Beginning on January 20, an initiative proposed by the new federal Labor government in Australia will go into effect that will censor the country’s citizens from looking at banned sites. Some of the sites include pornography and online gambling websites, as determined by the Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA).
The law will require ISP’s to provide a “clean feed” for all homes, schools, and any public facility that makes computers available to children. Though the previous government proposed the offering of NetNanny software – which allows parents to choose what is censored in their own homes – to all households who desired it, the new government claimed more mandatory censorship would be necessary. Even so, the new law does allow households to opt out and not receive the “clean feed.”
Australian Telecommunications Minister Stephen Conroy stated in a press conference, “Labor makes no apologies to those that argue that any regulation of the internet is like going down the Chinese road. If people equate freedom of speech with watching child pornography, then the Rudd-Labor Government is going to disagree.”
In fact, many media outlets and opponents to the legislation have compared the censorship in Australia to that which has taken place in China. The only difference is the ability of households in Australia to refrain from participation. China and Australia are now the two countries in the world with the broadest censorship of the internet.
Similarities between such laws in China and Australia are said to come from a particular connection – Kevin Rudd. The Australian Prime Minister who initiated the legislation was a former Australian diplomat in China and speaks fluent Mandarin, and Australia currently thrives upon increased mineral exports to China.
The censorship has raised eyebrows around the world for a number of reasons. Not only has online gambling been placed in the same category as pornography, but many point to potential future dangers to the act of censoring the internet. First, by the government determining what is or is not “inappropriate,” the scope of what fits into that category can be broadened as the government deems necessary or beneficial. Second, there is a cost involved that will be passed on to internet users due to the expense of providing the “clean feed.” In addition, already slow internet service will be slowed even more, despite the government’s previous promise to increase its speed.
When the legislation goes into effect on January 20, the reaction of the citizens of Australia will be the most telling prediction of the censorship’s success or failure.