Oppose internet censorship

One hundred and fifty people protested in Canberra on March 21 against federal government plans to introduce a national internet filter. The protest was organised by the Digital Liberty Coalition.

The rally was addressed by representatives from the Greens, the Australian Sex Party, search engine optimisation company stewartmedia.biz, and the online civil liberties organisation Electronic Frontiers Australia.

Under the internet filter scheme, all internet service providers (ISPs) would have to block access to websites prohibited on a government blacklist. According to telecommunications minister Stephen Conroy, the filter would target "child pornography" as well as "other unwanted content".

A June 2008 government report said the filter could slow down the internet by up to 80%. The scheme is costly, with $44 million budgeted for it so far.

Activists argue that it is an ineffective way to target child pornography. In one trial filter, 8% of websites were incorrectly blocked, yet some blacklisted sites were let through.

The Digital Liberty Coalition argues that compulsory internet filtering on this scale is unprecedented in First World countries.

By imposing a national internet filter, Australia would join Burma and China in a list of countries that exercise strict controls over what their citizens can read online.

While ostensibly targeting child pornography, the blacklist is secret. It is exempt from Freedom of Information laws and owners of blacklisted websites have no avenue to appeal their listing. All of this is cause for concern that the filter could be used for political censorship.

A trial of the filter has already been completed and is to be followed by a "live" field pilot later this year, according to the campaign website http://www.nocleanfeed.com. Most ISPs have refused to participate.

On March 11, the alleged blacklist was leaked to the website http://www.wikileaks.org. As well as pornographic sites, the list also included "online poker sites, YouTube links, porn sites, Wikipedia entries, sites on euthanasia, fringe religions, fetishes, christianity, the website of a tour operator and even a dentist", according to the March 20 Sydney Morning Herald.

Less than half of the websites on the blacklist related to child pornography or child abuse materials.

A national day of action against internet censorship is planned for June. Contact the Digital Liberty Coalition at volunteers@dlc.asn.au to get involved in the campaign.