The Internet Filter Debate
The decision of the Australian government to implement Internet filtering in the country was brought about by various concerns regarding Internet use and web content that place the privacy and security of the nation’s people at risk. The primary concerns of the Australian government include “offensive and illegal material online” and the protection of children from “exposure to material that is unsuitable for them” (ACMA, 2009a). The Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA) is responsible for regulating content of broadcasting, the Internet, radio transmissions, and telecommunications (ACMA, 2009b). The regulation decisions of ACMA are based on the standards of the Office of Film and Literature Classification represented by the levels of prohibited content:
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R-18 – Contains content that is likely to be disturbing to those under eighteen. This content is not prohibited on domestic hosting sites if there is an age-verification system certified by the ACMA in place.
X18 – Contains nonviolent sexually explicit content between consenting adults. This content may be subject to ACMA takedown provisions if hosted on domestic servers.
RC – Contains content that is Refused Classification (child pornography, fetish, detailed instruction on crime, and so on) and is prohibited on Australian-hosted sites.
Source: Deibert, 2008, p. 167
Based on standards and guidelines for censorship of Internet content, the Australian government regulates access by implementing Internet filtering systems. The government’s efforts for Internet filtering started in 1996 and have progressed since then (Morris & Waisbord, 2001), and so in 2009, a third version of an Internet filtering system for blocking Internet Service Providers (ISP). The Internet filtering system was designed to prevent adults from accessing inappropriate and malicious websites that are blacklisted by the Australian Federal Labor Government. (Graham, 2009) Although the Australian government has been continually improving and lobbying for Internet filtering, some scholars, critics, concerned citizens, and interest groups have expressed the problems concerning the existing Internet filtering system, especially in terms of cost in setting up the system and efficiency in addressing the planned goals, which is primarily to protect children against pornography, exploitation, and abuse online. (Cussen, 2010; Fenley, 2010)
In light of the problems that are challenging the effectiveness of the existing Internet filtering system and the Australian government’s capability and good judgment to handle the issues, a new workable solution should be developed in order to address the shortcomings of the Internet filtering system. As a representative of Super Awesome Consulting, a proposal for a new management scheme to regulate access to harmful and malicious Internet content to protect the privacy and security of the people have been developed and will be discussed shortly.
Policy Proposal for Regulating Access to Internet Content
The primary issue is the inefficiency of the current Internet filtering system in Australia. Not only is the system costly, but it is also ineffective in protecting the privacy and security of children and not to mention that the standards and guidelines for censorship do not require restriction to adult sites especially since Internet speed is being considered, and blocking all sites with violent, malicious, and harmful content will also block other sites that provide important news and information (Colgan & Elliott, 2010). Another problem is that the Internet filtering system places children at risk at some levels (Livingstone & Bober, 2006). Due to these problems, it might be the right time to introduce a new solution that does not require Internet filtering.
The primary objective of the new proposal is to focus on increasing awareness and making parents, schools, and stakeholders responsible and accountable for educating children about the dangers of irresponsible Internet use and introducing non-mandatory end user software or programs that will give individuals, especially parents, the option of which sites to filter or block. The participation of the government may be in subsidizing the cost of such softwares and programs to make them accessible to all populations. Furthermore, since the Australian government is concerned with eradicating child pornography online and other similar problems that places the privacy and security of people at risk, but without the liberty of Internet filtering, the government may as well address the problem on a grander scale, and that is to participate in international efforts against child pornography, etc. in partnership with Internet watchdogs that record complains, create lists of sites that are potentially harmful or abusive, and are in partnership with the authorities and governments to monitor individuals or institutions who are suspected of being involved in illegal online activity. Within the legal context, the Australian government should implement heavy sanctions for individuals who violate laws through Internet-related crimes such as child pornography.
Increasing awareness of harmful and abusive online content is very important in resolving Internet privacy and security related problems. The users themselves must be responsible in using the Internet and parents must be able to guide their children on how to use the Internet conscientiously. The primary reason why the Australian government endorsed the Internet filtering plan in the first place is open access to child pornography and children at risk for being exploited and abused online. Since children are the primary concern of the government, we might as well build a partnership with the people who are responsible for the children, their parents and guardians. Scholars and analysts agree that the lack of supervision from parents and lack of judgment and guidance on the part of the children who sometimes willingly post private information online places young Internet users at risk for online exploitation and abuse by child pornographers and pedophiles. (Knox & Schact, 2007)
If parents and guardians themselves are involved in the cause, the problem may be addressed directly without having to implement Internet filtering. Consequently, if children themselves were taught to be responsible in using the Internet, then they would know which sites to avoid, who to contact or communicate with online, and what kind of information is allowable to post online. The key idea to consider is that parents and guardians are influence their children and how they make decisions. (International Debate Education Association, 2004; Briggs, McVeity, & Love, 2001) Thus, addressing Internet-related problems may as well begin at home since it allows people to become responsible in using the Internet.
