Censorship & the politics of distraction

Given that I am a self-confessed “leftie” and this is often (on this blog at least) confused with the idea that I will defend a Labor government regardless of merit – I thought I’d throw up an article on something I think the government should be hammered on; both for what they are doing and how they are trying to do it.

I’m sure everyone reading this blog is aware of the Labor government’s “Server-side Internet Filtering Trial” that they’ve been running prior to actually trying to pass legislation. To sum up the initial proposition, Labor wanted to put into place legislation that would require ISP’s (companies that are somehow impossible to reach when your Internet connection goes down) to implement “opt-out” filtering of your web connections supposedly to prevent child pornography from being distributed. That is, unless you explicitly told your ISP you didn’t want the government-mandated “clean feed”, they would analyse the sites you were trying to connect to and prevent you from connecting to those known to have child porn.

What has happened in the meantime, is that this concept has expanded somewhat from simply filtering child pornography (an impossible, yet somewhat laudable aim) to mandatory filtering of a secret list of ACMA prohibited sites as well as preventing me from purchasing &/or downloading content from overseas that ACMA refuses to classify. This expansion is going above and beyond what they presented to the public and is being pushed through using the disingenuous insinuation that anyone opposed to the idea is batting for those that want to distribute child porn.

Ignoring the fact (as has been repeated to the government from several official sources) that child pornography is generally distributed in a peer-to-peer manner (i.e. it’s not uploaded to a website but sent person-to-person after the sender validates as much as possible you are not law enforcement); the web sites the ACMA list contains cover a far broader range of subject matter – some of which are not actually illegal! This list contains websites dealing with perfectly legal (if unusual) “fetishes”. While I think the Internet would be a better place without ‘goatse’ and ‘tubgirl’ (if you don’t know what I’m talking about, don’t search for them, you are better off not knowing) – I am perfectly OK, as is the law, if a guy/gal needs a combination of latex, custard, and “intestinal hygiene” in their fantasies – so be it. It’s not harming anyone and it’s not as easy for a child to “stumble upon” them as you would think.

My kids are quite proficient at using the Internet and they have yet to stumble upon anything more risque than the picture of a bikini model dressed in more than what you would find on the cover of Zoo. I know this because, as a responsible parent, I supervise them when they are using the Internet and helped them to learn the skills of searching Google for what they are after. If I was really paranoid, I could even install Net Nanny or similar (filters I can get for free!) but I have yet to see the need.

More importantly though than the fact that the ACMA is trying to filter these perfectly legal sites out is that we are not allowed to know what the sites are. Were I to link to the WikiLeaks page containing the last known ACMA black-list – I could be taken to court by the government facing fines &/or prison time. This is probably because the ACMA and the government know that, even with their mandatory filters, a person with a modicum of technical savvy (say, the next generation of children) can bypass it with ease. Whatever the reason, the government & ACMA have decided that only they have the right to know what we are allowed to look at and the taxpayer, not being aware of what is or isn’t on the list, has no idea why he cannot get to his local dentist’s website or his favourite latex / custard fetish site.

A recent addition to this mandatory ACMA black-list is the addition of censorship of sites selling computer games the ACMA has refused classification. Now some background on this for those not following computer game news like I do…

In Australia the ACMA can rate movies & books R18+ for subject matter & visuals that go outside the accepted norms for children & your teenagers. Basically your sexy & extremely violent movies fall into this category. However, due to some resistance from certain State Attorney Generals, there is no equivalent rating for “interactive entertainment” (known colloquially as computer games). The end result of this dichotomy is that games where you can (& to some extent are encouraged to) shoot hookers and run over senior citizens are given the rating M15+. In other words, are available for children to purchase & play. Now given that the average age of the Australian gamer is over 18, there are going to be games involving the afore mentioned latex & custard fetish. If they wanted in a video form, they could pick up “Custard Latex Babes” between the “Chunky Butts” VHS & “Debbie Does Dallas” DVD at their local adult store. Instead they have to purchase it from overseas and have been doing so for some time now.

Instead of fixing this dichotomy by equalising the rating system across both videos & interactive entertainment, as a vast majority of Australians would prefer, the government is going to extend their filtering to cover this hole in their policy as well. I assume that this will be covered under the same “government eyes only” laws preventing me from telling you what they would add to the mandatory ACMA filter. What is next? This is the actions of a corrupt government such as Iran or an absolute authoritarian state like China. Two years ago, I would have scoffed at the thought we’d introduce these types of laws in Australia.

What makes it worse is the completely dishonest & disingenuous way the government shuts down debate with their “child pornography” line. Whenever questioned about these laws and their possibility of trampling over our civil rights – the government comes up with lines such as “Illegal material is illegal material. Child pornography is child pornography. I trust you are not suggesting that people should have access to child pornography“; prompting a senator to ask “I am just wondering if I can put these questions to you without being accused of being pro child pornography“. This is a blatant use of an emotionally charged issue to prevent debate on something that Conroy himself admits “won’t stop child porn“.

In this area, the government is not only being heavy-handed & illogical in their approach to the issue, but downright dishonest in both what they state they are trying to do and how they conduct the debate on it. Makes you wonder what lines they are going to pull out when it comes to actually debating the legislation!