'Appalled' opposition hits back at Conroy’s Internet censorship

The Government’s attempts to silence criticism of content filtering sparks outrage.

The newly appointed shadow broadband minister, Senator Nick Minchin, has voiced his appall that a member of Senator Conroy’s office had tried to curb severely critical comments made by Internode network engineer Mark Newton regarding the government’s Internet content filtering scheme.

Labor’s plan for content filtering will require Internet Service Providers (ISPs) to offer a clean feed Internet service to all homes, schools and public Internet access points.

Under the scheme there will be two blacklists: one which blocks illegal material like child pornography; and another blacklist, referred to in a department press release, which blocks a list of material deemed unsuitable for children.

Users can opt out of the latter blacklist, but there is no opt-out for “illegal content”.

ISPs have warned that blanket content filtering will cripple Internet speeds because the technology is not up to scratch. Civil libertarians such as the Electronic Frontiers Association have warned that filtering could lead to censorship of drugs, political dissidence, information on euthanasia and other legal freedoms, in addition to mistakenly blocking legitimate material. A content filtering scheme installed within the offices of parliament in May reportedly blocked legitimate topics such as gun control and breast-feeding.

This morning, the Sydney Morning Herald reported that a policy advisor at Senator Conroy’s office had sent an e-mail to the Internet Industry Association (IIA) expressing concern that Internode’s Mark Newton, as an IIA member, was behaving “irresponsibly” with regard to criticisms he made of Conroy’s controversial content filtering scheme on the popular Whirlpool broadband forum.

What they have done is desperate and below inappropriate; it's absolute bullshit

Internode network engineer Mark Newton

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

“I am appalled that a member of Senator Conroy’s staff is apparently trying to bully the IIA over this matter,” Minchin told Computerworld.

“That association is perfectly entitled to express its views and indeed it is very important that the public and the parliament understand the views of the IIA on this matter, and they shouldn’t be bullied by Senator Conroy or his staff. It is absolutely out of line and Senator Conroy should discipline that staff member,” the shadow minister for broadband said.

Minchin said Newton was in fact a constituent of his in South Australia and had written to him with concerns regarding the content filtering scheme. Minchin responded at the time that the opposition was “certainly not” committed to supporting the scheme in parliament.

“When we left office it was our view that we had appropriate arrangements in place in relation to this issue of filtering. The NetAlert scheme we launched in August last year, and which is still in place, we believe strikes the right balance in terms of ensuring that Australians who want to ensure that their children are not exposed to child pornography have the information at hand, the capacity and the free software that enables them to do so,” Minchin said.

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