Software, hardware, wetware

But there's no rabbits in the Internet?


Senator Conroy’s Internet Rabbit Fence (apt name?) is bringing up a few nasty issues in my mind when it comes to politics. We’ll take it as given that the idea is fundamentally stupid on a technical level - better network types than I have pointed out the flaws.

All this stressing about what people are seeing on the Internet though, that’s a symptom of something deeper, and far more insidious.

A bit of a recap, for those who missed the issue: the government wants to set up a filter on all inbound and outbound internet connections in the country (essentially). This would prevent access to material deemed illegal by anyone, and optionally, prevent access to material deemed ‘objectionable’ (unless you opt out of that filtering list). So no more access to the Anarchist’s Cookbook for us.

Unfortunately, what constitutes ‘objectionable’ material has yet to be readily explained, so we’re not exactly sure what else we’ll lose access to, either.

Senator Conroy’s own website has a choice quote:

“The internet is a wonderful tool that is delivering benefits to increasing numbers of Australian families but the Government wants to find ways to make it safer, particularly for children. This report will assist the Government to deliver on its election commitment to create a safer online environment,” Senator Conroy said.

(DBCDE Minister’s Website, accessed 13 November 2008)

It’s that tired old “won’t somebody think of the children!?” line. The Internet does make it easier for everyone to access information of all sorts, it’s true, and some of that information could be called ‘undesirable’, at best. I certainly can’t argue that young and developing minds should be shielded from some material, or at least guided through any interaction with it by someone of sound mind and good sense.

However - that’s the responsibility of parents and families, not the state. The Internet does not fly into living rooms by magic; data of an undesirable nature must be actively sought out. Gone are the days of porn pop-ups on major sites and search results that contain links to smut - you have to go looking for the bad stuff.

There are consenting adults in Australia who like smut. My generation particularly seem quite comfortable with the idea of pornography (ethical issues aside, that’s a discussion for another day). We are voting, tax-paying adults, many of us of sound mind and good sense. If we say we want smut, then by crikey, smut we shall have.

This filter, as proposed, allows someone in the government - I’m not quite clear whom, yet - to create a blacklist of sites that none of us can see. Better yet, we don’t get to see what that list of sites is; we’re expected to sit quietly by and let the government make those decisions for us. So far, I see no ability for anyone to object to what goes on that blacklist, there’s no way to opt out of it entirely, and no means by which to challenge those decisions.

Any time someone in government starts talking about making these kinds of decisions for you, it’s time to get angry. We’re a nation of adults. Most of us are educated (to some degree or another), at least loosely aware of what we object to, and what we find acceptable.


I’m all for protecting the children; let’s do that. However, let us do that in a way that does not restrict access for every consenting-age adult in the land; make the system opt-in for parents and families who are concerned, and leave the rest of us the hell alone.

It’s a slippery slope from ‘objectionable on moral grounds’ to ‘objectionable because it criticises the government’. This government may, indeed, be well-intentioned. They might not want to use the Rabbit Fence in a way that restricts access to legitimate information. What about the next government? The one after? Once the infrastructure is in place, it’s just a matter of time.

This one needs to be fought, and fought hard, by every legal means. I urge you all to talk about this issue, discuss it, get the word out, and let your representatives in government know that it’s not going to fly - it’s a waste of taxpayer money, and worse, it’s a ridiculous assault on our civil liberties.

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