foobar on computers, software and the rest of the world

ISP filtering in Australia: Think about the children!

, posted: 5-Dec-2008 02:49

The proposal to introduce mandatory Internet filtering at the ISP level in Australia has been been widely discussed and criticized. While some of the criticism focuses on the costs or the fear that download speeds may suffer, and others point out that it would be better to just educate the children to properly and safely use the Internet, the much bigger and important issue of course is how such filters will limit free speech. And there is another question that looms over the entire discussion: Why is such filtering being suggested in the first place?

Ostensibly, the scheme was proposed to prevent the distribution of child-porn or to prevent children from stumbling across porn or other “unsavory” topics. But then, you wonder when was the last time you stumbled across porn on the Internet without having to pay first to actually see it or without specifically looking for it? And child-porn? From what I hear, the fact that it is illegal in most countries has driven those people underground long ago. There won't be a “child porn server”, which you can just normally navigate to. You need to find the right discussion forums, need to be trusted there or use just the right P2P channels to get this stuff. After being a pretty heavy Internet user for some 20 years now, I have not once come across any child-porn. On one hand I didn't look for it, but I certainly also didn't stumble across it. Not once.

So, innocent children won't just be exposed to child-porn or any porn really by accident. You need to do specific things to get there. Since children are unlikely to come across those things anyway, then why a mandatory filter that impacts everyone? How about the false positives, the actually legitimate web sites that are accidentally (or willfully?) blocked? How about pornographic stories or videos featuring consenting adults? Is that going to be filtered? How about love stories with a bit of innuendo? Where is the line? Who determines where that line is? How is it ensured that the line doesn't move? What's really going on here?

There is some talk that the government in Australia is just introducing this scheme as a way to pander to a single MP from a right-wing, conservative party (who apparently combines technical cluelessnes with not liking the fact that some people may actually have different life style choices or opinions than he himself), whose vote they need for day to day dealings in parliament. That would truly be a deal with the devil, if you think about it: Taking away the liberties of an entire nation just for your own, personal gains and for clinging on to power. Talk about selling your soul. A Faustian deal, if there ever was one.

But back to the actual proposal itself. Here's an analogy that I came up with, which might illustrate the ridiculous nature of this all:

Berlin WallEvery year, children are hurt or even killed when they run off their yard and into the street without looking for traffic. Doesn't anyone think of the children? We do! Therefore, we will make it mandatory that everyone build a 12 foot tall, solid metal or concrete wall around their property. Other fences are not sufficient, since children might be able to squeeze through it. Only something like this (see picture) here will do. Every property owner is required to erect such a wall, even if there are no children living on that property, because ... it's better that way.

Does that sound like a good idea? I don't think so. In fact, it's completely nonsensical, just like the proposed ISP-level filtering in Australia.

Conspiracy theories abound: Some say that this is really not at all about protecting the children, but more about controlling what information citizens are allowed to have. Case in point: Other stuff will go on the black lists as well (from Wikipedia):

Senator Stephen Conroy, the Government Senator responsible for this project has stated that they will also be looking into the possibility of filtering other content that may be illegal in Australia. Which would for example include: euthanasia, abortion, drug-use, etc.

This here is the real danger behind the whole story: Sure, you are not supposed to do what's against the law. But not even being able to get information about it? What if you want to change the law? Isn't that part of a democracy, of a free society? The right to change the law through lawfully provided channels and means? But how can you work towards a change if you can't even talk about it? This is a pretty hard blow against very basic freedoms that a free society should actually guarantee.Nazi book burning

That is why “free speech” is usually anchored as one of the most basic rights in constitutions and the most basic laws of most free societies. It is fundamental to the very existence and concept of "free society". Without free speech, even speech about things you might not like or agree with, the society simply cannot deserve to call itself free. However, filtering or destruction of “objectionable” material is the hallmark of a totalitarian state. Here is a picture of what that has looked like in the past, just to illustrate the point. (In case the picture is hard to make out, or you have never opened a 20th century history book before: Yes, that's a photo of a Nazi book burning.)

I'll end today with a very interesting quote, which we should pay good attention to. The person who wrote it knew a thing or two about getting to power, about how to “deal” with opposition, and how to erect a tyranny where before there was a free democracy. We should keep it in mind whenever some politician wants to take away our freedoms for the sake of "the children":

The State must declare the child to be the most precious treasure of the people. As long as the government is perceived as working for the benefit of the children, the people will happily endure almost any curtailment of liberty and almost any deprivation.

Adolf Hitler,
“Mein Kampf”


Other related posts:
Attack on net neutrality right here in New Zealand
How about: Three strikes and YOU are out, Xnet?
Richard Stallman in Auckland: On copyright in a networked world

Comment by Odan, on 5-Dec-2008 10:05

Considering the fact many websites that have ads , show soft-core porn on them sometimes. Such as girls in just there undies and such.

I really understand the need to limit the amount of that children see. But in truth i find removing the ability for children to explore the world , removes the ability for them to learn and grow as a person.

Author's note by foobar, on 5-Dec-2008 11:17

@Odan: Except that if a parent wants to protect their children through some form of filtering, there is plenty of parental control filter software available already. Some for free, some for pay. The concerned parent can download and install it. In Australia, the government provided this kind of software for free to everyone. Result? Hardly anyone downloaded and installed it.

I think we see two things: Firstly, for those who want this kind of filtering, the options are plentyful and easily available. Secondly, nobody wants it.

So, why then make a mandatory filter that nobody can opt out from, not even those people without children in their household?

It's very odd that after people don't go ahead and download the filter software voluntarily (in the masses that some obviously were hoping for), they are now forcing the filter on everyone, without choice. Very odd indeed.

foobar's profile

New Zealand

  • Who I am: Software developer and consultant.
  • What I do: System level programming, Linux/Unix. C, C++, Java, Python, and a long time ago even Assembler.
  • What I like: I'm a big fan of free and open source software. I'm Windows-free, running Ubuntu on my laptop. To a somewhat lesser degree, I also follow the SaaS industry.
  • Where I have been: Here and there, all over the place.

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