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Filtering the Internet

By Kevin Rennie - posted Thursday, 16 August 2007

John Howard’s announcement of a $189 million Internet filter program must be challenged on a range of grounds. Is it an appropriate role for government? Will we be getting value for money? Is it practicable? Who will control the regulators?

From a conservative government, it is a turn around from the rhetoric of the past. The Liberals are supposedly the party of private enterprise, not public pandering. Isn’t this the kind of socialism we expect from Rudd’s mob? Individuals should make decisions and pay for matters related to personal privacy and family values.

If parents want to buy filters shouldn’t the market provide them and the users pay? Why should taxpayers foot the bill for something that is voluntary and private? There is no shortage of filtering programs and services already available on the Web. Some are free and none are expensive. You can even choose ones purporting to be Christian, whatever that means.


How many new teachers or police would $189 million pay for? 2,500? 3,000? Perhaps it is too cynical to ask how much of this $189 million is new money, given the expenditure on the current NetAlert program. Is this a re-badging of NetAlert with some free software thrown in? Is it just another vote buying exercise?

The government has provided plenty of free advice through NetAlert. Its objective is to “promote a safer Internet experience, particularly for young people and their families”. The website claims it “provides practical advice on internet safety, parental control and internet filters for the protection of children, students and families”. Unfortunately it is not available online at the moment.

The effectiveness of the software must be queried. The software being promised hasn’t been finished yet. Will it block sites with particular words? If this is the case it could cut off access to online dictionaries, encyclopaedia, literature and academic papers, among a long list of important places that may contain the nominated “offensive” vocabulary.

About five years ago I was teaching Pride and Prejudice with Year 12 students when a key, but innocuous, website was blocked by the Northern Territory Education Department regulators who turned out to be based in California. Perhaps we’ll ban all chat and social networking sites. Who knows what people might write?

More bizarre is how it might deal with images? Goodbye to Michelangelo’s David? Will flickr and other photo services be cut? Do we stop all video access? At least we would be protected from government announcements on YouTube and political websites and blogs like Kevin07.

If you think this is a joke, my political blog, Labor View from Broome, has been blocked by the Victorian Education department and by China. Perhaps they were offended by the post “Beat me! Beat me!” which showed Mark Vaile and Kerri-Anne Kennerley whipcracking together.


Apparently in Victoria they block servers not just sites. So much for selective targeting. Google, who own, might be interested in that! There are many obscenities on the Web. Fast food and barbie ads, for instance. What about images of violence, war and starvation?

Earlier this year I recommended a podcast to teaching colleagues trying to implement Web technologies in their classrooms. It was Michael Wesch's video “Web 2.0 ... The Machine is Us/ing Us”, one of several excellent videos presentations found on YouTube. You guessed it. The education department had blocked YouTube.

I almost forgot audio. How will they stop offending song lyrics and other sound files? What about the kinds of services offered now by telephone which grace the classifieds in our local papers?

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About the Author

Kevin Rennie is a retired secondary teacher, unionist and has been an Australian Labor Party member since 1972. He spent eight years teaching in the Northern Territory: four in Katherine, followed by four in Maningrida, an aboriginal community in Arnhem Land. Kevin lived in Broome from January 2007 to May 2008 and now lives in Melbourne. He blogs at Red Bluff, Labor View from Bayside and Cinematakes. He is also a Global Voices author.

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