The current federal minister for communications Stephen Conroy is proposing an Internet filter which is to provide a mandatory and secret filter to all Internet content in Australia. The extent of the filter is unclear and ill defined, the actual content of the filter is unknown and under the proposal will remain unknown. There is no right of appeal. It is not subject to the same review processes that other forms of censorship that we have. The idea is that all ISPs will have to implement this filter to stop anything that is “Refused Classification” under federal laws and regulations.

The first issue is with effectiveness. As was demonstrated recently on Hungry Beast it takes your average 14 YO about 30 seconds to circumvent. And it only takes one 14 YO to find their way around it before all 14 YOs know how to bypass it. So, the filter is useless for 14 YO teenagers, and you can pretty much say that any body of computer using age will be able to find their way around it in short order.

The second issue is with the secrecy behind the filter. Other forms of censorship are open to public scrutiny and independent review. Not the proposed Internet filter. No one will know what the government is censoring and if the internet site you are running for your primary income is put on the list the government can happily send you to the wall and there is nothing you can do about it. In fact it will be illegal even to tell anybody why they are sending you broke. The government can then proceed to censor sites that do not favour them and no one will ever know. And don’t say that it would not happen, remember Nixon.

Finally the standards applied are so loose that they can be applied to almost anything. This is not the state based censorship that applies to films books and games. This is the federal system that applies to imports and can be changed at any time simply by regulation, no legislation needed. At the whim of the government suddenly a brand new category of site can be included in secret at the stroke of a pen.

I am not as naive or hypocritical as some who in one breath preach against censorship and in the other advise it. I am firmly in favour of censorship but it has to be open and transparent, and effective. To spend many millions of dollars on a secret and ineffective plan to randomly censor the Internet makes absolutely no sense to me. Better to spend the money on real prevention.