Censorship is a Bad Idea – It’s Time to Tell Your Mum

I have written many times about internet censorship, but in case you have not heard – censorship is a bad idea.

The Australian Federal Government is about to introduce mandatory internet filtering. If implemented it will make Australia the most heavily censored country in the western world. They’ve told us it’s to protect the kids but the truth is it doesn’t. By telling your mum the facts you will help her realise that if she really wants to protect kids online mandatory filtering isn’t the answer.

To learn more – and to find out how best to explain to your mum just why internet censorship is such a problem (and no it won’t stop child pornography), take a look at the It’s Time to Tell Mum website. It’s in all our interests.

Is the Internet Filter Australia’s Berlin Wall?

berlin_The history of the last twenty years of the Twentieth Century were, for me, marked by a millennial fervor that swept through society like a great wave of hope. Watching the Berlin Wall topple, seeing the defiance of Tiananmen Square and even the spontaneous outpouring of goodwill that happened during the Sydney Olympics are moments which shine brightly for me. Each of these were individual but also collective statements that spoke about our desire to connect with one another, to experience and make history with our own hands, and to own the consequences of our actions.

Living in the relatively benign political landscape of Australia has meant that such movements largely pass us by. Wholesale political and ideological change can occur here each four years – at the voter’s discretion. Depending on the mood of the public, we can swing from the reformist centre left position taken by the Keating Government to the deeply conservative position adopted by the Howard Government – and not a drop of blood is spilt, not a single car is burnt in anger, and life resumes under the umbrella of what is essentially a radically transformed ideological agenda.

The reason that such large scale political and ideological change can take place, I believe, is in large part to the robust and open democracy which Australia’s political leaders have built over the last hundred years. Fundamental to this has been the freedom of political thought and expression – backed up by rigorous, independent (and in many instances, judicious) review of government decisions.

The internet filter proposed by Senator Stephen Conroy threatens all this. Thus far, the government have focused their arguments around the highly emotive issue of child pornography. There is no question that access to this sort of material should be prohibited. However, only 32% of the sites listed on the Australian Communications and Media Authority’s “blacklist” are related to child pornography. This means that a whopping 68% of sites on the list are there for other reasons – political, ideological, etc – and at the whim of the government in power at the time.

Moreover, the blacklist is NOT available for public scrutiny or independent review. A copy of the blacklist was released on the Wikileaks website earlier in 2009 (a site which is, itself, blacklisted).

In this radio interview with Latika Bourke, former High Court Justice, Michael Kirby suggests that the internet filter may well be the “thin edge of the wedge” when it comes to controlling what the Australian population reads, what it has access to and therefore, how it can behave online.

The internet is, on the whole, a marvellous advance of not only information but also of freedom and of ideas, and of ideas of liberty … we’ve got to just be careful … because if one government, our government, begins to intervene in this, there’ll be other governments that just want to get into it to control the freedom of ideas … ideas which will break down the Berlin Walls of the future. (6:19)

Former supporter and co-author of the original report recommending internet filtering, Michael Flood, has now switched camps. In an interview with Rachel Maher, he suggests that, as a society, we should be having more complex and robust discussions about censorship, access to non-classified material and and the social and educational benefits that accrue through such access:

His discussion of pornography is complex and enlightening and leads us through to the kinds of debate the Federal Government and civil society should be aiming to have: debates that could look simultaneously and intelligently at both harm reduction and access for adults to sexual material online.

But as pointed out by this article in the Sydney Morning Herald, content which is legal for viewing and consumption will also be filtered. This includes information which, while sometimes mildly confrontational, has social and cultural value, including websites which provide:

  • Harm minimisation information for recreational drug users
  • Space for the discussion of gay and lesbian sexuality
  • Analysis of the geopolitical causes of terrorism

More detail and reading on the internet filter

There are plenty of websites offering perspectives and ideas, history and analysis on this controversial subject.

What can you do about the internet filter’s impact on our democracy?

Bernard Keane suggests that any letter writing campaign must be far more strategic than many sites suggest. It is not just a matter of bombarding the local member of parliament or Minister Conroy’s office. It’s about carefully crafting our efforts to raise our concerns with a number of departments. The idea is to generate a significant amount of work across multiple offices of the government.

