Porn, Violence, 'Terror' And Social Networking Sites In Firing Line
Prime Minister John Howard has announced a war to "clean up" the internet. With a proposed budget of almost $200 million, and plenty more to come, Howard's internet war will be one of the most expensive programs in the world to filter, censor and screen internet users and content.
Howard used an internet-televised speech to some 100,000 Christians to launch his war, claiming he wanted to help parents to protect their children from unseemly content and online predators.
Oh, and he also wants to block and/or ban "terror" and "violent" websites :
Every Australian family will be provided with a free internet filter and the federal Government will enter an unprecedented partnership with service providers to filter pornography at the source. Communications and Australian Federal Police resources will be boosted immediately to expand checks on internet chat rooms to detect child predators, and privacy laws masking sex offenders on the net will be altered.
Last night, as Mr Howard talked about Christianity and family values, he revealed the government plan to upgrade the protection for families from internet pornography, violence and sexual predators.
As well as practical tools to help families put internet pornography beyond the reach of children, the Government will form partnerships with leading computer providers in upgraded steps to block porn sites and detect predators using popular websites such as MySpace and Facebook to contact children.
Of the $189 million, $43million will be provided immediately to double the size of the online child sex exploitation branch of the AFP and establish a working group to find ways of getting around privacy laws that protect sexual predators.
A "black list" drawn up by the Australian Communications and Media Authority, which covers Australia-based pornographic and terror sites, will be expanded internationally after consultation with the Attorney-General. The AMCA will also receive 14 additional internet regulators.
Behind the clearly good intentions of stopping online predators and children from being exposed to pornography and violence, there will likely be second and third waves of content control connected to Howard's war on the internet.
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The Howard government's plans to roll out broadband across the nation provides them with the opportunity to do what China, Iran and other countries have tried to do : block content they don't like, or that they deem dangerous, or threatening, or even too dissenting.
The Australian anti-terrorism laws has already led to the banning of books and DVDs that are claimed by the Attorney General, Philip Ruddock, to "glorify" and advocate terrorism.
That the Howard government wants to do the same across all internet content reaching Australians is hardly a secret.
But the definitions of what constitutes 'terror' or 'glorification' of violence are broad and open to vast interpretation.
The Tamil Tigers and Hamas are classed as 'terrorist' groups by the Australian government. But does that mean Australians would be blocked from reading their press releases online, or visiting their websites?
Columnist Tim Blair's blog has allowed thousands of comments from readers, over the past three years, discussing ways they think politicians, community leaders and even actors and musicians and Muslim taxi drivers should, could or can be killed and tortured. Would the blog of Tim Blair, opinion editor for the Daily Telegraph, fall under such anti-violence, anti-intolerance and anti-terror related bans on internet content?
Or would it just be those of Islamic extremists discussing terror and violence?
Would future bans on religious intolerance or 'hate speech', both of which the Howard government are considering, apply to all religions?
Or what about the blog of Herald Sun opinionist Andrew Bolt?
In a post today about a New York Times blog where readers were invited to concoct terror attack scenarios on America, Bolt's commenters said the New York Times should be bombed or that journalists should be killed. Clearly such comments are said in jest, but could they also be deemed to be advocating both violence and terrorism? Would Andrew Bolt's blog then be subjected to filtering regimes and bans on its content, and comments?
We also covered the New York Times blog on thinking up terror attacks on the United States over at Your New Reality. Would the New York Times blog post, and Australian websites discussing such a post and open discussion among commenters fall under anti-terror and anti-violence censorship and content control?
To take but one example of successful historical terrorism, the Zionist Irgun group launched dozens of terror attacks on Arab civilians, and army bases and hotels filled with British nationals in Palestine in the late 1930s and the 1940s, killing and wounding hundreds of innocent people. There are numerous websites that openly praise the Irgun terrorism that helped lead to the establishment of the state of Israel. Would such websites be blocked from the eyes of Australian internet users because they glorify and justify the use of terrorism?
Or will bans and blocks only apply to groups advocating and justifying terrorism in the current 'War on Terror'? And what about state-sponsored terrorism?
As with any censorship, particularly censorship of new media, the slippery slope is easy and tempting to climb onto, particularly under the positive auspices of blocking online predators and children's exposure to pornography. When told technology exists to control and censor internet content, control freaks like John Howard are easily tempted.
But once the 'Won't Someone Please Think Of The Children?' argument has been used to break down public objections, where do such controls on content, and outright censorship, stop?
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