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Professor warns Aus firewall is undemocratic

Conroy 'doesn't understand the internet'

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The proposed great Australian firewall is bad law and bad policy on every level, according to Professor Catharine Lumby speaking at the first conference of new international academic network Onscenity in London on Monday.

Professor Lumby, Director of the Journalism and Media Research Centre at the University of New South Wales, reckons the implementation of the firewall places Australia at the very limits of western democracies. Among the serious criticisms she levelled at the project were the lack of transparency in respect of the list of blocked URLs, and the lack of any administrative appeals procedure to remove a URL once it had been added.

She told the conference: "The proposed route is arbitrary, since it relies heavily on notification of URLs.

"This is a very bad way to operate a block, since it will prove a gift to well-organised campaign groups who are going to bombard the Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA) with complaints about URLs and sites that they dislike.

"Websites providing advice on abortion are likely to come under attack. Even more seriously, groups such as teenagers who are most in need of familiar and confidential routes to assistance will find it increasingly difficult to obtain help. Discussion of sex by or with young people on the internet is already fraught with danger – and the internet filter will go a long way to shutting down spaces where young people can go to debate matters of direct concern to them."

A large part of the problem, Professor Lumby believes, is that the Communications Minister Stephen Conroy really does not understand the internet. According to her: "He has gone on record claiming that the internet is a medium little different from books, and has quite failed to recognise that it represents a totally new environment".

Prof Lumby is co-author, along with academics Lelia Green and John Hartley of Untangling The Net: The Scope of Content Caught By Mandatory Internet Filtering (pdf).

The report was published in December 2009 and warned that as well as putting Australia at odds with most other Western liberal democracies, plans for mandatory internet filtering could well see a wide range of material disappearing from Australian computer screens.

The authors argue that it is time to review Australia’s complex and inconsistent media content regulation system to take account of the online era. ®

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