special mention must go to the Whirlpool website forums for fostering real debate of the issue—hold the minister as an object of contempt and ridicule, particularly for his bumbling attempt to impose controls over the medium which is ultimately setting the world free. The internet delivers power to the world’s people. It is an ally of all who cherish freedom, individual liberty and true democracy. That is why it is the enemy of authoritarian rulers in countries such as China, Burma and Iran—and, it seems, of the Australian Labor Party.

Members should recall that under the last coalition government we had a very simple, very cost-effective and very popular program under which families could get free copies of an internet filter program for their homes to protect their children from unsavoury internet content. The Rudd government scrapped that, and two years after taking office the minister is still unable to offer an alternative. Delay after delay has very fortunately put this censorship plan on hold, and for this some thanks must go to internet service providers who refused to take part in sham trials.

By now, the members opposite must also have realised how deeply flawed is the internet filter pursued by the minister, and we can only hope that they will quietly abandon it at some stage. What grew from the idea of protecting children using the internet rapidly became billed as a weapon against child pornography, and these are surely two very different issues. From there, the minister has broadened it to propose blocking Australians from viewing any material which a select group of faceless bureaucrats deem inappropriate. And to top it off, the list of banned material would itself be banned from public scrutiny, effectively making the censors unaccountable. IT experts say such a system will slow the network and that it will not work, regardless. This is particularly the case in combating traffic in child pornography, which reportedly is usually distributed through peer-to-peer networks rather than via websites, and so could continue unhindered by the filter.

And so we have a government pledging to spend tens of billions of dollars on a national broadband network of dubious worth which will supposedly offer higher speed data links to all. At the same time, the government is planning a censorship scheme which will have the opposite effect, reducing data speeds and hindering access. And, most crucially, it would stop the free flow of information which we have come to expect from the internet, a strategy more akin to foreign dictatorships, for which Labor feigns distaste, a strategy wholly not in keeping with our country’s proud history of free speech and open debate. The internet promised to take us all into the future, but this government appears intent on applying the policies of the past in its selfish pursuit of power and control, not only in this building but over the lives of all Australians.

Jamie Briggs, Member for Mayo, for The Punch, 27 August 2009:

Proponents of ISP filtering claim it will make it safer. Rubbish. Indeed the ISP filter systems work by closing down access to web addresses after they have been launched. Some claim that this will be as little as 24 hours after the website is launched. Even in the best case scenario it is going to be the old dog chasing its tail.

The ISP filters fail to address online chat rooms, peer to peer connections and emails.

What we have to ask ourselves here is how much are we sacrificing for additional ‘protections’?

The internet surely has dangers but they are so far outweighed by the enormous educational, economic and social benefits that we should be very wary of allowing our Government to attempt to regulate it.

If parents want to protect their children from the nasties, they should. We should be telling parents, like not talking to strangers, that the Government cannot protect you from every danger in the world and that you must take responsibility for your children’s safety.

There is a massive risk with this false promise that we will start to walk down a very dangerous path of censorship that can’t end well.

Simon Birmingham, Senator for South Australia, for The Punch, 10 November 2009:

Somehow, when promising to clean up the internet, they forgot to say what exactly it was they were going to protect kids from. Cyber bullying? Information about drugs, suicide or cults? Pornography perhaps? Surely kids shouldn’t be seeing any of these things online. Lucky for mum and dad Uncle Kev is on the case cleaning up the net.

Or is he? Ever since Labor announced its policy I’ve been trying to find out exactly what would be blocked. The story appears to have changed month by month – sometimes it’s all pornography, sometimes X rated material, sometimes inappropriate content. But now it seems to be stuff that’s already illegal – content that has been Refused Classification.

So while mum and dad are busy cooking dinner and Uncle Kev is meant to be looking after the kids on the internet, they will still be able to access pornography, information about drugs and unsuspectingly chat away with goodness knows who in chat rooms – hardly being kept safe from inappropriate content!

Originally the government proposed a very broad filter that would provide a ‘clean feed’ to each and every internet user, whether you wanted it or not. The notion of a ‘clean feed’ that protects children from “harmful and inappropriate online material” would have been a compulsory ISP level filter of such scale that China and Iran might have felt a little filter envy.

However, many experts believe a compulsory ISP level filter would result in the decimation of internet speeds and force serious restrictions on free speech. The more you filter, the greater the impact on speeds. And, the more you try to filter, the more likely you are to block access to material that law-abiding adults would legitimately want to access.

Michael Johnson, Member for Ryan and Opposition Whip, in a media release, 17 December 2009:

The frightening question is where will Rudd’s state censorship and government intrusion into the privacy of our lives end? We have seen Mr Rudd try to make homebirths illegal and take away the right of women to choose the place of giving birth and recently attempted reprehensible muzzling of Opposition Members of Parliament from criticizing the Federal Government.

The arguments against Labor’s ISP filtering censorship plan are compelling. I believe there are many arguments to support my position:

  1. The ISP filter will provide a false sense of security. Antivirus is a prime example – as much protection as we load onto our computers and networks we access, there are always new viruses, worms and trojans gaining access and creating havoc.
  2. The Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA) already has the responsibility for issuing take-down notices for black-listed content hosted in Australia. This Service Provider Responsibility List can be accessed at: http://www.acma.gov.au/WEB/STANDARD/pc=PC_90157
  3. There are already tools available for parents in commercial form which are just as foolproof as this ISP filtering plan, but don’t equate to censorship. These come in the forms of personal internet filters, parental control software and remote monitoring.
  4. Parents should be providing their children with the educational resources and know how to support the disciplinary responsibilities not only they, but their children, must be aware of when using the internet.
  5. Even with the ISP filtering plan in action, it will not protect your child from online chat rooms, peer to peer connections or emails.

Alex Hawke, Member for Mitchell, to ZDNet Australia, 18 December 2009:

I'm inherently against this concept, it's a very bad way to do governance.

I'm a Christian and I have spoken to the Christian lobby and told them that this policy will not be effective. It could even potentially lead to some of their views being added to a government filter.

I don't think they're open to the danger of this policy mechanism. It will go beyond [child pornography] and that's where it could run into trouble. I'm going to be arguing strongly inside the liberal party that we should oppose this policy.

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