In the latest topic open for comment on the DBCDE blog, Promoting a civil and confident society online, Senator Conroy says the Government does not view the debate about mandatory ISP-level content filter as an argument about freedom of speech.

He also reveals that ‘technology that filters peer-to-peer and BitTorrent traffic does exist and it is anticipated that the effectiveness of this will be tested in the live pilot trial’.

Senator Conroy writes:

Freedom of speech is fundamentally important in a democratic society and there was never any suggestion that the Australian Government would seek to block political content. In this context, claims that the Government’s policy is analogous to the approach taken by countries such as Iran, China and Saudi Arabia are not justified.

Australian society has always accepted that there is some material which is not acceptable, particularly for children. That is why we have the National Classification Scheme for classifying films, computer games, publications and online content. Australian ISPs are already subject to regulation that prohibits the hosting of certain material based upon the Scheme. For many years, the Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA) has had the power to issue a ‘take-down’ notice requiring that prohibited content hosted in Australia be removed, blocked from public access or hosted from behind a restricted access system, depending on the content involved. All the Government is now seeking to do is to examine how technology can assist in filtering internationally-hosted content.

News flash Senator Conroy: Most Australian’s believe freedom of speech encompasses much more than just political speech, carved in stone or not. 

Blocking prohibited content means blocking legal content.

Under the Act, prohibited content is made up of content that is or would be potentially classified RC, X18+ (which I think is fair to say is the majority of pornographic websites on the Internet), and when not behind a restricted access system, R18+. All of which is legal to own and possess (the obvious exception being child abuse material) in most places of Australia (prescribed areas of the NT being one such example).

In response to a question about how the blacklist be maintained, Senator Conroy writes that website complaints will be assessed in accordance with the National Classification Code and the Classification Board Guidelines for Classification of Films and Computer Games.

We all know how in touch with community views that Code is.

In accordance with the Code means content that deals with drug misuse or addiction in such a way that they ‘offend against the standards of morality, decency and propriety generally accepted by reasonable adults’ would be Refused Classification. Not to mention a plethora of other adult related topics like euthanasia (which can fall under point c below).

(a)  describe, depict, express or otherwise deal with matters of sex, drug misuse or addiction, crime, cruelty, violence or revolting or abhorrent phenomena in such a way that they offend against the standards of morality, decency and propriety generally accepted by reasonable adults to the extent that they should not be classified; or

(b) describe or depict in a way that is likely to cause offence to a reasonable adult, a person who is, or appears to be, a child under 18 (whether the person is engaged in sexual activity or not); or

(c)  promote, incite or instruct in matters of crime or violence

The contents of the existing ACMA blacklist are also secret and managed by ACMA themselves, with some assistance from the Classification Board. As expected, this would likely be the case under a mandatory scheme.

Not an argument about freedom of speech? There’s certainly no an argument left about whether it will actually protect children or if it will work, so what is it about Mr Conroy and Mr Rudd?