Get Thee to a Library & Learn!

An eclectic overview of the current state of play on prospective Australian net censorship is presented by Warwick Rendell – suggesting the leaking of the possible / partial ACMA list plays into pro-filter hands, and that filter opponents need to focus on the development of workable alternatives.

Activities which violate human rights – child pron, rape, war, murder, torture, economic servitude, domestic violence, racism and so on are worldwide problems both on and off the internet. Those who prosecute human rights violators are to be applauded. Yet it is desirable that success in identifying and dealing with human rights violators should be achieved without compromise of others’ fundamental human freedoms. For example, consider the logical extreme – of an hypothetical nation banning computers and electronic data transmission completely as a last resort to protect a vulnerable group from ‘undesirable’ material.

At this point it’s been definitively revealed what won’t work to address these violations and the violators productively – blacklists which interminably and inevitably end up on Wikileaks, increasing ease of access for voyeurs of abuse.

Firstly if a blacklist must exist, a right of appeal and review is essential in order to protect freedom of speech and allow redress for those whose sites have been wrongfully banned or filtered. Political free speech, the only free speech afforded some protection in our Australian constitution is at stake – and sex too can be regarded as a form of political communication, an act of freedom, of free individual expression. Likewise sites which discuss euthanasia, abortion and so on also have political dimensions and opinions thereon have a right to be heard and debated no matter how uncomfortable some may find the subject and extent of the argument. One *does* have a choice not to read sites thrown up in one’s search results. Will we as parents and adults serve our children well if these freedoms, which many of us have taken for granted since the advent of the internet, are not preserved for them?

Consideration of the above adult subject matter (as opposed to prurient voyeurism of exploitative abuse), is part of normal, healthy human activity – we all die, most of us desire sex and many of us are faced with reproductive choices. Would stigmatisation and repression of adult material as a consequence of mandatory and/or opt-out censorship assist us to maintain a healthy, guilt-free society? is there a possibility that suppression of adult net content may even contribute to civil unrest, or uninformed, neutered political apathy and personal disempowerment? are we there already?

The main thrust of the pro-filter argument is that children must be protected from unsuitable material upon which they might stumble inadvertently or through curiosity.

However, as has been pointed out by anti-government filter proponents (in addition to a plethora of technical problems), parents have primary responsibility for their children, not government – and functional parents employ self-chosen, caring, one-on-one methods of parenting to address the individual needs of their unique offspring. The internet is an online library in some ways analogous to a physical library. Books and magazines not suitable for children may be housed on the top shelf, away from young eyes, or hidden in drawers, should that be the parental proclivity. Are not parents in the best position to judge when their child’s reading age has progressed to be able to handle more ‘adult’ material? Why do pro-filter lobbyists demean Australian parents by assuming they are incapable of choosing to supervise their childrens’ net activities, subscribing to a ‘child-friendly’ ISP or installing PC based filtering software? why treat Australian parents as if they were children themselves and assume without real evidence that (a) children have been harmed by accessing an unfiltered internet for the past 30 years and (b) that the vast majority of Australian parents want the government to censor their internet?

The issue of consistency across the media spectrum logically arises as a flow-on from the filter debate – whilst parents may collect a vast array of adult reading material for their own physical libraries, will the government, under further pressure to act on behalf of ‘inadequate’ parents then intervene again to ensure parents do not make their salacious or otherwise provocative material available to their children? will the government next institute brigades of inspectors to do spot checks on shelves of books and magazines kept in the familial home, just in case the children inadvertently open the wrong drawer, or find a ladder to climb to the top shelf? Further along, will ALL adult material be banned, for fear parents may fail to conceal it from their children. The slippery slope to a virulently sanitised toyland is not at all inviting.

When forbidden, that which is ultimately attractive to curious humans – information and stimuli enabling exploration of their own functions, feelings and purpose – may become all the more tantalising. I developed a fascination with Ian Fleming’s novels at a young age, precisely because my father valiantly attempted to hide them from me. To no avail. Portnoy’s Complaint and Lady Chatterley’s Lover (the history of the banning in Australia of both these books should serve as a potent reminder of our antipodean propensity for wowserish, parochial overreaction ) were successfully purloined from my mother’s secret library. One wonders whether I would have been interested in these works at all, had not they been concealed. (I strongly suspect that I would be the first kid on the block to find a way around a net filter as well, simply because it was there).

