Report

Australian Governments and dilemmas in filtering the Internet: juggling freedoms against potential for harm

8 Aug 2014
Description

This paper examines proposed internet filtering policies in Australia from the 1990s to 2014 and discusses some of their ideological underpinnings.

Executive summary

  • The Internet is a revolutionary source of information and its dissemination; and a medium for collaboration and interaction between individuals without regard for geographic location.
  • Since its inception, however, concerns have been raised about the potential for unsavoury characters to use the Internet as a vehicle for distributing pornography and material of a violent nature to young or otherwise vulnerable individuals.
  • Governments across the world have attempted to deal with such activities by various means and to varying degrees. These have included imposing mandatory filtering at an Internet Service Provider (ISP) level and optional filtering at the computer level.
  • In Australia there has been considerable debate about what degree of filtering (if any) should be mandated.
  • The Howard Government favoured an approach which emphasised self-regulation by ISPs combined with a legislative component and education and freedom for families to choose between either computer or ISP filtering based on a list of unacceptable content.
  • The Rudd and Gillard Governments preferred the option of a mandatory ISP level filter, although this too was to be based on a ‘blacklist’ of prohibited content.
  • Both options have been criticised as being expensive and inefficient. In addition, it has been argued that the Rudd/Gillard option would have had a detrimental impact on Internet speeds and that it would set a precedent for future governments to widen filtering to other forms of expression.
  • The Howard Government’s programs were largely discarded by Labor after it was elected in 2007. However, Labor’s own filtering option was abandoned prior to its defeat in the 2013 election.
  • In conjunction with their filtering options , both Coalition and Labor Governments have supported education and information campaigns to assist people, particularly children, to deal with online predators and both have introduced successful programs.
  • The current Coalition Government’s policy on Internet filtering appears to favour light-handed legislation combined with education and information programs. This paper examines the iterations of internet filtering policies from the 1990s to 2014 and discusses some of their ideological underpinnings.
Publication Details
Published year only: 
2014
23
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