Australia’s Communications Minister of repute, Stephen Conroy and his government, have been awarded the rather dubious award of ‘Internet Villain of the Year’ because of plans to introduce mandatory internet filtering. Not surprisingly, the award was handed out by the Internet Service Providers’ Association (ISPA) in the United Kingdom where Aussie ‘bashing’ is almost as popular as cricket (and often the two go hand in hand).
However, Mr Conroy was in illustrious company with some other popular British targets just missing out. They included:
- The European Parliament – “For supporting an amendment to the Telecom Package on cookies which could yet bring the internet to a standstill”. A proposal that would force websites to warn users every time they received a cookie.
- French President, Nicolas Sarkozy – “For his continued commitment to the HADOPI law, which advocates a system of graduated response, despite repeated arguments suggesting the law is disproportionate from a number of important groups including the European Parliament”. This proposal would ban persistent downloaders of pirated content from all French ISPs for twelve months.
- UK Business Minister, Baroness Vadera – “For excluding a number of ISPs and Rights Holders in agreeing a Memorandum of Understanding that was exclusive and ineffective in progressing relations between the two industries”. The Baroness had brokered a deal between the music business and six of the largest ISPs in the UK offering legal broadband subscriptions that permitted file sharing.
- Stephen Conroy and the Australian Government – “For continuing to promote network-level blocking despite significant national and international opposition”. In this proposal a secret blacklist of sites featuring ‘unwanted content’ was to be implemented nationwide.
Of course, most liberal-minded internet users and ISPs would shirk at the mere mention of censorship these days but it should not be forgotten that Conroy’s initial motive for its introduction was to try and stop the insidious growth of child pornography on the net. Who could possibly argue against that? Of course, any form of censorship or ‘blacklisting’ can be abused and there has always been the fear that no government could adequately manage the task without some level of inconsistency. In any case, the whole matter is still under review and may never see the light of day so the award may have been a tad premature.
Even more surprising that Conroy would be given this award is that he has fought tirelessly since becoming Communications Minister to roll out a national broadband network that had been stalled by the previous government and and obstructionist national carrier partly owned by the government. One would think that any organisation representative of the internet industry, especially internet service providers, would hail any attempts to improve access to the internet.
Come on ISPA, think again. Even if you won’t recall the award you may want to keep Mr Conroy in mind for one of the nice awards next time around. If he manages to get Australia’s NBN rolled out and helps to prevent even one case of child abuse then he will surely have to deemed an internet ‘hero’.