I went looking for tits and boobies on the Internet today. No, not those tits and boobies – I was actually looking for the Greater Tit and the Booby Bird. “Why?” I hear you asking (unless, of course, you are a bird watcher). I’m glad you asked. It was prompted by the Australian Labor Party and their efforts to protect the children by telling me what I can and cannot look at in the privacy of my own home. To this end they eventually want all ISPs in Australia to implement the Labor Party’s Great Internet Filter.
As with most attempts at censorship the filter was supposed to target sites depicting children engaged in acts that are the purview of adults (forgive the obtuse wording – no sense in having my blog show up on a search for questionable sites). I’m sure that the majority of us are appalled by the existence of such material and wouldn’t oppose the eradication of sites catering to said material. Unfortunately, filtering the sites won’t make them go away. Such material is illegal everywhere in the world which means that one would be a moron of the highest magnitude to create a public web presence advertising these illegal activities. Surely those involved in such criminal pursuits would have their own networks, both electronic and physical, and these networks will continue in spite of the filters.
“We’ll protect the children” became “we’ll protect everyone” as the Internet Filter broadened its scope. There are now two lists. According to Stephen Conroy, the Communications Minister and architect of the filter, there is a level one, or “child safe”, list and a level two, or “unwanted content”, list. The nasty material – including the aforementioned illegal content as well as material depicting people and other animals knowing each other in a biblical sense, etc — will be on the level one list list while legal “art lover’s” material will be on the level two list. Conroy says that regular perverts like me can call our ISPs and tell them we want to opt out of the level two list.
So far this seems to be reasonable. We don’t want the universally reviled content and we can choose to view legal content that other people may not want. But what happens when the illegal sites change their URLs? What about new illegal sites that are bound to pop up in the future? The filter lists require constant updating. We all know that the government isn’t going to absorb the cost; neither are the ISPs. That leaves you and me, buddy. My already expensive internet bill is only going to dig deeper into my wallet. There are people in the ISP industry who claim that we will experience a drastic slow down in Internet access due to the filters. If this is true then not only will I pay more for my Internet access but I will receive a lot less for the privilege and I will receive it very slowly.
The above issues, large as they are, cannot compare to the biggest issue of all. Who decides what ends up on the absolute list? Both lists are, obviously, secret so we have no way of knowing what they contain. The Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA), are in essence the watchmen of the lists so it is apt to apply the maxim “who watches the watchmen?” The Christian party, Family First, suggests that online gambling and hardcore pornography should be on the level one list. The latter in particular means that I can indulge in sexual activity but I cannot look at anything depicting the same thing on the Internet. In fact I can watch other people making the sign of the double backed beast or buy books and movies explicitly depicting the same (provided the movies come from Darwin or Canberra) but I cannot look at it on the Internet.
Even more serious than the curtailing of my “art” appreciation, however, is the possibility that other topics can suddenly become lumped with the nastier items. Family First Senator Steve Fielding doesn’t like evolution or atheists or agnostics? Let’s add them to the level one list. Buddhists? Muslims? Pagans who dance naked under the full moon? On the level one list, they go. The government needs Fielding’s vote in other areas (such as the alcopops bill) so they are going to make concessions to his filtering requirements. (Interestingly Fielding decided to vote against the alcopops bill thus showing us that he obviously likes a tipple but hates “art”.)
A recently leaked copy of the level one list highlights the danger of the unwatched watchmen. The list contains the nasty items, as expected, but also contains several legitimate items such as the URLs of a dental surgery and a betting site. I wouldn’t normally give a second thought to publishing the link to a dentist’s web site. The problem is that ACMA can fine me 11,000AUD per day for publishing a link to any site on their lists.
“That will be $11,000 dollars.” says the ACMA representative giving me a look of disgust.
“You linked to this site and it is a forbidden site.”
“I didn’t know it was forbidden. It’s the site of a really good dentist. Why can’t I link to the site?”
“Because it is forbidden.”
“But I didn’t know that. How am I supposed to know that?”
“It is on the list.”
“I don’t have the list. Let me have a look.”
“You cannot! It is a secret list.”
“But then how do I know what sites I can’t visit.”
“They are on the list.”
“But I don’t have the list!!!”
“Only we have the list. It is secret.”
So that’s why I went looking for tits and boobies. Because I can, right now. If the filters become law I might have to call my ISP to tell them that I want to look at a Great Tit (which may well cause them to titter or ask me if I was referring to that boob, Conroy or Fielding, the great tit). This country I have loved so much may well become as draconian as China and it’s ilk. And that is a depressing, frightening thought. All of us, including lovers of ornithology, could be in for a rude shock.
And heaven help the feline fanciers if they went looking for pictures of pussies.