Internet filtering: Google says no

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Google has today written a scathing blog post on the Australian Government’s plan on bringing mandatory ISP level filtering to millions of internet users in Australia, citing a report by three professors that found a wide scope of content that could be blocked under “Refused Classification”.

The report claims that because the RC classification is so broad, content that are socially and politically controversial – like education content on safe drug use – and instructions of crimes, including euthanasia, could be blocked alongside child sexual abuse material.

The report goes on and says that potential material that could be deemed RC include:

A site devoted to debating the merits of euthanasia in which some participants exchanged information about euthanasia practises.

A site set up by a community organisation to promote harm minimisation in recreational drug use.

A site designed to give a safe space for young young gay and lesbians to meet and discuss their sexuality in which some members of the community narrated explicit sexual experiences.

An art gallery website which includes photographs of naked children or adolescents taken by an established artist. [Editor’s note: See Bill Henson]

A site discussing the causes of terrorism that published material exemplifying the beliefs of a terrorist organisation in order to ground the discussion of the causes of terrorism.

A website in which survivors of child sexual abuse share their experiences in a therapeutic context.

The online publication of a university newspaper which includes an article about smoking marijuana.

“Some limits, like child pornography, are obvious. No Australian wants that to be available – and we agree. Google, like many other Internet companies, has a global, all-product ban,” Iarla Flynn, Head of Policy for Google Australia, wrote. “But moving to a mandatory ISP filtering regime with a scope that goes well beyond such material is heavy handed and can raise genuine questions about restrictions on access to information.”

“This type of content may be unpleasant and unpalatable but we believe that government should not have the right to block information which can inform debate of controversial issues,” she continues (and she’s referring to content that could be wrongfully blocked, if that wasn’t made clear).

Flynn continues to state that controversial topics for public debate "is vital for democracy” and the openness of the Internet makes this more possible and should be protected.

“Homosexuality was a crime in Australia until 1976 in ACT, NSW in 1984 and 1997 in Tasmania. Political and social norms change over time and benefit from intense public scrutiny and debate,” Flynn writes.

We should also note that Germany and Italy has also implemented this, but in a limited scope – Italy uses it to ban gambling sites and child abuse material, while Germany uses it to block child abuse material. Australia’s filter would expand the scope of material that would reflect the classification laws that we use for DVDs and Games, bringing more content being blocked.

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