Tuesday, November 04, 2008

Internet Filtering

Antony Loewenstein writing in The Age on 10 November accused the Rudd Government of hypocrisy over its internet filtering plans. The accusation was based on the PM's earlier criticism of Chinese political filtering of the internet to journalists.

Unfortunately the Rudd Government's policy is being widely misrepresented. Ultimately the Government is trying to find a way to apply the same kind of classification system that applies to printed material, films and DVDs. It is partially hamstrung by the fact that the Howard Government lumped refused classification and varies restricted classification materials together in the definition of prohibited content in the Broadcasting Services Act. This means the scare mongers can rightly indicate that any plan would cover all this material, though the desire is really to stop access to the refused classification material.

Loewenstein refers to the clip on ZDnet below, which is worth a look. I must admit that I don't quite understand how the CEOs presented here have decided that their decision about what content might or might not be appropriate is more important than that of an elected Government.

The important thing to understand is that the "filtering" trial is not dynamic filtering that would examine the content of a site, it is about restricting access to known sites. The Government is also not naive to suggest that the filter stops everything, just as the ban on importing RC DVDs doesn't mean that one might not be posted to Australia in the guise of a classified film or even a data file. But the fact that can occur is no reason not to have the import ban.

This is a very sad case of the way a debate can be hijacked by sophistry. It is a little like the monarchists who successfully argued that the people should not be asked whether they wanted a republic and then having forced the republicans to choose one, the monarchists attacked the model (the politicians' republic) not the concept.

It would be nice to see the critics first agree that the Government is right in deciding that Australians should not be able to navigate through their browser to RC material. After we have that agrement we might get on to figure out how it could happen.

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