On reflection now, I know that these books irrevocably enriched my life. It is worth remembering too that those who abuse more often than not learn it from modelling the real life culture which surrounds them. Footballers who participate in pack rapes don’t learn their behaviour from books or the net, they model the established real life behaviours of their ‘tribe’.

We do not ban sugar because diabetics cannot tolerate it; we do not ban football because some footballers pack rape. Should we emasculate the net because pro-filter advocates assume an unmeasured minority of parents may presently lack the skills to teach themselves and their children well?

Treating the entire population as incompetents, criminals or potential criminals by instituting mandatory, unaccountable and optout filtering of their internet feed including non-illegal adult net material to boot for ‘the sake of the children’ is unacceptably patronising and fascistic.

In Queensland at least, some libraries provide free internet training. Parents who lack computer skills, who wish learn to supervise their offsprings’ browsing habits, discuss PC based filtering and existing choices of filtered ISPs might do well to avail themselves of these courses. The extravagant waste of our taxpayer funds on filtering proposed by Conroy and his acolytes would be far better spent as a worthy investment in those wondrous institutions shining at the pinnacle of human civilisation – our libraries.

“You think it’s just a movie on a silver screen
And they’re all actors and fake each scene
Maybe you dont care whose gonna lose or win
Listen to this and I’ll tell you somethin’

It’s a horror movie right there on my TV
Horror movie right there on my TV
Horror movie and there’s known abuse
Horror movie, it’s the six-thirty news
Horror movie, it’s the six-thirty news

The public’s waitin’ for the killin’ and the hatin’
Switch on the station, oh yeah
They do a lot a-sellin’ ‘tween the firin’ and the yellin’-a”

– Skyhooks

“Censorship cannot eliminate evil. It can only kill freedom.”

– Excerpt from a letter to 28 newspapers, signed by Ed Morrow, president, American Booksellers Assn. and Harry Hoffman, president, Walden Book Co., Inc. (1990).

Portnoy’s Complaint

– Time included this novel in its TIME 100 Best English-language Novels from 1923 to 2005.[1]

– In 1969 the book was declared a “prohibited import” in Australia, though the Australian publisher, Penguin Books, resisted and had copies printed up in secret and stored in fleets of moving trucks. Several attempts to prosecute Penguin and any bookseller carrying the book failed.[3]

Lady Chatterley’s Lover

– Not only was the book banned in Australia, but a book describing the British trial, The Trial of Lady Chatterley, was also banned. A copy was smuggled into the country and then published widely. The fallout from this event eventually led to the easing of censorship of books in the country. However, the country still retains the Office of Film and Literature Classification. When the office considers material to be too offensive or obscene, it will refuse to classify the material. Material that fails to receive a classification cannot be distributed. Its officers are called “classifiers” not “censors”.[7]


Wikileaks to Conroy: Go after our source and we will go after you

Thu Mar 19 23:07:20 EDT 2009

The Stockholm based publisher of Wikileaks today issued a warning to the Australian Minister for Broadband, Communications and the Digital Economy, Senator Steven Conroy, who is responsible for Australian internet censorship.

Senator Conroy, in an official media release yesterday, claimed, in response to the release of the Australian internet censorship list by Wikileaks, that his department, “is investigating this matter and is considering a range of possible actions it may take including referral to the Australian Federal Police. Any Australian involved in making this content publicly available would be at serious risk of criminal prosecution.”

Sunshine Press Legal Adviser Jay Lim stated:

“Under the Swedish Constitution’s Press Freedom Act, the right of a confidential press source to anonymity is protected, and criminal penalties apply to anyone acting to breach that right.

Source documents are received in Sweden and published from Sweden so as to derive maximum benefit from this legal protection. Should the Senator or anyone else attempt to discover our source we will refer the matter to the Constitutional Police for prosecution, and if necessary, ask that the Senator and anyone else involved be extradited to face justice for breaching fundamental rights.”

Senator Conroy may wish to consider the position of the South African Competition Commission, which decided to cancel its own high profile leak investigation in January after being advised of the legal ramifications of interfering with Sunshine Press sources.


* Australian government secret ACMA internet censorship blacklist, 6 Aug 2008
* There is no bigger issue than net censorship
* Bank Fees: Banking on silence
* In depth background detail on Australia’s proposed internet censorship system
* Sydney Morning Herald: Leaked Australian blacklist reveals banned sites
* Sydney Morning Herald: Dentist’s website on leaked blacklist
* 278+ other press references


Over to you, Senator Conroy!