In April 2010, Senator Conroy was quoted by Fairfax media (Sydney Morning Herald, The Age etc.) as asking "Why is the internet special?,"saying the net was "just a communication and distribution platform" (see article).
Here are my reasons why I believe that the internet is special (and therefore a heavy handed approach to filtering content is unjustified).
The internet simultaneously:
- hosts audio and video which can be broadcast or narrow cast
- acts like the postal system (with email replacing letters)
- acts like the telecommunications system by hosting voice (and video) calls between two or more parties (Skype, instant messaging, ChatRoulette etc)
- hosts systems for conducting business transactions (a bit like the EFTPOS system, a bit like the postal system in a mail-order analogy)
Other unique features that make it different from any other technology to date:
- It is truly global – content accessed in one country can be hosted in any other country
- It has fundamentally lowered the barriers for entry for those who want to publish and distribute material
- It’s pervasive – accessible from a variety of different devices and locations, not just tied to a desktop computer and a telephone line
- content is dynamic and easily changed – a web site you saw half an hour ago could be completely different the next time you view it
So why don’t we censor the telecommunications system and the postal systems as well? It would only be fair given the Internet is capable of replicating the functionality of these systems. Imagine a listening device on every phone call that you made that bleeped out any words that would offend the average person – or having all your mail opened and read and ‘cleaned’ before being able to go on to it’s final destination? Sounds ludicrous and is unworkable.
The proposed net filter would work by preventing access to a blacklist of websites. It would only block access to web sites, and would not affect many of the other applications that run on the internet (email, file transfer, instant messaging, peer to peer file sharing etc). It will only block a list of around 350 websites when there are currently over 100 million websites on the internet – accessing any single one of these websites will invoke a ‘check’ to see if it’s not on the banned list of 350. As the banned list grows larger, the slower this ‘check’ gets.
It will not target ‘high volume’ sites like YouTube and Facebook – so it’s not going to filter out stupid comments on Facebook pages or prevent offensive videos being posted on YouTube. There are already mechanisms in place for dealing with that kind of content, so why force a mandatory filter on all of us?
So why push ahead when we already know it’s only going to filter a fraction of the Internet and it’s going to be easily bypassed? *Surely *it makes more sense to spend the money on law enforcement instead. $43 million (the proposed cost of the filter) would make a lot of difference to the AFP budget in their fight against child sex predators and distributors of child pornography surely.