Please read Bernard’s recommendations carefully, but remember to:

  • Carefully craft your letters – don’t use form petitions
  • Draw in multiple departments and policy areas such as the internet filter + Telstra + national broadband
  • Write this letter specifically to your local member of parliament – even if they are a member of the Opposition
  • Write another version of the letter, with a different focus (eg bring in a discussion of Australia Post or issues relating to Education) to Stephen Conroy
  • Write additional letters to individual Federal Ministers asking how the filter will impact their portfolios and the businesses and individuals they represent – Kim Carr for IT, Jenny Macklin for families, Tony Burke for impact on farming communities etc

Above all, be polite. No matter how passionate and frustrated you may be, remain focused on communicating your frustration not simply expressing it.

Any other ideas? Comments?

The Tribes Speak: Vibewire’s e-Festival of Ideas

e-festlogo2009 Today sees the start of Vibewire Youth Inc’s e-Festival of Ideas – a week-long celebration of youth innovation. Focusing on four topic areas – politics, human rights, the economy and Generation Y – the e-Festival, now in its sixth year – aims to generate conversation among young people across Australia – and is using online forum technology to do so.

The forums have guest panellists organised to keep the debate going, and a hot topic list to get started includes:

  • Is there an upside to the current economic downturn?
  • How much do online profiles impact (or create) jobs?
  • What’s missing from the Universal Declaration of Human Rights?
  • How are Facebook and Twitter making a social change?
  • How is the 24-hour news cycle affecting politics?
  • Is the quest to save the environment really about politics and power?

The guest panellists, drawn from all quarters of society, include:

To get a sense of how some of these conversations may evolve, take quick listen to Traci Fenton’s view of workplace democracy.

This year, as part of the e-Festival, Vibewire will also host some LIVE events – allowing forum participants to meet face-to-face (and don’t forget that includes our Friday Coffee Morning this week at Vibewire):

    What Innovators, creatives, activists and everyone else. Meet, drink, talk.
    When 7pm, Wednesday May 6th
    Where Vibewire Enterprise Hub, 525 Harris St, Ultimo NSW

    What 5 speakers on the 5 Cs of innovation: Collaboration, Connectivity, Creativity, Commercialisation & Conversation. Also available on U-Stream & Twitter (use #efest to join the conversation).
    When 8am to 10am, Friday May 8th
    Where Vibewire Enterprise Hub, 525 Harris St, Ultimo NSW

    What A treasure hunt throughout the city, using technology to collect items. Players will challenge their perspective on e-Festival topics.
    When 10am – 5pm, Sunday May 10th
    Where Start at Vibewire Enterprise Hub, 525 Harris St, Ultimo

To get started with the e-Festival:

I look forward to chatting with you!

No Clean Feed – Internet Censorship in Australia

CKnocleanfeed If you use Twitter, you may have noticed a bunch of people are using avatars with an X across their mouths. This is a protest against the Australian Government’s plans to implement an internet content filter. This plan places a blanket of censorship across the internet which will, no doubt, have unforeseen consequences – and puts our access to information on a par with China and Iran. (My friend CK, pictured, has joined in, and I would encourage others to do the same.)

For example, when travelling in China I found that I was unable to access my blog. It is not like I write dissenting material. I put it down, in the end, to the title of the blog – Servant of Chaos. It seems China does not approve of chaos. And I am concerned that this “new Australia” may follow suit.

Furthermore, once internet filtering is in place, what safeguards will we have over excessive filtering? What rights of recourse will we have to follow to have our websites “white listed”? And how much will this cost? Is this perhaps a veiled attempt to “control the conversation” emanating from a growing and more vocal constituency via blogs and social media?

While this may be alarmist, remember, we are now just emerging from a time where political debate was managed according to “core” and “non-core” promises. It is disappointing to think that some of the first digital steps of a new government are those being contemplated by Stephen Conroy. It is frightening to consider where this may lead, or more importantly, what impact it will have on our nation’s innovation and place in a global knowledge economy.

There are more details on The Australian’s website where I left the following comment:

So our government is aiming to spend more than $40 million dollars of taxpayer money on technology which can be circumvented and does not achieve their stated aims?    
Why not invest this money in the FUTURE of our country? Put it into the ailing education systems and teach our kids how to safely use the Internet. Or use it to bulk purchase the XO Laptop — which would deliver 200,000 computers into the hands of kids who cannot afford them.      
As the saying goes, give a man a fish and his hunger will be satisfied (for now). Teach him to fish and he will feed his community.      
We have just had 12 years of feeding. It is time to fish.

