Tasmanian Times


Why the Internet Should be Censored

Let’s think of the NBN as a brand new red Ferrari with no brakes.

Picture this! I’m driving my new red Ferrari and its going really fast, really really fast, adrenaline, rushing wind it’s all about me, fast round the corners, through the puddles, splashing water all over those kids as I speed past, oops ran over a pram, keep going, through the red light, road rules are a mere annoyance it’s all about me! Fantastic, exhilarating, solo individualistic fun!

The NBN is a bit like that red Ferrari, high speed communications, a big fat pipe down which anything can be sent quick as a wink. Packets of data travel down the pipes very very fast, mostly we do not know what’s in those packets of data – could be anything going anywhere for any reason – a bit like people in super hot sportscar.

But would we really build a brand new Ferrari with no brakes? And should we have an internet with no rules?

Of course not, there are technological and social limits that are placed on all human invention and endeavour. The reason we have rules, is that every right we assert as an individual, has a corresponding duty. It’s a bit like physics where every action has an equal yet opposite reaction (or words to that effect paraphrased from what I can remember of year 10 physics). But I digress.

For example, the euthanasia debate is very topical, but you already have a right, today, right now to kill yourself. Yes you do, no need for euthanasia laws, you could go ahead and do it. Do you have the right to ask someone else to do it – yes, you can ask. Do you have a right to make someone end your life? No we have rules about that. The conversation continues…

Similarly, you have a right to free speech, but it is not an unfettered right – free speech yes, but cause harm to others? No. You have a duty to be mindful of harm to reputational damage. Again a balance of rights and responsibilities, meeting at the Wikileaks frontline.

So, back to the metaphor, you have a right to buy a red Ferrari with no brakes, (which is a bit of a stretch because you couldn’t get one), but do you have a right to drive a car with no brakes fast enough to hurt or harm others? No.

So we are talking about legal rights v legal responsibilities, on a new technology platform that has the potential to change our society.

The question of whether the internet should be censored has to be tackled at a social, legal and technological layer. We are tackling the convergence of public policy, law and technology and censorship is the front line.

Mud Sticks.

The laws of defamation, incitement, terrorism, pornography, harassment and stalking include those activities when aided and abetted by digital technology. Mr “Wickileaks”, Julian Assange – hero to some, villain to others…aided and abetted by the lack an international law of defamation. He has carte blanche to say what he likes – because Wiki leaks uses cryptographic technology that protects sources from being traced. We trust Wikileaks to get it right. Right?

You have the ability to disseminate information to the four corners of the globe but no way to protect your reputation at that international level. Doesn’t seem fair does it. Not very consumer friendly is it?

We could adopt Voltaire’s approach to broad rights of freedom of speech, but this needs to be tempered by accountability because the damage to someone’s good reputation is not easily remedied. When the harm is done the harm is done – mud sticks.

That Horse has Bolted

The internet is already censored isn’t it. We have left it to our legislators to incorporate new technology and social media into our existing body of law. Our laws grow and mature with each new technology cycle, building upon what went before – it’s called legal precedent. Facebook is a prime example, applying its own standards of behaviour and rules of use – guess what that’s called? Censorship.

But the rubber really hits the road (to continue my Ferrari metaphor) because we now have the technology that can filter digital transmissions. Filters can happen at the network level (as part of the switching network) or on a desktop computer at home to protect the kids.

What we are all concerned about (and I now confess leftie, pinko, social justice, civil libertarian, consumer focussed, leanings right here by way of full disclosure), is that we do not and should not engage in political censorship. No secret lists. Full stop.

The dialogue on the question of ratings and censorship in Australia has swung like a pendulum across the decades, with each new wave of technology. I re-read Lady Chatterly’s Lover in preparation for this debate and it is still saucy I can assure you; wouldn’t particularly want to see it animated on the internet.

So yes, we have a right to know and to access information, but we have a corresponding duty not to harm – indeed more proactive than that, it is a duty to actively prevent harm to vulnerable members of our community.

The Social Contract

Rousseau developed the theory of the Social Contract, that is…. it is our community that identifies the norms and sets the rules in which a just society operates, and that our government and our laws are the collective expression of those values.

In our civil society, we accept (or at least most of us do) that a world without boundaries leads to anarchy. We seek a society in which everyone is included, the disabled, the disenfranchised, the elderly the young, the articulate, families and singles. Not everyone is competent to look after themselves, and some of us are charged with the added responsibility of looking after others. Let’s hear it for the parents of teenagers in the audience.

Arguments that the application of filtering devices at the network layer will push criminal activity onto private networks, making it even harder to catch the child pornographers do not stack up – professionals in this area already have their own networks – they already have the technology, they are already hard at work. But a network level filter would catch some people wouldn’t it…and I’m for the catching of even just one evil criminal – one child saved is enough to justify it for me.

We have a legal and moral obligation to act, to scope appropriate boundaries and to manage dialogue, but also a duty to allow broad free speech because social media is the epitome of Rousseau’s Social Contract in action and this is good for democracy.

So your red Ferrari is going to need some brakes, no matter how much I trust you, and no matter how exhilarating it is driving it in these highly inappropriate shoes…which by circumstance I bought on-line.

I am Madeleine Ogilvie, lawyer, mother and Facebook addict…. logging off.

Thank you.

*A fun debate, interesting other speakers and a bright audience. Well done Utas Alumni Association!

