Backpacking around South America six months ago, I logged onto my e-mail only to find the news about the proposed introduction of Internet Filtering at the ISP level to “protect the children”. It made my blood boil, because such a move has far and wide reaching implications beyond protecting children. Below is a copy of the e-mail I sent; and following it is the letter I recently received in response.
My e-mail earlier this year
From: Elias Bizannes
Date: Jan 2, 2008 4:40 PM
Subject: Proposal for censoring
To: Minister, Department of Broadband, Communications and the Digital Economy
Cc: Bronwen Clune, Marty Wells, Chris Saad, Mick Liubinskas, Duncan Reily, Cameron Reilly>
The proposal for mandatory ISP censoring has a noble intention – but is a dopey idea. You can’t legislate away inadequate parenting by curbing liberties.
I have been to Iran, where the Internet was censored as I was checking my e-mail, for sites that simply should not have been censored. In a country that is three times the size of us, and with a much bigger ideological agenda than our own fair country, you can be sure that if an authoritarian state like that can¬¥t get it right, you have no chance to implement it in Australia.
You can¬¥t fight the Internet – it is too decentralised that it responds to restrictions in innovative ways. You can only work with it. The reason your proposal concerns me, is because it will affect the performance of the web to users. People like me working or about to enter a growing industry of Australian entrepreneurs, that are trying to build a market from these same users already suffering poor speeds. Often, it is the children that form a crucial part for adoption of the innovative web services Australian entrepreneurs are building. Whilst they may not have the disposable income of adults, they are more tech savvy and help with viral adoption.
For example, an innovative new web start-up in the US which has dominated Silicon Valleys attention of late, Seesmic, would be affected by a clean feed if it allowed its users to have porn video chat rooms as well as normal ones like it currently does. Filtering is a difficult technology to get right. The monitoring costs of an innovative new Australian company, Tangler.com, would increase as they would need to monitor the so called user generated content that youtube is also built on, and is threatening the business models of traditional media.
Just like drugs laws, which are better suited to the interests of pharmaceutical companies wanting to profit rather than the government trying to protect, censorship of any kind will always be a weak policy, because it doesn¬¥t deal with the root cause. The best form of control is at the home.
Whilst Family Firsts influence in the Senate will prohibit you dropping the policy, I really hope you consult with the industry like the news media has reported you to say. People like Duncan Reily (a writer on the most influential tech publication globally, techcrunch.com), Chris Saad (high profile entrepreneur and CEO of Faraday Media, an information filtering company), Marty Wells and Mick Liubinskas (CEO and Marketing Director of Tangler, as well as high profile entrepreneurs), Cameron Reilly (CEO of the podcastnetwork, one of the biggest alternative media networks globally), and Browen Clune (CEO of the citizen journalism start-up NorgMedia) are people you should consider. All the above are considered influential in the industry locally and internationally, and I would feel more comfortable if you had people like that advising you (and who all but two have children as well).
The official government response