So, yes, the mandatory clean feed has been generating a lot of noise lately and the Federal Member Email/Letter bomb has been dropped. In this spirit, I felt I might as well contribute an entry with the letter I sent of to my local member (Ballarat – Ms Catherine King), last week:

Ms King,

I am writing to express my concern at the proposed mandatory ‘clean feed’ internet concept being put forward by Mr Stephen Conroy. Such a concept poses serious risks to both free speech liberties and Australia’s ability to prosper in a digital world. As each of these is of such importance, I will address my fears about them separately:

  • Free speech and censorship: I understand that it is far from the governments intent to create a system capable of wholesale censorship, however intentional or not, this is what a mandatory clean feed will accomplish. Already, proposals have come from other political organisations (See http://www.theage.com.au/articles/2008/10/27/1224955916155.html) that the scope of the filtering should extend to online services such as gambling. This is the thin end of the wedge. Even if we are able to trust the current government not to bow to pressure from such groups, it is not a stretch to believe that future, less trustworthy, governing bodies could extend the blacklist to cover areas that are not in fitting with its ideals (Eg political dissent). Whilst it may not be the Labour party making these changes, they will have certainly enabled the actions. Finally, given the serious opposition this proposal has faced from both individuals and the business sector, I cannot help but question where the motivation for the filters comes from in the first place. If this system is not (and cannot) serve the public interest, who’s interests are it serving? Mr Conroy has so far failed to satisfactorily answer this question.
  • Australia in a digital world: Given that I work in the technical sector and have a reasonable understanding of the technology behind a typical Internet Service Provider (ISP), I find it staggering that a proposal such as the mandatory feed can make it past even a cursory investigation into its feasibility. The governments own studies have shown how detrimental the implementation of a system such as this would be to the quality of Australia’s broadband networks. I do not wish to quote statistics from these studies, they are freely available elsewhere, however I do want to note that the government loses much credibility (particularly in the technology industry) if they are going to undertake feasibility studies with no intention of taking any notice of the results. Mr Conroy has listed ‘similar’ systems in place overseas that have had success, however this fails to take into account significant differences between the aims of these systems and the one proposed here. Australia is already lagging significantly behind much of the developed world when it comes to high speed broadband availability. On the one hand we have a government willing to hand out $4.1 billion to help improve this situation, yet on the other the same government wishes to cripple the system before it has even left committee.

Given the ever increasing importance of digital infrastructure in an economy, Australia is now at serious risk of becoming a technological backwater and any gains we have made in this area over the past 5-10 years will quickly become irrelevant. I urge you to oppose this mandatory ‘clean feed’ from Mr Conroy and pass on the concerns that I (and others in the Ballarat community) hold regarding it.

I would be happy to discuss any of the points raised above with yourself or a member of your office in case clarification or further information is required.

Thank you,

Josh Stewart

To date, I have not received a reply, though to be honest I do not expect more than a form letter at best.