Conroy Not Fooling Anyone On An Open Internet

The internet freedom business is doing a roaring trade these days. Things started picking up early last year with Hillary Clinton's landmark speech, "Remarks on internet Freedom," which equated an open internet with human rights and condemned state-sponsored censorship of the net.

Then came the revelations by Wikileaks, starting with the "Collateral Murder" video and escalating to the current batch of diplomatic cables. These leaks severely tested the commitment of governments around the world to the principles of free speech, but have provided an unprecedented lesson in the power of the net and journalism to act in the public interest. The people of the world have taken the lesson to heart.

The protests sweeping the Middle East have highlighted the importance of an open internet even more starkly. For better or worse, revolution in the 21st century almost by definition includes Twitter, Facebook and the rest of the internet's tools. They have proven more effective than a container-load of AK-47s could ever be, because they allow and promote an undeniable expression of the will of the people that robs the violence of repression of any legitimacy.

It's an exciting time for citizens everywhere. We are witnessing, and often participating in, movements that would have been impossible only a few years ago.

Amongst all of this our own government's response has been tepid, confused and contradictory. The response to Clinton's speech, as we have noted before, was cringeworthy in its brazen twisting of her words to support a pro-censorship agenda. The reaction to the Wikileaks developments should have been a principled stand on free speech and the rights of an Australian citizen, but turned into a posturing witch-hunt.

And today, Senator Conroy was asked about the crisis in Egypt, where a desperate government cut internet access in order to hinder protestors. The minister in response declared his undying love for an Internet free of government control and assured us that such a thing could never happen in Australia.

"…Australia's a vibrant democracy, where the government doesn't control the internet..."

As blogger Michael Wyres notes here, the Minister has tied himself up in knots before, attempting to identify with online freedom of speech while spending most of his time defending the opposite.

Barring a superhuman capacity for doublethink, it's impossible to reconcile this statement with the Government's stated policy of internet censorship. A system that involves a secret, government-controlled blacklist of websites, even well-intentioned, definitely amounts to "government control of the internet".

If censoring and blocking isn't regulating or controlling the internet, what is? No doubt, the minister has no intention of censoring the web sites of protestors or anti-government activists, but he can't escape the fact that he is planning to put just such a tool into the hands of the government that succeeds his.

The double-standard does not suit our leaders well. If the government wishes to place Australia on the wrong side of history by going down the path of internet censorship, then have the courage to say so. Trying to do so while paying lip service to the ideals of free speech that censorship - by definition - contradicts, well, it's not fooling anybody.

Colin Jacobs is the Chair of Electronic Frontiers Australia. This post originally appeared on the EFA website



    “…Australia’s a vibrant democracy, where the government doesn’t control the internet…”

    If only this was really the policy of the current government.

    At least, for now, the internet is still a tool to help hold governments accountable via public opinion.

    He just has to drop the words "child pornography" in any rebuttal and people will fall into line. He's framed the argument so that people who disagree with the filter are seen to be wanting access to this type of deviant content.

    They should be lauded for the visionary NBN. Constantly. But the proposed censorship system is a massive black mark and I wish they would come to their senses.

    I doubt "Vibrant Democracy" will help much in that case, since even though the Luddite Abbot claims he'll dismantle the NBN if he gets into power I imagine he'll be more than happy to keep any censorship system well in place.

      The best we can do is make it an issue, not to blame one party or the other over their policy and say that "the other one would probably want it too" like a 6 year old.

      Make it an issue not a political commentary. That's the problem in public. Everyone's telling everyone what everyone else is doing.

      Censorship will do nothing to prevent child pornography. We know this because it will not screen P2P file transfers effectively and in the end the police will have to keep doing more of the same.

      The money should be used in these departments.

      Most people on the net are doing the right thing. If we want to stop child pornography give the police the means and the tools to do so. Let them use the money wisely. None but a few want child pornography out there.

        in public debate*

      The Liberals have already said they'll oppose the internet filter, so you'll have to find another hook to hang your pointless ad homs on.

      The NBN could just as easily be built by private enterprise - or is it us paying $36,000,000,000 for it that makes it "visionary"?

        It's visionary because private enterprise would NEVER build this kind of infrastructure in Australia. Ever.

        Which may clue you in to the fact that it's a hideous hideous waste of money. Any other country that's done it has had the advantage of being roughly the size of Tasmania - trying to spread that much infrastructure this thinly to service a tiny minority of country people is outrageous. By all means put in a fibre network, but not one that'll cost every man, woman and child in Australia $2000 when the budget is already billions in defecit.

        Ahhh jump on that 'defecit is bad!' bandwagon that Costello got everyone riding.

        Ask people in the bush if they think it's a hideous waste of money. Cities are so horrendously overcrowded, that providing this kind of infrastructure to remote areas is going to help tremendously.

    I get all teared up about Clinton's speech on internet freedom. This coming from the same two-faced US government that is siezing the domains of legal foreign websites. You're allowed all the 'freedom' the US of A thinks you should have in their own greed driven self-interest.
    One would think Conroy and Hillary Clinton would be best buddies. Clinton could have made him 'deputy internet sheriff'.

    December 31st 2007, ABC News.

    "Telecommunications Minister Stephen Conroy says new measures are being put in place to provide greater protection to children from online pornography and violent websites."

    Sound familiar??

    "The state must declare the child to be the most precious treasure of the people. As long as the government is perceived as working for the benefit of the children, the people will happily endure almost any curtailment of liberty and almost any deprivation."

    Adolf Hitler in Mein Kampf

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