Tuesday, January 1, 2008

Wrong way, go back: Conroy takes poor approach to filtering porn

I am deeply concerned about the proposal of the Minister for Communications, Stephen Conroy, to impose mandatory filtering responsibilities on internet service providers in an attempt to restrict children's access to pornography. I write as one with some technical literacy in these matters and no financial interest in the ISP industry.

In his announcement Senator Conroy stated that under the proposed laws all residential and school internet feeds would be clean by default and anyone wishing to have unrestricted access would have to negotiate an opt-out with their service provider. Presumably this will be achieved by ticking the box requesting a smutty feed.

Senator Conroy claimed that "if people equate freedom of speech with watching child pornography, then the Rudd Labor Government is going to disagree". In doing so, Senator Conroy has attempted to smear any opponent of his plan as an advocate of free access to child pornography. This is deeply offensive and he should withdraw or clarify his statement immediately.

While I understand the Government's desire to support parents in their struggle to shield children from unsavoury web content, the proposed solution is a very poor way of going about it. Filtering at the ISP level will be utterly ineffective at preventing curious young minds from seeking access to pornography, and it will necessarily wind back some of the so-called speed advantages of the promised broadband revolution. What the Government gives with one hand it takes away with another. The unusual aspect of this decision is that both hands belong to the same minister.

Incidental users of the internet are highly unlikely to be confronted by extremely graphic pornography, especially child pornography, unless they actively go looking for it. But filtering at the ISP level will not stop determined consumers of pornography from obtaining it because of the numerous ways of subverting filters. It is not just a joke that it was once said "the internet treats censorship as damage and routes around it". It is a simple fact of the technology that cannot be avoided.

By advocating such a policy, an immature Government that promised a broadband revolution makes itself look foolish. It betrays a profound lack of understanding of the technology it seeks to promote.

SMH Letters/2008/01/01

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