It was just on 2 years ago that the first stray details of an Internet filter started to make their way into the public arena. Back then it was a little guy, meekly hobbling in after its failed predecessor NetAlert and making the promise to protect children online. Sure, we all thought, we have no problems with parents having the option to have their Internet filtered at request. I mean there are already companies doing that in Australia and realistically I understood that whilst parents are becoming increasingly more tech savvy not all of them are at the point where they could implement and understand a personal filter of their own. It didn’t take long for that almost nothing policy to morph into what it is today and the tech community violently opposed it with every fibre of their being. I’ve dedicated a good deal of my time to raising awareness about how bad this policy is and finally it seems that Senator Conroy might finally be listening.
It’s no secret that Labor is in a bit of trouble when it comes to their approval ratings. This was after being nigh untouchable for the majority of their term thanks to an extremely weak opposition but after enduring constant attacks from the Liberal guard dog Abbott Labor is struggling to win support. Consequently something like the Internet filter which, although unpopular amongst the tech community, could be easily shrugged off. Now it seems that with their margins for winning getting slimmer by the day they’ve decided to label the Internet filter as toxic policy:
The internet censorship policy has joined the government’s list of “politically toxic subjects” and will almost certainly be shelved until after the federal election, Greens communications spokesman Scott Ludlam says.
Prime Minister Kevin Rudd – already facing a voter backlash over several perceived policy failures – is expected to call the election before the end of the year and the feeling of many in Canberra is that next week will be the last sitting week of Parliament.
Parliament is not due to sit again until August 24, leaving little time to introduce the legislation and have it debated and passed in time for the election.
This is in addition to what Conroy said about a month ago in that he would be introducing the legislation in the later half of the year, fully knowing that an election would be called around the same time effectively shelving the legislation until they were in a better political position. It’s quite obvious that they’ve known for some time that the filter hasn’t been particularly popular, but unfortunately for them backing down on this legislation would probably do them as much harm as good. I say that mostly because there’s a couple lobbyists who seem to have a lot of sway with the Rudd government and pulling support for the filter would more than likely see them pull their support. That’s in addition to giving Abbot yet another bullet to fire at Rudd with his whole broken promises spin, something which I know Rudd would be keen to avoid.
I’ve said many times before that I would conditionally support an opt-out filter and fully support an opt-in filter. Mostly this is because I understand that some parents would much prefer the government to provide them a solution rather than trying to sort one out themselves, and that’s a valid view to hold. However I strongly object to being told that I’m no longer in control of deciding what I can and can’t see through the Internet when every other modern country in the world says the complete opposite. Had this policy been opt-in from the very beginning I believe that most major ISPs would already have the solutions in place as they know that most of their customers do not want it, and the implementations would be small scale. Still Conroy’s twisted vision of what needs to be done in order to make Australia a safe place for kids seems to mean that we’re all incapable of making such decisions for ourselves which, at its heart, is the core reason I reject the policy in its entirety.
Still for all the talk about how bad the filter is there are still those who are on our side fighting for some much more sensible policy options. Whilst I can appreciate that most concerns about policies like this are handled behind closed doors it’s comforting to know that there are members of the current incumbent government that are willing to come publicly against such idiotic legislation. Senator Lundy has, on several occasions, shown a complete understanding of the issues at hand and the concerns of the community at large. It still strikes me as odd that Conroy doesn’t seem to get it after all this time not even wanting to do public consultation on the matter nor even attempt to amend the policy in the hopes of getting it past parliament. Maybe I’m just a fool to believe that facts can overcome people’s biases.
I really can not wait for this policy to die the death it so rightly has coming to it. Whilst I appreciate the amount of blog fodder its has tossed my way I still don’t like hearing about it every couple months because that means it still has potential to come into law which would be one of the most devastating blows to freedom that Australia would ever see. Maybe we’ll see a turnaround at this election in Conroy’s electorate and the next one to replace him will be more level headed about the whole Internet filter.
A man can dream, can’t he?
Way back when, long before I got involved in blogging as a means of chronicling my various exploits in relation to Australia’s Internet filter the policy itself was really nothing to get excited about. Taking a step back into the distance past we can find its roots in the NetAlert program that sought to provide free private Internet filters to all families that wanted them. To say that the program was a failure and complete waste of time is harsh but accurate, as the usage statistics showed a severely disproportional amount of money spent vs actual usage of the program. It was a fairly quiet failure to and if you’d pulled anyone off the streets you could easily have forgiven them for not knowing anything about it. Overall NetAlert was just another government boondoggle and it died the quick quiet death it deserved.
Conroy decided to up the ante a little bit and put forth the beginnings of the Internet filter proposal not too long after that. Having survived the NetAlert program without any noticeable damage to the freedom of the Internet and the IT profession as a whole the netizens community shrugged it off as well. At this time the filter proposal wasn’t as malicious as it is today with the option of being able to opt out being one of its defining characteristics. Sure we were annoyed that we’d have to tell our ISPs that we’d prefer them not to filter our Internet (which in the public eye puts you in the same category as paedophiles, criminals and sexual deviants) but it wouldn’t be too much hassle and the government could sing their success from the rooftops, even if we didn’t really agree with them.
It didn’t take too long however for a bombshell to drop, you couldn’t opt out.
And so spawned the No Clean Feed movement, along with this blog and many others. I’ve analyzed it from all angles and there’s not been one use case that’s had the Internet filter coming out smelling like roses. This coupled with the fact that the policy just doesn’t seem to die despite massive delays and public backlash makes it all the more scary that such an abomination make actually make its way into reality. There is however a small glimmer of hope:
Labor Senator Kate Lundy plans to propose a filter “opt out” when the legislation goes before caucus.
“I think there’s a lot of interest in my proposal,” she told The Australian.
“The feedback I’m getting back from colleagues is that there are concerns around freedom of speech and lack of parental empowerment.”
Senator Lundy said the Conroy filter took control away from parents.
To date that has been the only sensible idea that I could ever support with an Internet filter for Australia. Why it has taken over a year and a half to come full circle and propose that we let people opt out (or better yet, opt in) is beyond me, but it signals that there’s enough pressure from the wider public to make at least a few backbenchers uneasy about putting their vote behind legislation that won’t buy them any favours.
The interesting, but not unexpected, result of Lundy seeking to amend the legislation is the rest of the Labor government becoming rather uneasy about the whole subject. There’s tangible opposition mounting on both sides of parliament but many of the more conservative members are sticking to their guns and not renouncing support for the filter. The reasons for this are twofold. The first is that many members can’t quite bring themselves to oppose the filter save for associated themselves with child pornographers and other miscreants. I’d bet my dollar on this being a lack of education on their part as they don’t really understand how ineffectual and detrimental such a filter would be. Thus they tow the popularist line of protecting the children and the wider public from the deprived hedonism of that dark place we call the Internet.
The second is just pure politics, they don’t want to be seen as changing opinions lest they be seen as playing to the popularist movement. That I can understand, but will never condone.
I still hold out the belief that this will die a slow and agonizing death but every news story that crops up about the Internet filter is just more salt in an old wound. With people like Lundy causing a stir in parliament and making the appropriate headlines I’m sure we’ll soon reach a critical mass of public opinion that will help sway some of the more stalwart members across to our side but we’re still far from being in clear on this one and I urge you to support the No Clean Feed movement in any way you can.
As much as I love all things Chinese, I’d prefer my Internet to stay Australian.