The Australian Government is proposing an Internet filtering system that would apply to every single home Internet user in Australia. Involvement of Internet Service Providers (ISPs) would be compulsory and as Senator Stephen Conroy, Minister for Broadband, Communication and Digital Economy has stated, so-called “unwanted” materials would be blocked. The Government states that its aim is to block access to websites involving child pornography, X-rated and violent material Euthanasia content has also been discussed as possible “unwanted” material. Already, other Parliamentarians are calling for additions to the suggested bans, including material on gambling and anorexia.
Reports indicate that under the Government’s current internet proposal a “black list'” of sites would be created and ISPs would have to compulsorily block their users from accessing these sites. This is akin to the situation in China, where the Government decides what is censored and does not tell the public. As in China, the proposed Australian model does not allow for public debate or input over what would included on any “black list”.
Amnesty International recognises that there are some limits to freedom of expression and that this includes blocking access to certain content; for example, child pornography or content that incites violence. What is essential, however, is transparency -- a clear communication of what is to be blocked, and why this is in the broader social interest, and under what legislation.
It is stated that this proposal will protect children. However, there are already technical options available for ensuring that harmful content is not accessible to minors - Government-developed software has been made available free of charge for such purposes. The proposal for blanket censorship makes decisions for all web users regardless of their age.
No other Western democracy operates a system such as the one proposed by the Australian Government. When the Government refers to other nations having such systems, it omits the fact that elsewhere the involvement of the ISPs is completely voluntary and take-up is very low. In those other countries, the ISP has a choice and so, therefore, does the Internet user. The Australian proposal effectively makes the Internet Service Provider a tool of censorship and would decide for each Internet user what they can or cannot read and discuss online.