Protest in Canberra against net filtering

About 150 people gathered on the lawns of the Federal Parliament House on March 21 to protest the Federal Government's proposed mandatory internet filter. Most of the people who gathered were Canberra locals.

Speakers included John Kaye from the Greens, Fiona Patten from the Sex Party, and Jim Stewart from Search Engine Optimisation company

Related Links: No Clean Feed | Electronic Frontiers Australia | Digital Liberty Coalition

The rally was pretty much "preaching to the converted" according to one participant talking on twitter, with another suggesting Garema Place in Civic would have been a better location with more people around.

The issue of internet filtering has been brought to the fore by the Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA) banning for publishing a purported Internet blacklist deriving from ACMA. An examination of the list published on Wikileaks by Electronic Frontiers Australia shows while some sites contained illegal material involving minors, a majority were blocked for other reasons. Sites blocked included YouTube videos, a MySpace profile, online poker parlours and a site containing euthanasia information, an anti-abortion site (ACMA declares anti-abortion site 'prohibited content'), as well as many apparently harmless sites such as that of a tour operator, a dentist and a satirical encyclopedia.

"The leaking of the list has confirmed some of our worst fears," said EFA Vice-Chair Colin Jacobs on the EFA website. "This was bound to happen, especially as mandatory filtering would require the list to be distributed to ISPs all around the country. The Government is now in the unenviable business of compiling and distributing a list which includes salacious and illegal material and publicising those very sites to the world."

"Now that we have seen the list, it is clearly not the perfect weapon against child-abuse it has been made out to be," said Jacobs. "Many of the sites clearly contain only run-of-the-mill adult material, poker tips, or nothing controversial at all. Even if some of these sites may have been defaced at the time they were added to the list, how would the operators get their sites removed if the list is secret and no appeal is possible?"

"Controlling the spread of information on the internet is not as simple as some in government would like to believe," said Jacobs. "The leaking of this blacklist is a timely lesson in this, and we hope the Government will take this to heart before imposing a filter on the entire country.”

According to Stephen Conroy's answers to questions on notice from Greens Senator Scott Ludlam only around half of the sites on the list included content relating to child abuse material.

Political censorship under threat of $11,000 fines per day have already ocurred with ACMA issuing a notice on 10 March to remove a banned link to an anti-abortion page from Whirlpool Forums host, Bulletproof Networks. Whirpool has complied with the notice.

Wikileaks has since published an updated blacklist dated 18 March 2009 with 1170 URLS, including Betfair, The Peaceful Pill Handbook, Redtube, AbbyWinters, IShotMyself, TheHun and xTube, and a ballroom dancing site guestbook on the list.

At the moment, the blacklist is provided to the makers of content filtering software and systems on trial by certain Internet Server Providers (ISPs). Under the mandatory filtering plan proposed, all Internet connections would be filtered. According to the Communications Minister Senator Stephen Conroy "A final decision on the extent of the content filtering proposal will be determined after the conclusion of technical feasibility trials."

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