Closing the net

The following news story, by Peter Hackney, appeared in leading gay publication SX on January 21:

With the mandatory internet filtering trial to begin any day now, Peter Hackney explores what it might mean for our community.

The words ”˜gay’ and ”˜lesbian’ are hardly offensive. They merely describe a sexual orientation. But as any journalist working for the queer press can tell you, if you send an email to a Federal Government department these days containing either word, you’ll more often than not find it bouncing back to you, or simply not received at the other end.

The Federal Government has evidently decided that its employees need protection from the debauchery of homosexuality. Our mere existence is apparently offensive.

But ”˜protecting’ its employees is one thing. Protecting its citizens is another. What will the Federal Government deem offensive to the average Australian when its mandatory internet censorship trial begins this month?

That question is to be answered any day now, when the Federal Government’s mandatory internet censorship trial begins.

Originally due to begin on December 24, it was delayed due to “technical issues”, with commencement pushed back to mid January.

As SX went to press on Tuesday, January 20, the office of Federal Communications Minister Stephen Conroy was still unable to advise when the trial would start.

But start it will – and soon. So how will the GLBT community be affected by a censorship regime ostensibly created to combat illegal online pornography and violence?

ACON…  President Mark Orr is concerned that one of the effects will be to limit the reach of its HIV-prevention and education campaigns. To that end, the organisation has taken the unusual step of censuring the Federal Government over the net filter, public supporting the ”˜Save The Net’ campaign run by political lobby group GetUp!

“ACON is supporting GetUp!’s Save The Net campaign because we’re concerned that the Federal Government’s proposed mandatory ”˜clean feed internet system’ will severely limit the effectiveness of our internet-based HIV-prevention and education campaigns, by restricting access to culturally appropriate information,” Orr tells SX.

In other words, it is very possible that mention of anal sex, oral sex, ejaculation, rimming, fisting and the like – all of which is essential when discussing sexual practices, and how to conduct them safely – will cause the relevant web pages to be blocked by the ”˜great firewall of Australia’, as the mandatory filter has been dubbed.

“ACON is absolutely supportive of measures to protect children from pornography [but] we believe that the current proposal will significantly inhibit our ability to achieve good public health outcomes,” says Orr.

Others opine that all Australians – gay, lesbian or otherwise – should be concerned because the Federal Government has embarked on a slippery slope with the unprecedented censorship regime.

Sydney-based political activist, author and blogger Antony Loewenstein finds the precedent of internet censorship disturbing.

“Perhaps the most important factor in this whole debate is the precedent being set,” he tells SX. “Child pornography and violent website today – but what will they deem dangerous tomorrow? Sites that promote terrorism, perhaps? And what will the definition of ”˜terrorism’ be? Who will decide? What other things could the government deem offensive or dangerous in the future?”

Who can say? But according to Loewenstein, one thing’s for sure: “We should always be suspicious of governments that tell its citizens what it can and cannot see or hear. A cursory glance at modern history shows you why.”

Visit www.getup.org.au to sign the petition against mandatory internet censorship in Australia.