Web Filtering does not make a Nanny State

Published in the Courier Mail 1 January 2010

NO ONE likes a nanny state. We’re quite keen that the government cracks down on repeat drink-drive offenders who endanger others, and we also demand the government regulates the financial industry to protect us from conmen.

But, really, no one likes a nanny state. We want government to ensure the continued operation of a civil society, enforce the law and protect the vulnerable.

We have a democratically elected, representative government to make these laws and we expect them to fulfil their duty. When children are being neglected or abused, we hold the government responsible to intervene for their protection. Our righteous indignation at any dereliction of duty, when it happens, is palpable. But we’re adamant that we don’t like a nanny state.

One could be forgiven for thinking the phrase ”nanny state” is only brought out for a whipping when the government steps on our own ideological toes. A recent announcement from the Federal Government has seen the phrase dragged up again. With the news that Communications Minister Senator Stephen Conroy intends to proceed with the filtering of ”refused classification” material at an internet service provider level, opponents of the move have emotively compared this decision to living in communist China.

(To state the obvious, the very freedom they have to publicly ridicule the Government immediately, and somewhat inconveniently, disproves their point.)

However, the concept of the ISP filter has caused heated discussions. Most arguments against it involve concerns about how it will impede performance, nervousness at how the blocked sites are identified, and the notion of civil liberty.

On the first issue, concerned Australians will be relieved to see the results of the trial. ISPs that were filtering only the Australian Communications and Media Authority blacklist had ”no noticeable performance degradation that could be attributed to the filter itself”.

On the second issue, Conroy has indicated an independent body, as opposed to the Government, will determine classification of internet sites. We currently have the Office of Film and Literature Classification classifying films and publications. So it seems a ”steady as she goes” approach is being proposed.

Which brings us to civil liberties, the card being played by vocal opponents of the plan, such as the sex industry and some ISPs.

They suggest that for the Government to enact such a filter is censorship at its worst, limiting the freedom of the internet and trampling our civil liberties.

However, if we’re talking liberties, one could also suggest that we, and our children, deserve the liberty and freedom to browse the internet free of the worst forms of exploitative and illegal material.

In all the agitation about this initiative, it’s important to remember that the refused classification material, which will be filtered, does not include legal pornography. It includes sites containing child sex abuse, bestiality, sexual violence or detailed information about how to use drugs or commit crimes.

Australian society universally rails against child exploitation and predators. It seems illogical then that we would argue that material which involves these very activities should be able to be distributed online. Something is askew in our protests.

Conroy has made a courageous decision to trial and now proceed with ISP filtering of refused classification material.

It is one for which he will receive much hate mail, but one for which he should also be applauded by those who realise what he set out to do which is to protect our children from the very worst, illegal material online.