Photo: Dominic O'Brien
Conroy has backed down but there's no shortage of people still pushing to invade our privacy and censor the internet.
It's almost five years since communications minister Stephen Conroy embarked on his crash-or-crash-through campaign to introduce mandatory ISP-level internet filtering for all Australians. Opponents to the plan were regularly labelled as paedophiles and they initially played into Conroy's hands with a "No Clean Feed" campaign, which implied they were in favour of a "dirty" feed.
"If people equate freedom of speech with watching child pornography, then the Rudd-Labor Government is going to disagree," said Conroy at the time. The change from the "No Clean Feed" slogan to "Open Internet" was a smart move as it better emphasised the fact that opponents were more concerned about over-enthusiastic censorship than access to porn.
From the very beginning of the debate, outspoken filtering opponents such as Electronic Frontiers Australia and Mark Newton made it clear that the real concern about the planned filter was its broad scope and veil of secrecy which left it open to abuse by those with an agenda.
It didn't take long for calls to expand the proposed filter. Family First Senator, Steve Fielding, called for the filter to cover legal hardcore pornography and fetish material, while Senator Nick Xenophon wanted it to encompass online gambling. The Australian Christian Lobby was also pushing to expand the scope of the filter to cover a wide range of sins.
Rather than supporting child pornography, opponents of Conroy's plan instead proposed an open and transparent filter based on Interpol's child abuse database -- something which was far more technically feasible and far less open to abuse by politicians and special interest groups. Many Australian ISPs are already voluntarily blacklisting these sites and this week Conroy declared it to be the government's official policy as it worked with the Australian Federal Police to issue enforcement notices to all Australian ISPs.
"Blocking the INTERPOL 'worst of' list meets community expectations and fulfils the government’s commitment to preventing Australian internet users from accessing child abuse material online," Conroy says.
"Given this successful outcome, the Government has no need to proceed with mandatory filtering legislation."
Only a politician could label such a backdown a "successful outcome", considering it's exactly what he should have done five years ago. Senator Conroy has been gradually backtracking on filtering for some time but only now does it seem safe to declare the plan officially dead. But that doesn't mean that free speech and privacy advocates can rest easy. Right now Australia is debating the proposal for blanket data retention to keep records of everyone's internet usage for two years. There's already a push to expand the scope of this plan.
Meanwhile anti-piracy lobbyists are threatening to bomb the internet back into the stone age with draconian plans which keep emerging under the guise of various proposals such as the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement (ACTA), Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA), Protect IP Act (PIPA) and the Cyber Intelligence Sharing and Protection Act (CISPA).
Every time one clandestine Act is dealt with, another seems to appear. Keep an eye on the IP sections of the Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement, which aims to build on the free trade agreement between Australia and the US that saw Australia inherit all the worst parts of the US Digital Millennium Copyright Act. Meanwhile a Federal government review of Australian copyright law is coming next year, which will also have wide-range implications.
The battle against mandatory filtering was long and hard-fought, but it would be a mistake to see Conroy's backdown as the end of this fight. What's your biggest concern regarding online privacy and censorship?