Professor – Unfiltered Internet Has No Place in a Democracy

Says people like the Electronic Frontier Australia are a bunch of extremists.

It may be difficult for some to read what this professor has published in Australian IT without noting a certain amount of irony, but a he has essentially said that the internet doesn’t belong to people who have “Libertarian” beliefs. It does seem to highlight how heated the web filtering debate in Australia has become.

He starts out his article by saying that the internet filtering technology in Australia as proposed by the Australian government was to stop children from looking up porn on the internet. This may be news to a number of people who are watching the filtering debate unfold in Australia given that the first things we’ve heard out of the country’s government revolved around child pornography, not children watching pornography; that is, of course, if you take what the government says as fact of course.

He continues his piece saying the filtering debate is little more than filtering porn and how opponents are arguing that there is nothing wrong with children having free access to it. All this ignoring any hint that the debate has gone well beyond this into things like, “is it possible, let along right, to have these filters block all forms of p2p traffic?” or how do these filters plan on avoiding blocking legitimate sites like Wikipedia as has happened in England for instance.

Afterwards, he goes as far as to say that the people at Electronic Frontier Australia “represents the most extreme strand of internet libertarianism“ He uses porn as a red herring to support the internet filtering movement with the following:

Fortunately, we do not live in the type of society favoured by organisations like Electronic Frontiers Australia. We live in a democracy where citizens ask their governments to impose restrictions on certain types of content that are regarded as harmful to individuals or to the community more broadly.

He acknowledges that there are grey areas in the debate, but says that, for the most part, most kinds of content is either “black” or “white” and says this:

I have no in-principle objection to censoring the internet in the same way we censor other media, and I suspect most Australians would agree. Certainly, most parents of teenagers agree.

It almost seems as though he isn’t aware of the fact that the internet functions drastically different from other forms of media. Can a television be encrypted in a way to view something to avoid censors like an internet service? Not really. Does internet content largely reside in Australian control? Hardly. A far cry from what can be said about Australian television which can technologically be more heavily regulated.

To his credit, he cites the fact that filtering could degrade internet performance by 87%, but dismisses the statistic as scare-mongering, using an unsited statistic that another filter would degrade performance by 2%. Where he got this statistic is unclear. He also doesn’t deny that 1 in 12 sites would be mistakenly blocked which, in and of itself, is quite interesting.

He concludes with, “the most revealing words in the Get Up statement are “our internet”. The internet does not belong to the net libertarians, who seem to believe they inhabit a cyber-nation that is beyond normal forms of social regulation. The net belongs to all of us and, like other forms of communication, is subject to our collective decisions.“

This might be true if Get Up said, “My Internet”, but who does the internet belong to? It’s a neutral medium that anyone with a connection can contribute to. How can one entity set the standards for everyone on a medium such as the internet. Someones standards in China may be completely different to that of someones standards in Britain. Considering the fact that filters being proposed don’t really have an opt-out system, it’s mandatory for every citizen.

No one is saying that all filters are bad, but what many find offensive is the fact that these new government mandated filters will be used on everyones internet connection. It’s the lack of choice in the matter. With this in mind, the professor almost insinuates that users shouldn’t have a right to choose what they see online. There’s a huge difference between someone wanting to put filters on their computer and a government forcing everyone to use their filter — regardless of what is being filtered. How exactly to you call removing a freedom of choice democratic? It’s far easier to call that a dictatorship more than anything else.