Australia's Great Firewall: just like China, Syria and other "free" countries

Andy sez,
In a move that seems to be happening without comment from the Australian media, the Australian government is introducing a censorship regime ostensibly targeted at stopping teenagers accessing online porn.

But rather than being an opt-in system, it's "opt-out". I use the scare quotes because, and this is most insidious part, you can't actually opt out - you can merely be placed on a alternative blacklist which, instead of blocking "content innappropriate for children", block any material deemed to be illegal.

The fact that it will likely reduce everyone's internet performance is secondary; It will most likely incorrectly block 1% of sites, and now what you are allowed to view online is determined and controlled by the state (although most likely quite inaccurately).

The rationale is that since they're setting it up anyway, they're morally obliged to block traffic deemed illegal:

"Illegal is illegal and if there is infrastructure in place to block it, then it will be required to be blocked – end of story."

I don't think I need to go into too much detail about the potential threat to our civil liberties.

People of Australia, please write to your MPs to voice your opposition to this.

No opt-out of filtered Internet (Thanks, Andy!)


  1. This is pretty ridiculous to say the least.

    Although, they do have a point. If Australia is going to implement this $128 million system it seems that they do have a certain obligation to use it.

    It’s a damned dirty, liberty striping, obligation, but it’s there all the same.

  2. I am glad that Australia is doing this. It will solve for the rest of the world of a free people will find it tolerable. I believe they will, and I have no objections to having the same done to me, yet.

  3. I think the cries of “won’t somebody please think of the children!” are a cynical and deliberate undermining of Australians’ rights. Apparently if you phrase your contempt for freedoms in the right way, you can not only paint freedom of information and freedom of speech as depraived and immoral, but also quash any opposition. Censorship is quickly followed by witch hunts. Expect anyone “opting out” of this censorship to be noted by the authorities for later prosecution.

    And don’t expect this to be limited to Australia. Canada, US, UK… you’re next.

  4. This is ghastly, right in time for Halloween. It’s bad enough that I can’t visit some sites at work that mock porn, and are banned because of an uninformed admin lock on WORDS. Aussies, stand up and fight for your rights. They have parents, there don’t they? Parents can and should censor, not govt

  5. Thoes this surprise anyone?
    This is the country that routinely bans books but won’t tell you which books are banned.

    The only surprising thing is that the Labour party is going to continue a project initiated by the conservatives.

    Here’s what I hope will happen:
    The project was initiated so that a lot of conservative yes-men would have secure jobs.
    Once the pilot test is done and the report is submitted, some Labour yes-man will conclude that it is ‘technologically infeasible at the current juncture’, and the whole thing will be put on ice indefinetly until no-one remembers why they were so scared of this whole internet thing in the first place.

  6. People of Australia, please write to your MPs to voice your opposition to this.

    I did. I got no response from my local MP. At all. And the Minister responsible sent me a nice two-page form letter that didn’t address any of my concerns. So I’m not too hopeful of the letter-writing campaign working.

    Luckily some of the major Australian ISPs (Internode, for one) seem to be quite opposed to this on technical grounds, which seems the most likely way this will be stopped.

  7. End – your dreamworld is just about to end
    Fall – your dreamworld is just about to fall
    Your dreamworld will fall

  8. Not much change there then from the time my folks considered emigrating to Australia in the 60s. The key factor in deciding against it was that it seemed it was a criminal offence to own books there.

  9. Don’t expect the Australian media to say much about this. Over the last decade I’ve seen three young journalists think they’ve discovered a huge, job-promoting scoop in reporting the downside of net censorship. All three of them later said that the article was canned. One told me his editor said, “It’s not in the interests of the Australian people to open a debate on this subject.”
    (I believe he was writing for News Ltd.)

  10. The people running things down here haven’t got a clue about how the net works, its value or its potential. They think its something like television, only you can get channels from other countries.

    And none of the ISPs are likely to rock the boat because they make so much frakkin’ money out of the government-protected Telstra monopoly.

    It’s just crazy – along comes a way for Australia to get some kind of leverage out out of its geographical disenfranchisement from the rest of the world, and the idiots in control systematically set about cutting all the trade routes.

  11. Grr, lying $%^&*s.

    This is not what the Labor Party originally said, and if they had before the last election, I wouldn’t have voted for them.

    Makes me wish we actually did throw our politicians in jail as soon as they’re elected, as Terry Pratchett suggested.

  12. I’m pretty sure the Internet Industry Association of Australia is very much against this.

    Unfortunately there’s a fringe political party here called Family First that effectively has the balance of power in the senate. Pleasing them matters more under this government than it did before.

    So I don’t know who will win in the short term.

    I wonder if BoingBoing will still be visible from Oz?

  13. I live in Australia. What is curious to me is that we also have interestingly worded sedition laws. A quick peek at the website suggests other people haven’t mentioned this yet.

