Australian censorship minister tries to censor critic: time to go Conroy

Australia’s ongoing debate over internet censorship has taken an interesting turn, with the Minister in charge of implementing internet censorship attempting to censor a critic of the Government’s proposal.

The Labor Government elected in late 2007 promoted a policy that would make it mandatory for internet service providers to offer a “clean feed” to homes, that blocked content deemed illegal, pornographic and inappropriate. Until recently, Minister Conroy had publicly stated that internet users would be able opt-out of the filter, but in a backflip has since disclosed that the filter will be compulsory, with two levels: one for children, and one for adults. Australia’s strict and sometimes bizarre censorship regime would see online adult games blocked (such as Second Life) because Australia doesn’t offer an R (adult) classification for games, and would also see soft pornography banned online despite being freely available a petrol (gas) stations.

The latest drama was reported by the Fairfax newspapers, who obtained copies of an email, and details of a phone call from the Ministers office directed towards a critic of the Government’s plan.

Mark Newton, an engineer at Australia ISP Internode, has heavily criticized the Government and its filtering policy on popular Australian broadband forum Whirlpool, and went as far as saying that the censorship regime would enable child abuse by ignoring non-web applications which are will not be censored under the plan (the tech behind the censorship plan doesn’t block P2P and chat for example).

The Ministers office wrote to the Internet Industry Association (IIA) board member Carolyn Dalton based on Newton working for Internode, despite his criticism being offered in a personal capacity.

“In your capacity as a board member of the IIA I would like to express my serious concern that a IIA member would be sending out this sort of message. I have also advised [IIA chief executive] Peter Coroneos of my disappointment in this sort of irresponsible behaviour,”

The email was accompanied by a phone call demanding that the message be passed on to senior Internode management.

As Asher Moses points out in The Age, the irony in the Ministers response is that the Minister himself has constantly branded critics of the censorship plan as being in favor in child pornography.

Although this shouldn’t come as a great surprise, it is none the less unacceptable in a democratic country that a Minister would seek to censor critics who are doing nothing more than exercising their rights to publicly disagree.

Enough is enough. I call on the Minister to resign, or should he not do so, I call on the Prime Minister, Kevin Rudd, to sack the Minister at the first available opportunity. This abuse of power has no place in a modern, free and democratic society in the 21st century.

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