In a bid to follow in the footsteps of Helen Coonan rather than try anything new, Telecommunications Minister Stephen Conroy says Labor will legislate mandatory content filtering at the ISP level. (ISPs are already required to offer user-level filters to customers.) Note that it's opt-out, not opt-in.
Though I believe it would be a bad idea, I could understand a government requiring that ISPs offer network-level filtering to concerned parents.
Requiring that content be filtered by default and that people must opt out if they don't want filtering is outrageous. I guess it makes sense though - maybe they realise that people don't want such filtering, and they don't want to look stupid when the adoption rate is shown to be minimal.
What bugs me most about this is the way Conroy is mixing issues. He says: "If people equate freedom of speech with watching child pornography, then the Rudd-Labor Government is going to disagree."
Referring to child pornography is a misleading and irresponsible use of emotive argument. Practically everyone is against child pornography and since it's illegal, the best way to deal with it is through prosecution, not filters.
The filters he's proposing are not for child pornography, but for pornography and violence generally. Mentioning child pornography sounds like a Howard-era tactic: reasonable concerns about broad-reaching changes can be dismissed by saying "you don't care about the children".
Talking about the speed of the Internet also seems like a red herring to me. I guess some people would be concerned about that. But surely the big issue here is the potential harm that could arise once a large proportion of the population are having their Internet access filtered by default.
The only good news in that article is the promise to engage "the sector" before they force it on the unsuspecting masses. It would be nice if they also engaged parents, children and educators.
One last question before I finish this rant: why are there no other initiatives being announced to protect children online? Filtering is a partial (and possibly ineffective) solution to a broader problem.
Who's going to help educate children about what to expect online and how to deal with bullies, stalkers, legalities, etc.? Who's going to help the parents educate their children? Where are the resources to actively protect children onlnine, beyond the implementation of a set-and-forget filtering regime?
Okay, that last question had sub-questions. I'll stop now.
Thanks to hasimir for pointing out the article. This post is adapted from my response to his post.
EDIT: I've bookmarked a range of articles and posts about this: http://del.icio.us/nathanj/conroy-filter (The earliest bookmarks are the most useful.)
Over a dozen negative reactions before I found someone who supports the plan. And she fails to address either of these two major problems:
1. Risk of abuse and related civil liberties problems.
2. Lack of focus on educating and helping children.