Update: Get Shouty’s "future husband" (wouldn’t they make a lovely couple if they had met) Angry Aussie gives us the lowdown on why this is a bad idea and why it won’t work.

Reblog this post [with Zemanta]


As I explained yesterday, February 13 is now a momentous day for Australia. The Parliament of Australia stands united in apologising to our indigenous population. And now the hard work begins.

Other writers share their thoughts and sentiments on a day when a single word, sorry, changes the way we view our own nation (please let me know if you want to be included):

And, of course, there are others who use digital media to articulate what today’s apology means for us all.

Missy Higgins

Add to My Profile | More Videos

The Difference A Word Makes

A year is a long time in politics! Just last year I wrote this post celebrating the 40th anniversary of a landmark in Australian history — the recognition of the the citizenship rights of our indigenous people. Today I watched as the opening of Parliament under a new government placed the spotlight on indigenous culture — with the traditional "welcome to country" performed in Canberra’s Parliament House by local Aboriginals.

And tonight, the Australian people sit at the precipice of a change that I feared would never occur in my own lifetime … our Prime Minister, Kevin Rudd, will tomorrow read an apology. He will say the word "sorry" three times. This single word, "sorry", has been a contentious political issue here in Australia for years. But in refusing its utterance, in banning its debate, it has hung like an albatross around our necks — each individual silently bearing the weight of history and apathy in equal measure.

I hope tomorrow’s speech reignites the spirit of reconciliation that I joined in over twenty years ago. It is time to move forward — to confront with open eyes and open arms, the opportunities before us as a nation. There will be challenges, no doubt. Disagreements, many. But in addressing them, one by one, step by step, we will surely build a better place for us all to live in.

The full text of the speech is as follows:

Today we honour the Indigenous peoples of this land, the oldest continuing cultures in human history. We reflect on their past mistreatment. We reflect in particular on the mistreatment of those who were stolen generations — this blemished chapter in our nation’s history.

The time has now come for the nation to turn a new page in Australia’s history by righting the wrongs of the past and so moving forward with confidence to the future. We apologise for the laws and policies of successive Parliaments and governments that have inflicted profound grief, suffering and loss on these our fellow Australians. We apologise especially for the removal of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children from their families, their communities and their country. For the pain, suffering and hurt of these stolen generations, their descendants and for their families left behind, we say sorry.

To the mothers and the fathers, the brothers and the sisters, for the breaking up of families and communities, we say sorry. And for the indignity and degradation thus inflicted on a proud people and a proud culture, we say sorry.

We the Parliament of Australia respectfully request that this apology be received in the spirit in which it is offered as part of the healing of the nation. For the future we take heart; resolving that this new page in the history of our great continent can now be written.

We today take this first step by acknowledging the past and laying claim to a future that embraces all Australians. A future where this Parliament resolves that the injustices of the past must never, never happen again. A future where we harness the determination of all Australians, Indigenous and non-Indigenous, to close the gap that lies between us in life expectancy, educational achievement and economic opportunity. A future where we embrace the possibility of new solutions to enduring problems where old approaches have failed. A future based on mutual respect, mutual resolve and mutual responsibility. A future where all Australians, whatever their origins, are truly equal partners, with equal opportunities and with an equal stake in shaping the next chapter in the history of this great country, Australia.

Tomorrow, some time after 9am I will live in a different country. Who knows what it will look like in another 12 months? But I look to that future with, as Shakespeare would say, "a glad eye".

Yes We Can … And You Should

It is voting day in the US. The opportunities provided by democracy is often taken for granted by citizens — I myself have woken many times on voting days, thinking that I "can’t be bothered" going to vote. I couldn’t be bothered fighting the pamphleteers. My apathy was overwhelming. My disillusion with the choices on offer, profound and unsettling. I just wondered how much the fine would be (voting is compulsory in Australia).

Yet for those without the luxuries and protections provided by democracy, voting is seen as a far off, utopian dream. It is something to aspire to. It heralds not apathy, but action. Potential. To all my American readers who are thinking of not voting, please reconsider. Your right to vote was hard won. Your choices affect many lives — within and outside of the borders of your nation. It is a choice that contains mighty power. Regardless of who you vote for or which party you follow, please vote. It’s in all our interests.

Now, if only we were possessed of speech makers with a vision here in this country. Seems I am not alone in this lament 😉