Should we support an internet filter?
The government plans on introducing compulsory internet filtering as early as mid this year (2010), in an effort to make the net safer, in particular for children.
Communications minister Senator Conroy was quoted by the Australian newspaper(1) as stating: “ISP filtering reduces the risk of Australians being inadvertently exposed to RC-rated material when they are online.”
So what is (RC)-rated material? Prime minister Kevin Rudd (2) explained it as: “Acts of child abuse. Acts of sexual abuse against children, including material which also provide ‘how to’ kits in terms of conducting terrorist acts.”
All of that does sound pretty terrible, and this is probably why their appears to be strong general public support for an internet filter. A survey by ABC’s Hungry Beast found 80 per cent of people favor the filter.
So if the filter has such benevolent intentions, why is it that organisations such as Save the Children,
the National Children’s and Youth Law Centre and leading companies within the industry such as Google expressing concern over it?
There are multiple issues with the filter, including the actual usefulness of it in the first place. It only targets websites with static addresses, which is exactly where this sort of material doesn’t reside. Pedophiles do not create facebook accounts to share their images online.
Simon Wright (4), founder of Australian tech forum Whirlpool, breaks it down: “It doesn’t work with high traffic websites. It doesn’t apply to websites that require a password. It doesn’t apply to any website that turns on secure HTTP. It doesn’t apply to bit torrent. It doesn’t apply to instant messaging”.
So what is the harm done you may ask? Well its going to drive up the cost of internet usage and it is going to slow down internet speeds. According to the ABC (5), “a recent ACMA report on ISP filtering products showed that all of the products tested degraded Internet performance, with two of them reducing speed by more than 75 per cent”.
Despite all of this, some of us still maybe happy with sacrificing a little speed and money for another (perceived) layer of safety.But RC-material isn’t just for pedophiles and terrorists.
RC-material, according to a post by Google on its official Australian blog (6), can include “socially and politically controversial material — for example, educational content on safer drug use — as well as the grey realms of material instructing in any crime, including politically controversial crimes such as euthanasia. This type of content may be unpleasant and unpalatable but we believe that government should not have the right to block information which can inform debate of controversial issues.”
Google (7) goes onto express its opinion on the filter in much stronger terms: “At Google we are concerned by the Government’s plans to introduce a mandatory filtering regime for Internet Service Providers (ISP) in Australia, the first of its kind amongst western democracies.”
While the politicians may have all the best intentions, a filter is an expensive exercise that will cost us all. Nothing can and will ever replace good parenting within the family unit and good police work for the community as a whole.