NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis


November 6, 2008

The Australian government is currently pushing a plan to subject its Web surfers to a mandatory nationwide filter on obscene materials.  If the filter wins legislative approval, illegal materials such as child pornography would be banned for everyone, while a second, voluntary, filter would block the merely objectionable, such as explicit pornography, for users who opt in, says the Wall Street Journal.

However, Australians are not clamoring en masse for mandatory filtering and the idea is raising troubling free speech questions in a country without a formal protection of speech written into law and serious economic concerns, says the Journal:

  • Already some supporters are proposing that the list of banned Web sites could include some content that would remain legal in offline formats such as magazines.
  • There's been discussion of applying such a filter to gambling sites, too.
  • Filter technology slows data transmission speeds -- the more effective the filter the slower the transmission -- and a recent study found that the technology most effective at blocking illegal content slowed transmissions by more than 75 percent.
  • This would hurt an increasingly Internet-dependent economy, and negate the ballyhooed 4.7 billion Australian dollar ($3.2 billion) plan to connect 98 percent of homes and businesses to high-speed broadband Internet service.

Moreover, the implementation would be expensive.  The government would offer a one-off subsidy to service providers to install the filters, for which the government is budgeting $44.2 million Australian dollars over four years.  Providers would then presumably have to pay for day-to-day operations -- meaning subscribers would foot the bill.

These factors to do not make block obscenity look like a good idea.  Australians need to weigh the dangers of applying a heavy regulatory hand to new technologies; otherwise, they may find themselves getting a whole lot less Internet than they bargained for, says the Journal.

Source: Editorial, "NannyNet Down Under," Wall Street Journal, November 4, 2008.

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