Censoring the net must begin at home

The Federal Government’s move to censor the Internet is a cynical exercise which is doomed to fail. The Broadcasting Services Amendment (Online Services) Bill has been developed by television regulators blundering into a field they know little about.

It will be debated by legislators who understand very little about the Internet and has been vigorously opposed by Australian industry bodies such as the Australian Computer Society, the AIIA and the Internet Industry Associations.

The Bill may well pass through both houses of the Federal Parlia-ment but it cannot and will not achieve its objectives.

Very few of us with a modicum of understanding of the political process can fail to recognise the timing and content of this Bill and the importance of a certain Tasmanian Senator’s vote on the GST issue.

Some super cynics have said the Bill is intended to fail.

Whatever the government’s real agenda is, it has used old paradigm thinking and responses to a new paradigm issue.

This is not a problem that will be resolved by technology or legislation. Education will in the end prove to be a far more effective strategy.

There is no question that there is undesirable or inappropriate material available on the net.

But it took us years to devise the means of handling such material in print and in broadcasting.

The Online Services Bill has been prepared in haste and is in itself inappropriate for a number of reasons.

• Content blocking measures at the network level are impractical. The Internet was designed to recognise blockages and go around them

• The task of identifying and classifying millions of websites is huge and the rate at which new sites are being added is breathtaking

• Imposing blanket censorship on all information entering the country is also impractical without greatly restricting access to legitimate material

• In economic terms, in the online world, regulating content is equivalent to regulating commerce

• Imposing costs on Internet Service Providers via additional regulation or capital expenditure for ineffective equipment to block sites may well discourage industry growth

• Technologically, the Internet has, is and will continue to change at a rate that will make it impossible for legislation to keep up

• There is a distinct probability the network-based filtering system proposed by the legislation will cause significant denigration of the Internet service.

As a result of this legislation, Australia will be recognised globally as one of the troglodyte nations that tried (and failed) to censor the net.

Singapore, the most controlled and guided of all democracies, tried and failed three or four years ago.

China and Malaysia are just now facing up to the reality of what paradigm shift means after fighting the implications of the net with worn out concepts and weapons.

For Australians with genuine concern for protecting the welfare of children the answer involves a major challenge for parents.

Parents can no longer opt out of this revolution. The net should never be allowed to be used as a baby sitter for children in the way that TV has been and parents need to be far more involved in the use of the Internet within the family.

If filtering is to be used, the most effective form is as a result of a parent related decision to apply it at the end-users’ desktop.

• Mal Bryce is a consultant to Dow Digital and a former WA Deputy Premier.

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