Content Filtering: Australia

Since its foundation, Australia has been seen as a fairly liberal country, with an easy-going attitude towards just about everything. However, this is all about to change under the current administration, who are trying to push forward the Clean Feed internet filter for Australian internet users.

Australian Internet Filter stops you from saying **** *** ****!Private internet filters have been around for the last decade or so, but Clean Feed, if passed by law, would be the first national filter in the world.

We will look at the details of Clean Feed and examine its pros and cons and the potential fall out.

The proposal is a blanket censorship of thousands of websites deemed inappropriate by the Clean Feed body. This would replace the current practise of allowing each household to set their own censorship levels appropriate to the ages of internet users in their house. The kinds of sites being discussed include obviously sensitive material like pornography and drugs, but webpages discussing euthanasia, “inappropriate” political parties and over 18 rated games have also been discussed as being “RC” (refused classification). The idea is still being kicked around the Australian government, but current behind-the-scenes opinion indicates that the legislation is unlikely to get to a vote before the next general election.

The pros of this system are fairly obvious at first viewing. It aims to cut down on the amount of illegal material that is being seen and downloaded in Australia. By restricting offensive websites, younger internet users can be protected from entering sites that they didn’t mean to enter, or shouldn’t be looking at. The blanket ban on these websites removes the responsibility from internet providers and families for installing their own filters. These filters are increasingly easy to get around, and at a basic level can be simply uninstalled by a determined competent computer user, whilst a filter imposed by the internet provider and backed up by the government will be much tougher.

The Australian Labor Party minister who is campaigning for Clean Feed, Stephen Conroy, says that the filter will be carefully monitored, and regular meetings will be set up to discuss the status of controversial pages.

Australian Internet Filter - Clean FeedThe cons of the Clean Feed filter are also fairly obvious. Campaigners against the programme call it “a kick in the teeth for civil liberties” and the filter has been likened to the 1984 Big Brother society, where the state controls what each individual is able to access. The general consensus amongst anti-Clean Feed protesters is that it should remain the responsibility of each family and each person to monitor their own internet usage, using their own moral compass for guidance as to what they should and shouldn’t be accessing. By allowing a higher organisation to dictate these classified sites, the general public are submitting to the moral standards of a select few non-elected individuals. The argument runs that these people are in no better and no worse position to choose what the nation should be able to access than anyone else in the country.

Another problem is where the line is drawn. In today’s increasingly sensitive society, where political correctness can cause situations to spiral way out of context, it seems unfair for the elected party to decide what counts as racism, or other inappropriate context.

Lastly, and possibly most damagingly, studies are being conducted into whether such a filter would actually provide any sort of protection. Claims that it would help tackle the rise in paedophiles using the internet as a tool for grooming have been rubbished, saying that most illegal communication happens privately, through social network sites and emails. Taking control of these would amount to a gross breach of civil liberties, and would constitute a criminal act by the government.

The potential fall out of a decision in favour of Clean Feed could be quite dramatic. Recent opinion polls have agreed with the notion of internet filters and making the web a safer places, but when asked if the government should be in charge of their internet usage, a large proportion of the interviewees said no. By pushing this legislation through, Stephen Conroy has the potential to kick up a hornet’s nest of angry Australians, which may cause the whole operation to backfire spectacularly.


As ever should Clean Feed ever get the go ahead our old favourite Identity Cloaker will be useful to break through the barrier and deliver a completely unfiltered Internet experience.

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