    I wonder how long before I’m not allowed to speak ill of the government online…

  14. Unlucckily the Aussie media has always walked in lock step with business and Conservative government.

    For such a great place, with such smashing people it is sorely hamstrung by wowsers.

  15. They have parents, there don’t they? Parents can and should censor

    Why? Why should there be any censorship for anyone?

    I live in Australia. What is curious to me is that we also have interestingly worded sedition laws. A quick peek at the website suggests other people haven’t mentioned this yet.

    Disparaging the boot is a bootable offense!

  16. #10 – great, now I’m going to be humming that all day!

    #19 – LIES!

    On subject… I think there is a fair likelihood that the project will get “put on ice” indefinitely once it gets a little further towards completion.

    I don’t know what all this stuff about book bans is about (although I should probably do some research) but I never (knowingly)ran into anything of the sort in my 17 years in Australia.

    As for the whole “free” thing… please don’t let things like this fool anyone in to thinking Australia is China v2.0.
    Of all the developed countries I have ever been to, it certainly strikes me as the most free. I believe that Australians are far, far more free than Americans and Brits.
    I live in what I’m told is one of the nicest areas of America… the police here are completely unreasonable, the state government is a joke with more concern for money than for people, and I still can’t go into parks at night.

    Don’t get me wrong, this censorship plan is worrying indeed, but Australia is still a long jump from the way the US Government treats it’s subjects.
    But, as much as one can blame the Government for abuse of power and trust, I believe the source of the problem is the public. The Government only have the power we give them… if more people cared about exposing the truth and about building a free society, we could. But, the apathy of the public… they damn themselves.

    “If everyone demanded peace instead of another television set, then there’d be peace.” -John Lennon.

  17. I for one would be much relieved.

    Imagine. The government has vetted the entirety of the internet for me. Now, any link that still works in my browser must therefore be legal.

    Thank you, all-knowing, beneficent government!

  18. #23 ref. John Lennon quote –

    Back in his day, having a a television meant a 19″ color set. Today we have 52″ flatscreens with 7.2 aurround sound.

    Absence of peace provides the content.

  19. I remember tuning into a debate on ABC radio driving home in melbourne peak traffic from work. The frustration I felt listening to the uneducated, moronic and uninformed arguments from the senators debating the issue was higher then the sheer anger I felt towards the tail gating driver behind me.

    It was clear to me at this point that those biased individuals involved in making these decisions honestly have no idea what they are doing.


    Call the Minister

    There’s nothing like a personal phone call to get the message across. Call the minister’s office on and let them know your objections.

    Write to the Minister

    A personalised letter to the Minister sends a powerful message: We don’t like the policy, and we care. Letters can be sent to the Ministerial office:

    Senator Stephen Conroy
    Minister for Communications, Broadband and the Digital Economy
    Level 4, 4 Treasury Place
    Melbourne Vic 3002

  21. I made up some clean feed posters a little while back. Didn’t really do anything with them though.

    It’s just such an infuriating political stunt, that’s going to make my work so much more difficult.

  22. #9 Spikely:

    If you read the report a bit more closely, you can see that the products that had low speed degradation also had low accuracy, and the ones that had high accuracy were the ones that degraded speed by 87%.

    There weren’t any products which “were quite successful, 1-2% loss of speed with only 2% over blocks.”

    The absolute best product they tested overblocked by 3%, by the way. On a medium-sized ISP, carrying 100,000 HTTP fetches per second across its backbone, that translates to about 3,000 overblocks per second. Can’t wait to see how many additional customer support staff ISPs will need to employ (and pay for!) to support that kind of load. Any ideas? :-)

  23. @31 Anonymous

    Whilst I didn’t see anything to dispute what you’re saying, I also didn’t see anything to support it in the article. Do you have anything to back this claim up? If so I want to include it in my letter to Conroy.

  24. I see a business opportunity. A VPN/proxy server. Locating it at one of the “uplinks” from Australia (Guam, Jakarta, Taiwan, Japan, etc) should minimize loss of speed.

  25. While I feel so strongly about this I doubt my ability to stop myself punching conroy in the face if I ever saw him… there is one thing that makes me feel a tiny bit better. If the filter actually gets passed, it will be so universally condemned that the Liberals will have no choice but to proclaim they will abolish it at the next election,like Labour did with work choices. And all of the rest of Rudd’s stuff ups will see the Libs come back in and scrap it.

  26. @34 Durallan
    I don’t think it does.
    It only seems to talk about how many of the products where able to do what. No where have I read that Product A did x well but failed at y. Whereas product B failed at x but did y well.

    Even in chapter 4 where the graphs are spread out over many pages without any real discussion of how one affects the other it doesn’t clearly show that the slower ones did better at blocking and letting through the correct material.

    I’m not trying to defend the system at all, I’ve already written a letter to Conroy and my local MP about the disgust I feel towards it. I just think you need to have your facts straight to make a decent argument against it (of which there are plenty).

    Eep… I don’t think that’s a good thing! Especially with Turnbull at the reins.

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