In order to increase awareness about the dangers of the Internet and make parents and guardians accountable for their children’s use of the Internet, the Australian government may implement policies and practices and take them to local communities by building partnership with schools, religious institutions, and other groups that may teach and influence people about the disadvantages of Internet use and how they may be addressed by becoming vigilant and responsible. Thus, parents, guardians, and stakeholders in the community, such as those in academic and religious institutions, should build partnerships in order to effectively resolve the mentioned problems. (Essex, 2002) Allowing members of one community to address the problem will be more effective since the people are familiar with specific problems in the community and may address them directly by helping one another develop and implement solutions. The role of the government is to facilitate awareness programs or policies, such as holding group discussions among members of the community about the Internet and its dangers to their children.
Similarly, the government may choose to endorse Internet filtering software or programs that end users may be able to use, especially parents and guardians. Organizations provide Internet solutions for filtering in the form of softwares and programs for individual or corporate users. The Australian government may endorse these products, without having to impose or implement mandatory Internet filtering systems, allowing the people to have options of existing solutions to address Internet privacy and security issues, especially for their children. The Australian government should be able to make these softwares or programs accessible to the people by subsidizing the cost. The proposal will help parents and guardians reinforce the control of Internet use at home at their own will, without the mandatory policy of the government.
On a grander scale, the Australian government may be able to contribute to the resolution of Internet privacy and security problems by being involved in international efforts to determine monitor child pornography, presence of violent, harmful, and abusive content online, reports about violations against men and women, and children online, and so on. Internet watchdogs, such as the UK-based organization Internet Watch Foundation, support the cause endorsed by the Australian government. It is one of the most efficient ways of resolving the issues without having to implement Internet filtering, but at the same time being able to solve them by eradicating the root or source of the problems.
Internet watchdogs also provide information on what sites are potentially harmful to people, especially children, and news about child pornography, and other crimes that are made possible through the Internet such as human trafficking, prostitution, sexual abuse against teens, and so on. (Koops, Lips, & Prins, 2006; Tambini, Leonardi & Marsden, 2008; Arnaldo, 2001) The involvement of the Australian government with Internet watchdog organizations will strengthen the influence and force of these institutions and enhance capabilities in eradicating Internet-related criminal activities. The detection of Internet-related crimes may become more efficient and there will also be an increase in available sources for addressing or resolving the problems with Australia’s involvement. Furthermore, the Australian government’s announcement of its support to these institutions will radiate it as a responsible and dependable government that respects democracy, but at the same time is sensitive and vigilant of existing problems and issues concerning Internet privacy and security.
The last proposal is for the Australian government to implement heavy sanctions for individuals or organizations who will violate legal laws by harboring Internet-related crimes such as child pornography, posting violent content or dangerous information such as how to build bombs or explosives, and so on. The laws may include increased jail sentence or high penalties for violators. Australia’s involvement with Internet watchdogs and its implementation of heavy sanctions for law violators will more likely resolve the problem. By becoming involved as an Internet watchdog, the Australian government will help augment the likelihood of detecting and catching cybercriminals such as those who support child pornography. Consequently, the Australian government’s implementation of heavy sanctions will not only teach caught cybercriminals a lesson but also send a perceptible warning to other violators or potential violators about the punishments they are facing with the crimes they committed or about to commit. (Ost, 2009; Ruyver, Vermeulen, & Beken, 2002)
The proposal, if granted, will then address social, technical, political, and legal aspect of addressing Internet-related problems in privacy and security, especially the protection of children from cybercrimes and violent content. The involvement of parents, guardians, and institutions in the community such as schools and religious groups, are important in developing socially responsible Internet users, especially children. The Australian government’s endorsement and subsidy of Internet filtering programs and softwares will provide parents and guardians, and home users in general, an option on how to regulate Internet access based on their will or choice. Furthermore, the Australian government’s partnership with Internet watchdogs will contribute to the resolution of Internet-related problems and crimes by eradicating the root or direct sources of these problems. The implementation of heavy sanctions will intensify the plan serving as a means to teach cybercriminals a lesson and warn other criminals and potential criminals about the punishments waiting for them if they attempt to violate legal laws.
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