This far and no further
Australia's federal government plans to implement a mandatory national internet "filter" in order to block illegal material.
The news follows an announcement from major global internet technology players (e.g., Microsoft, Yahoo, Google) toting the Global Network Initiative, which limit government interference in tech availability and protects human rights, including privacy and freedom of speech.
Australian officials say the roadblock — which brings China's Great Firewall to mind — is intended to combat child pornography and proliferation of adult content. But the filter could conceivably be extended to controversial websites promoting euthanasia or anorexia, writes The Sydney Herald Sun.
Arguments against the filter include higher prices for internet access, slower speeds, and restriction of Australians' web access. Electronic Frontiers Australia pointed out that since the filter does not cover peer-to-peer filesharing networks, it will have little effect on pirated internet content.
Meanwhile, an American company is working on ways to help ISPs intercept "illegal content" on filesharing networks, while giving pirates an opportunity to buy certain content for free. The program will be tested on an Australian ISP next month.
Purportedly in the interest of children, The Australian Christian Lobby promoted the nationwide filtering system, urging its implementation in a statement (pdf). The group argued both children and the community need to be protected from increasingly abusive and degrading material "too easily available" over the internet.
Even so, human rights groups such as Amnesty International remain adamantly opposed to what they call "censorship," asserting the block violates freedom of expression. In 2006 — soon after Google agreed to censor certain search results in China – it accused all three internet giants of enabling the erosion of such freedoms.
Reporters Without Borders jumped into the fray when Yahoo snitched on a Chinese journalist who relayed a message about Tiananmen Square to foreign websites, landing him in jail. Calling Yahoo an "informant," the debacle raised issues of privacy and disclosure of user information to governments.