Thursday, March 19, 2009

Big Brother Is Watching, But You Won't Be

Today was the first day I wish I was still at work.

Firstly, because I wouldn't be here at home constantly aware that there was that **!!$*$*! toaster sitting on the counter, taunting me with its burn-out element.

I also missed my old job a bit today because I had lunch with my old mate, John. We haven't seen each other in months, and yet we used to grab a business lunch every couple of weeks. You'd think with retirement I would have more time to get together with friends, but John is still working - and very hard right now - so I don't like to interrupt his busy day. (Funny how it didn't bother me when we both had busy days. Besides, we really did cover off a lot of business in those 90-minutes.)

But the real reason I wish I was still running the publishing house is because of a story Asher Moses just ran on the Sydney Morning Herald web site. I've let Asher know in the past that I had some serious reservations about his abilities as a journalist when he covered us, but in this instance he's onto a great story. Great, that is, because it is so unbelievably scary.

The Australian government has compiled a list of web sites that it intends to ban, forcing Internet service providers to block access to the sites. Oh, by the way, the list of banned sites is going to be secret and it will be a crime for anyone in Australia to publish it. And to think that 18 months ago we kicked out the conservative government and put in the left-leaning party!

The minister in charge of making sure Australia's access to the Internet is broadly and secretly censored tries to justify it by saying it was designed to prevent child pornography and other illegal activities.

But we all know what happens when bureaucrats and politicians have a chance to exercise a little thought control. Here's what Asher wrote:

But about half of the sites on the list are not related to child porn and include a slew of online poker sites, YouTube links, regular gay and straight porn sites, Wikipedia entries, euthanasia sites, websites of fringe religions such as satanic sites, fetish sites, Christian sites, the website of a tour operator and even a Queensland dentist.

That's right, the government is starting to decide which religion sites people can have access to. And they don't want people like me to play online poker, but almost surely not because they consider it unethical but because they haven't figured out a way to get their grubby cut of the action the way they do at racetracks and casinos.

And then of course, there are the inevitable errors, where totally innocent sites like the tour operator and the dentist somehow get included when they shouldn't.

And remember - the list is top secret, so if your perfectly good site ends up on this list in error, you won't even be able to find that out.

One more thing. Right now the list of web sites numbers about 2,400 sites. The government estimates, however, that the final list will be about 10,000 when it finally puts the censorship plan into effect.

And will the government use these powers to, say, stifle debate about actions they take that may be contentious? What do you think? And in case, you chose No from the list, you should know that they have already banned several pages from, the web site that attacked their plans for censorship and today published a leaked copy of the list. That's right. They are banning a web page that criticizes them and reveals official government documents - none of which are in the least vital to national security.

Our prime minister earned his university degree writing about China and later spent much of the 1980s in Beijing at the Australian embassy. It's odd how this secret censorship plan reminds me of nothing more than that country's attempts to control information back in the bad old days.

Now I detest child pornography with absolute disgust. The animals that make it, show it or view it should be stopped and punished severely. And in fact, it seems that every year major international sting operations bring hundreds of them to justice.

But to use this vile practice as the excuse to begin a regime of secret censorship for the whole country - and to expand it to cover much more than pornography - well, that's not even politics as usual. It's total crap.

Boy, do I miss my old job today. Fighting this secret censorship is a campaign that I would proudly have made our chief emphasis until we had mobilized tens of thousands of Aussies to tell their government that, yes, they need to stop child porn, but not at the expense of the freedom of all of us. And no matter what, not to do it in the darkness of a star chamber.

Well, I've gone from a potential audience of hundreds of thousands six months ago to 30 or 40 today. It would be nice to think that's enough to get something going anyhow.

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