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The internet has continued to impact many lives since its initial release in the 1960s (Andrews, 2013). However, internet censorship has become a controversial topic amongst global policy makers, including Australia. According to the Australian Human Rights Commission, the internet has provided numerous opportunities for individuals to communicate, seek and receive information across to international borders (AHRC, n.d). With its continuous expansion, it is predominately near impossible to consider why individual online activity should be regulated or censored by the Australian government. That is, internet should be freely accessible to all individuals, at an unfiltered level. Otherwise, it would have negative impacts on the flow of public information; violate personal privacy and; overall incur regulation problems. For these reasons, internet censorship would present complex challenges and therefore, should not be implemented in Australia.
Internet censorship in Australia would negatively impact the flow of public information. To illustrate, if content regulation were implemented by government agencies, this would ultimately impact how information is accessed; for public discussion or challenge, or lack thereof. Stated by Duffy (2013), ‘…in essence, internet content should reflect society’s values, rather than the values of society being [mis]informed and even dictated to, by internet content’. This quote supports that, there will be detrimental consequences when information is controlled and restrictive enough to increase public oppression. Generally, censorship regimes can present powerful moral and political issues within the government; often not reflective of public views. To support, a prime example of how denial of internet access can ‘…shape the public’s beliefs and curb dissent’ (Goldstein, Tov & Prazeres, 2018, p. 2), would be China. Renowned for their internet system, promotes social ignorance by website restrictions and distributing large penalties towards ideas that would criticise or threaten their authoritative powers. Hidden amongst China’s obnoxious censorship lies the exclusion of student demonstrations at Tiananmen Square in 1989. This true event led to a massacre by the Chinese Troops, which since occurrence, has been omitted from all Chinese educational curriculums. This is significant as this action has enabled the Chinese Communist Party to fabricate education and hinder knowledge beyond the student population; creating a new level of common sense. It is important to note that through censorship and withholding information from the Australian public, can produce adverse control over society. A restrictive flow of public information, will lead to constraints to democratic free speech for Australians and also, express lacks of truth, transparency and privacy from those in power.
Another potential issue with online censorship in Australia, is the volitation of personal privacy. Uninformed censorship must not be conducted by the government or Internet Service Provider (ISPs), can be seen as intrusive. For example, Freedom House has indicated in North Korea’s extreme reign, that ‘… all publications are subject to supervision and censorship’ (FH Report, 2018). Here, censorship is applied to all media, including print. This not only invades personal rights to privacy but privileges to express oneself freely through multiple outlets. According to the Electronic Frontiers Association, despite the Australian Privacy Act 1988, there are limitations to which laws can protect individuals from extraction of personal data; there is no guarantee or protection for minority groups. In recent years, the United Kingdom has drafted a plan to stop those under 18 from viewing pornography online, through an age verification process. This involves providing forms beyond traditional identification cards such as credit cards or passports. The porn block’s core principles may present stability, however, there are unforeseen privacy issues if details are leaked. This increases the likelihood of identity theft, with no aid for victims who may become financially burdened as a result. Another important aspect is that signatures can be forged and personal information can be provided falsely; with or without consent from another adult. Therefore, this scheme will be ineffective and expose undesirable privacy issues. Social media companies, like Google and Facebook, has received enormous backlash for gathering and selling personal information without consumer’s knowledge or consent, for business profits. It was reported over 2,000 dating profiles of Australian women were sold for approximately $60USD, or $86.55AUD. As Duxfield and Mitchell explains, ‘… identity is getting treating like a commodity’ (ABC News, 2019), and it is unacceptable. Internet censorship in Australia will only decrease the level of personal privacy and control individuals actually have over personal data online. In summary, individuals should be able to browse freely and privately. This is without the risk of being monitored, under constant surveillance or have personal collected from an unauthorised body of power, particularly for purposes not explicitly stated.
Attempting to regulate and censor content on the internet would have detrimental effects in Australia, both in regards to regulation and technical challenges. Despite the government’s past efforts with the application of content blocking filters, it is generally possible to by-pass regulation. This can be achieved through encryption; using Virtual Private Network (VPN), renaming the Uniform Resource Locator (URL) address, or using third-party, anonymous websites such as Tor. Various countries have attempted to create blacklists which remove websites hosting content deemed unsuitable or too explicit for public consumption. Nevertheless, this has been proved unsuccessful and ineffective as these are leaked constantly. In 2009, a blacklist leaked in the United Kingdom, containing websites which were deemed inappropriate for public view, including Wikipedia. A similar approach was conducted in 2013, where the Australian Securities and Investments Commission (ASIC) blocked only three website which hosted potential investment scams. Unfortunately, this action blocked approximately 250,000 innocent websites on the same Internet Protocol address. Both mistakes achieved public outcries, where the government experienced an influx of complaints. Further, internet censorship can be costly process and presents technical problems. The Australian Government spent $84 million dollars on an internet filter, which was hacked by 16 year-old, Tom Wood. This task was completed in under 30 minutes and hence, its ineffectiveness. Regardless of censorship, to uphold further privacy and anonymity, citizens can use third-party services, anonymous profiles or the Dark Web to express views. More so, censorship may encourage criminal behaviour by acting as an incentive to do the opposite of regulation; a seemingly unavoidable ‘… expense of Australia’s digital future’. Due to the size of the internet, retaining and regulating the spread of information can be difficult and thus if not already, individuals would resort to other methods to by-pass regulation.
In conclusion, the Australian Government should not censor or regulate information on the internet. Rather, provide all users a free space for self-expression without political influences. The absence of proper legislation and protection laws, would ultimately invade an individual’s privacy and present regulation problems. Without a doubt, internet is a necessity in society where establishing moral equilibrium between government and public bodies, is crucial. However, due to the complexity of this issue, arguments concerning internet censorship in Australia remain polarized and unresolved. Until there is a mutual agreement between governments and public interest, there will be no universal consensus.
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