by Metiria Turei
Thomas Beagle sent me an email about Net censorship which has taken me a while to respond to. But since the issue is so significant, I thought I would respond here. Thomas has exposed the issue publicly though an OIA and provided significant information about it.
The Department of Internal Affairs has undertaken a trial of web filtering, which they consider quite successful. Although the Minister has said he isn’t pursuing the Australian model, (they have had net filtering for some time), nonetheless the money has been allocated to roll it out here. I understand that most ISP’s have voluntarily agreed to take part. But they will be doing so in such a way that they will not also provide a parallel, filter-free service to the public.
There should be an option of a filter-free process provided to the public.
Here is my response to Thomas questions:
Do you support the Department of Internal Affair’s plans to implement internet filtering?
No, the Green Party sees the role of ISPs as common carriers and that ISPs should not be made responsible for content that passes through their networks or for material on web sites which they host.
If the Post Office doesn’t have to filter its post, ISP’s shouldn’t be required to either. It appears to be an expensive, ineffective technological fix for a social problem, when there are cheaper and arguably more effective ways to tackle the problem.
Is it appropriate for the DIA to be doing this even though the law doesn’t allow for it?
It is appropriate for the DIA to investigate the options in carrying out their mandate. They should, however, seek authority from parliament before implementing something for which they have no prescribed powers.
Should it be compulsory for the filtering to be used by all internet service providers?
No. Green Party Policy explicitly states that ISPs must, within the constraints of legal requirements, provide a censorship free service for users who do not want any form of censorship.
Should the list of banned sites be made available to the public?
Yes it should. There is an argument that making such lists public only encourages the activity being discouraged – although if the sites are blocked what difference does it make? However, the Green Party supports transparent, independent oversight of government functions. If such a list was to be maintained, the Green Party would also want some form of cross party parliamentary or other independent oversight body for the list and an appropriate appeals process well defined in law.
If not, how else would you suggest that the list be checked to ensure that inappropriate sites don’t creep in as has happened in Australia and the United Kingdom?
The inclusion of inappropriate sites, such as social and political commentary sites, or sites included by simple mistake is a serious concern. That sort of creep is very possible and is why the list should be scrutinised by the public and a legitimate appeal process established. And again, a filter free service should be provided.
Currently the DIA claims it’s only for child pornography. If you support filtering, what other categories do you think should be added to the filter? (Some possibilities: bestiality, BDSM, sex with urine/faeces, euthanasia methods, pro-anorexia, holocaust denial, movie piracy, racist hate groups).
Hence the problem, where is the line drawn and by whom? How much
do we really trust a government agency to make these decisions
for us, in secret? I understand that the DIA intends to use the
the Films, Videos and Publications Classification Act 1993
and the definition of “Objectionable” material, which says
a publication is objectionable if it describes, depicts, expresses, or otherwise deals with matters such as sex, horror, crime, cruelty, or violence in such a manner that the availability of the publication is likely to be injurious to the public good.
At least with the Office of Film and Literature Classification we get to know the process by which the decisions are made and what is banned or restricted. Without the same level of disclosure the same law is used but the rules are applied very differently.
The Films Classification Act is designed for a world where the bandwidth for communication is very narrow. That is no longer the case and so the simple application of the old rules, whether censorship or copyright, are inappropriate and largely ineffective. We are in a new technological time and need new systems and standards.