I recently wrote on how even robust democracies can censor the Internet. When even democracies go awry with online dissent looked at the examples from France, Australia, the United Kingdom and even the US where new media use, including citizen journalism, and other content have been banned or blocked. Whenever I have decried censorship in Sri Lanka, I have noted that similar initiatives in these countries gives regimes far less democratic a convenient excuse for their own actions to control and censor content they find inconvenient.
As reported in Ars Technica, Google is, unsurprisingly, less than enthusiastic about Australia’s pornographic filtering on the internet.
Predictably, Google has some objections (PDF), including its oblique comment that Australia’s mandatory filtering scheme could “confer legitimacy upon filtering by other Governments.”
“Australia is rightly regarded as a liberal democracy that balances individual liberty with social responsibility,” continues the Google filing. “The Governments of many other countries may justify, by reference to Australia, their use of filtering, their lack of disclosure about what is being filtered, and their political direction of agencies administering filtering.”
Because Australia’s constitution does not contain blanket support for freedom of expression, instead offering a more limited freedom of political discourse), Google argues that “there is a significant risk that filtering applied today to RC content could readily be extended by future governments to other forms of expression, whether related to sexual content or violence or not.”
Australia’s problems with filtering pornographic content mirror the technical difficulties – some would argue technical impossibility – of censoring such content online. Sri Lanka has also made noises in this regard in 2008, but to date, even twelve sites determined to have pornographic content and blocked by court order are accessible over some ISPs.
Will this change in the future, with the justification used that the regimes that lecture to the government about the freedom of expression also clamp down on content online?