Tuesday, January 26, 2010

It is about censorship and it does matter.

Some commentators would have you believe that the only reason to be worried about the proposed mandatory filter is that a) it will be ineffective and b) it might cost something. They urge us to back away from the censorship arguments because these are the "least effective" arguments for opposing the filter.

This is rubbish.

Apart from anything else, mere ineffectiveness is not going to motivate Australians to resist the filter. The Government runs many worthy, if ineffective, anti-obesity campaigns. People won't actively resist public expenditure on an ineffective project unless they actually object to the project in principle. Assuming that the Australian public cares enough about an ineffective proposal to vote against it for reasons of ineffectiveness alone is assuming a level of care that, frankly, has no basis in reality.

Yes, some comparisons which suggest that Australian filtering will be identical to that imposed Iran, China and Saudi Arabia are somewhat overblown. However, as I argue in another post, these examples do serve to illustrate limiting cases and help to remind us that Australia is planning to move far closer to these examples than any other western democracy.

However, to suggest that censorship concerns as a whole are ill-founded is extremely dangerous to the cause.

If your only opposition to the filter is that it is ineffective, then you have little reason in principle to resist an effective filter.

Make no mistake, the Government will implement an ineffective filter, if it is given a chance. However, an ineffective filter will never survive long term. Once the Government has established the right to filter, this or future governments will inevitably use the very ineffectiveness of the filter to argue that a more obtrusive filtering regime is required in order to address the deficiency. Any suggestion that the Government will suddenly be overcome by free-speech zeal and rollback an ineffective filter is pure fantasy - Governments rarely, if ever relinquish a power once granted.

The point of resisting the filter now is not because the practical consequences of the filter being implemented are dire - most people simply won't notice, precisely because the filter will be utterly ineffective. The point of resisting the filter now is to oppose the principle that the Government has the right to decide for itself what Australians may and may not read on the Internet.

If we don't resist now, then when?

If we accept the Government's right to filter ineffectively now, then we will have no reason - in principle - to resist a Government attempt to filter more effectively in the future. If we concede the right to filter now, we will never claw it back.

That's why censorship arguments matter. That's why they matter now.


Alex said...

(Aside: The current government "relinquished" the sedition laws brought in by the Howard Government.)

My point is that most Australians don't care about censorship. A campaign that focuses on something that Australians don't care about won't work. There have been many gross violations of civil rights in Australia (the sedition laws for one), and not a peep has been raised by "mainstream" Australia.

Also, most Australians live with "censorship" in the form of the outdated classification laws - books, TV, radio, DVDs and video games are all "censored". There's not a lot of widespread outrage about that in the electorate (minor campaigns by EFA and civil liberties groups not withstanding).


A H said...

@Alex , did they abolish the sedition laws? I thought they kept them.

Anyway, I completely agree with the post that the argument against the filter should be based on principle, not on whether or not the filter will be effective.

The principle here is, people can do whatever they like as long as they don't harm somebody else. And that means that people can view whatever images they like, listen to whatever music they like, read what ever content they like or think whatever thoughts they like, because none of those actions can ever harm another person.

Conversations that occur over the internet are essentially no different from conversations that occur between individuals in their homes. The Government can't stop people from having conversations with one another.

If you break this argument down to people, they will understand, because the freedom to do whatever you like so long as you don't harm anybody else is an essential part of western culture that goes back thousands of years. Ask somebody "do you think the government has a right to control what you think?" ... I don't think anyone is going to say yes to that.

By talking about how inefficient the filter is, or how it will reduce internet speeds, or how it will cost ISPs money... we're just skirting around the main issue; we're wasting time. The Government can easily give money to ISPs, produce reports/studies that show the filter to be effective, and if the filter proves to be ineffective, the government can say they will improve the filter over time.

There's no way they can argue that "Yes, we have a right to control people's thoughts." We just have to take the time to explain to people that this is what the Government are trying to do.

Dan Buzzard said...

The reason mainstream populace does not pay much attention to the dangers of censorship is due to complacency. We have become so used to living a a western democracy that many of us cannot imagine life any other way.

I believe the vast majority of this country care if we can only wake them up.

jfk said...

I think that bringing up the technological flaws highlights the dishonesty with which this Governments push for censorship has been conducted. I think the technological stuff has an important place. If Conroy does not understand the shortfalls by now.....enough said. Great posting! One of the best I have read. I hope we will not be on the Governments terms on this issue for much longer, cheers