Filtering in Oz: Australia's Foray into Internet Censorship
31 Pages Posted: 23 Dec 2008
Date Written: December 22, 2008
Australia's decision to implement Internet censorship using technological means creates a natural experiment: the first Western democracy to mandate filtering legislatively, and to retrofit it to a decentralized network architecture. But are the proposed restrictions legitimate? The new restraints derive from the Labor Party's pro-filtering electoral campaign, though coalition government gives minority politicians considerable influence over policy. The country has a well-defined statutory censorship system for on-line and off-line material that may, however, be undercut by relying on foreign and third-party lists of sites to be blocked. While Australia is open about its filtering goals, the government's transparency about what content is to be blocked is poor. Initial tests show that how effective censorship is at filtering prohibited content - and only that content - will vary based on what method the country's ISPs use. Though Australia's decisionmakers are formally accountable to citizens, efforts to silence dissenters, outsourcing of blocking decisions, and filtering's inevitable transfer of power to technicians undercut accountability. The paper argues Australia represents a shift by Western democracies towards legitimating Internet filtering and away from robust consideration of the alternatives available to combat undesirable information.
Keywords: Internet, censorship, filtering, Australia, Labor Party, Conroy, cyberlaw, Internet law, ISP, labor party, broadband
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