Saturday, October 18, 2008

Australian Internet: Big Brother's watching ya, mate!

You know, there are times when you're proud to be an Australian ... and times when you aren't. Today is one of the latter.

I just received a forward of an article from which can only make you sigh. The gist of it is that the Australian government is implementing blanket Internet censorship ... which is being euphemised as "content filtering."

Don't get me wrong: I do NOT agree with having hard-core sites available to kids, nor having sites which feature "the language of hate," racism, sexism, drugs and death, out there. But blanket censorship is not the answer -- bear with me, let me explain.

How is the technology going to tell the difference between a hate-filled website and a fiction site running a novel?! Page 117 of the novel is filled with hate language, because that's the page where THE BAD GUYS make themselves look stupid and evil, before THE GOOD GUYS rock up and bust them.

Hard core sites are going to be blocked, and to be honest with you, it won't affect me at all. I don't surf there, it won't make any difference to me --

But you can bet your bottom dollar there's a whole lot of innocent sites will be blocked along with them ... which bothers me, because I'm a writer.

How in any hell am I supposed to craft a novel without putting nasty words into the villains' nasty mouths ... without talking about the drugs being smuggled, for which said villains are going to be busted ... without writing the part of the terrorists who are going to go up with their own bombs, or get on the business end of the Good Guys' guns, at the end of the piece?

Having written the book, one puts a sample online to let prospective readers see what it's about, how it's written. So the pages are up there. And along comes the filterbot, and reads gun; bomb; death; hate; drugs; rape; blow up; terrorist, plus the usual tossed salad of profanity which has entered the every-day language as colloquialism and slang.

There is already enough on this page to get it filtered out. Blocked. Censored. I've said guns, bombs, drugs, hate, death, hell, evil ... and all I'm doing is talking about the content of a hypothetical novel in which the good guys prevail and peace and justice are restored to the streets of Australia!

Now, let's see a glorified SPELL CHECKER tell the difference. Because that's what we're getting here. Australian writers and bloggers are going to be under the kosh of having Big Brother breathing down our collars, scanning for KEYWORDS.

Remember, keyword scanning is not contextual. All the scan does is go through a page and pick out the profanities and the usages of words such as gun, bomb, drugs hate, death ... in which case, this page is toast, because I've broken the rules just by talking about the software algorithm that will very soon be online in this country.

At this point, the scanning / censorship / filtering / blocking will be geared to "illegal" content which RIGHTLY discusses pornography involving children, pornography involving illegal acts (probably meaning animals, and something called "snuff" ... which has nothing to do with powdered tobacco and spices, and sneezing ... look it up), plus weapons, explosives, and terrorist actions, including plots, and also the language of hate intended to incite people to terrorist behavior.

This is all well and good -- Keegan is the first one applauding, if you can figure out a way to get krudd under control. And yet ... and yet ...

When will red flags start to go up when the words Islam, Jihad, Muslim, Jew, Palestine, Israel and so forth are picked up by the scanner? The same mechanism could easily be perverted to filter out the religious free speech of other nations, leaving only Christian sites intact. Turns out, Kevin Rudd is a very, very, very Christian PM ... and no, I was not aware of this when I voted for him. Mea culpa. I bloody voted for him. Well, shoot.

Once the filters are in place, they can be expanded to cover wider ranges of subjects. How long before it's illegal to discuss euthanasia online, because you've got a Christan air-head in Parliament House who believes in the Will of God? How long before it's illegal to criticize our political leaders? Sites countering the country's policies and haranguing our politicians, are ... blocked. Filtered. They vanish.

Freedom of speech is one of the most fundamental of human rights, and one can see at a glance, we're skating on thin ice if we put in place this kind of Internet filtering. Who decides what is legal, and illegal, to talk about online? Who sets the taboos?

How long before coarse language is filtered out? Or gay sites, which speak frankly about ... well, being gay. And AIDS education sites, which are either frank and informative or useless. Using the word "condom" might become illegal, because an eight year old might read the page and wonder what they are, and what they're for. And God forbid we should have a picture of one, with a diagram of how to fit it properly.

How about wiccan and pagan sites, which are often besmirched by the same church whose fully ordained Christian priests can't seem to keep their hands of their children parishioners for more than ten consecutive minutes.

And on this theme, what about criticisms of organized religion, examinations of the stupidity on which Christendom was built? There are scholarly sites galore, with not even a whisper of profanity, which tear to pieces the very foundations of the Christian faith by revealing its venal, mercenary and arbitrary roots. Will these sites vanish?

You're halfway to banning freedom of speech and deciding what can be taught ... and the worst part of this is, the same filtering can be used to protect the system which set it up. In other words, when it's been cemented in place, it will be VERY hard to get rid of. Some dickhead prime Minister could decide to have Creationism taught in schools to the exclusion of evolutionary science, and back it up the a "clean up" of the Internet ... why should we be left out? American politicians are heading in this direction so fast, we're just getting left behind here.

There are times when you're grateful to live in this country, which is as beautiful and peaceful as any nation on the planet.

And there are times when you want to beat your head on a wall because the buff-heads in charge can be so incredibly stupid, you wonder what century they're living in.

As a parting shot in this argument, I'll just include the remark made by ISPs regarding the filtering: Internet Service Providers (ISPs) contacted by Computerworld say blanket content filtering will cripple Internet speeds because the technology is not up to scratch.

Well ... bugger.

If you want the whole story, go here:;1399635276

Read it and weep.


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