Australia jumping on the internet filtering bandwagon

March 31, 2009

A couple years ago, the Australian government announced that they wanted to institute a mandatory internet filter. Despite opposition, the government seems to be continuing with their plan. This filter would remove content that is deemed illegal under Australian law, such as hardcore pornography, online casino-style gambling, some hate speech, and “R” rated computer games. This proposition was justified by claiming that NetNanny (which the government gives out to families for free) cannot possibly protect children from all the dangers of the internet. The government has also said that users will be able to opt-out of the filter, but only from the pornography part of the blacklist, other illegal content will still be prohibited.

As of now, no filter has yet been set up, but it is still being discussed. The Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA) keeps a list of websites that would be blocked were the filter introduced. The list was leaked on Wikileaks a couple months ago, and the ACMA has threatened them with fines of $11,000/day, however, the list is still up. The website says, “While Wikileaks is used to exposing secret government censorship in developing countries, we now find Australia acting like a democratic backwater. Apparently without irony, ACMA threatens fines of up to $11,000 a day for linking to sites on its secret, unreviewable, censorship blacklist — a list the government hopes to expand into a giant national censorship machine.” The list posted in late 2008 totaled to 2,000+ websites, most of them appearing to be pornography websites. The ACMA has cut down the list in past months, and the change has been reflected on the Wikileaks website. According to the Sydney Morning Herald, “Already, a significant portion of the 1370-site Australian blacklist – 506 sites – would be classified R18+ and X18+, which are legal to view but would be blocked for everyone under the proposal. The Government has said it was considering expanding the blacklist to 10,000 sites and beyond.”

I found this interesting because when I think of Australia, I think of a liberal, democratic country, similar to the United States and the U.K., and it is surprising that they are emulating nations like China by instituting such a filter. Although it seems like they wouldn’t be filtering websites that oppose the political mainstream, they are still considering filtering out a large chunk of the internet, however perverted it may be, which can be alarming. What if the government is able to get enough support for this idea and finally institutes this filter and takes even greater steps toward filtering in the future? Will other liberal democratic nations follow in their footsteps and create even larger filters?

-Sylvia Avila


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