Author Credits: [show_post_categories parent="no" parentcategory="writers" show = "category" hyperlink="yes"]


  1. Leonard Colquhoun

    October 16, 2010 at 1:12 pm

    Errh, 24, what case?

  2. Karl Stevens

    October 15, 2010 at 11:29 pm

    That looked very much like Madeleine Ogilvie on TV tonight greeting her partner who was stranded on Flinders Island in freezing conditions. The Telstra guys used iPhones to work out their exact location and then summon help. IPhones work on ‘3G’ broadband. I rest my case.

  3. Stephan

    October 15, 2010 at 1:10 pm

    #5 Big Ears
    While late I thought I’d just say this; I’m not above using “appropriate” similes, simplistic or otherwise. The more appropriate simile to clarify the difference between currently available broadband and the NBN is the use of the garden hose analogy. Current broadband is your average domestic garden hose while the NBN is a full on fire hose. Or you could use a waterfall analogy because traffic on the net is about the “flow” of data. The term “speed” is indicative of “band width”. It is not a Ferrari and “crashes” (data crashes always happen on busy networks – have done since day one) are not usually an issue.

    The debate by the author is to the technologically literate, uneducated for all that they attempt to demonstrate competence through the use of a “feature”. It does not contribute to a greater understanding of the infrastructure supporting the communication medium more commonly known as the Internet. I dislike arguments (or anything for that matter) that promote ignorance. I accept your right to critique my opinion though :).

  4. Leonard Colquhoun

    October 14, 2010 at 3:51 pm

    It’s good to see some well-expressed posts on the dangers of, indeed the evils, of censorship.

    One of the most insidious is the ‘good intentions’ version, the sort which is justified by ‘If it saves only one person / reputation / child. then it is worth it’.

    Moreover, it gives more power to those superior types who reckon that only they are clever enough, or have the proper credentials, to save people from themselves, that the ‘masses’ are so stupid, irresponsible and immature that they need this sort of ‘protection’ and ‘guidance’.

    Yes, many individuals are stupid, irresponsible and immature, but generally better a thousand crimes than thousands enslaved.

    Anyway, as already pointed out, net censorship is only for the technologically ignorant or inept; it is often claimed that most ten-year-olds can get round it. Besides – and how topical is this? – how well do government bureaucracies perform when acting ‘in loco parentis’?

    Another point: employing thousands of screen jockeys to stop all adults doing what some adults do is a waste of time & energy, money & resources: think Stasi, the ultimate exemplar, all those tens of thousands of agents – one estimate is one spy per seven East Germans – sucking whatever energy & iniative there was out of what passed for an economy & a society in the late & unlamented DDR.

    Finally, there is this observation page 11 of the Memoirs of Edward Teller, who worked on the Manhattan Project –

    “What is the difference between England [and] Prussia^ . . . ? In England, everything is permitted except for a few things which are forbidden. In Prussia, everything is forbidden except for a few things which are permitted.”

    Take your pick.

    Beware of giving politicians any more power – it only encourages the bastards.

    ^ Younger viewers, especially if subjected to what passes for history teaching for the last few decades, might need to google.

  5. Chris Harries

    October 14, 2010 at 1:04 pm

    Observer (#20),

    I spent my young childhood in South Africa (and Zimbabwe) and both places became abject examples showing how censorship, supposedly for the public good, can deliver awful suppression.

    Censorship of information channels is very much alive in places like Burma and Tibet.

    Censorship is alive here too, though less overt. We should entertain any higher levels of official censorship with great wariness.

    “Freedom for the wolves
    is death to the sheep.”
    Justin Cartwright
    (South African author)

  6. Observer

    October 14, 2010 at 8:08 am

    Why the Internet should NOT be censored.

    The biggest problem with censorship is that it is ALWAYS subjective. It is either politically or morally motivated and is left in the hands of those who have a least some sort of vested interest in the outcome. Those doing the censoring are not representative of the audience, who are wide and mixed in their requirements.

    Political censorship is controlled by the current ruling party (or dictator) and is used to block out any contrary or opposing views that might disrupt or weaken their own power position. This can clearly be seen in countries such as Iran, Burma and China.

    Moral censorship is usually in the hands of the most narrow-minded and puritanical, who believe that their version and theirs alone conforms with what God wants and they are acting accordingly.

    They are not only depriving you of freedom of speech but they are also trying to control your thinking. Censorship is far too dangerous an idea to be allowed to happen.

    I personally lived through this under the Apartheid regime in South Africa before the internet was a force, but television, magazines and newspapers were all censored. The view of the world and home affairs was a happy illusion promoted by the Dutch Reform Church and the Afrikaans Government. Nobody knew any different and could not understand what the international fuss was about – except of course, those who were suffering under these regimes, but nobody ever heard about that. The media became a tool for propaganda.

    There are other methods of controlling internet content apart from censorship. Categorising content into groups would help, then people could have a choice of what to block and what to accept. For instance, instead of having .com and .net as suffixes, use .vio for violence, .sex or .xxx for sexual content, .pol for political, .gen for general interest etc. and make heavy penalties for anyone who deliberately publishes content under a wrong category.

    It’s not perfect, but then what is? It’s a damned sight better than what we have at present and allows all the freedoms that we are entitled to.

  7. john hayward

    October 14, 2010 at 12:29 am

    Normally, I’m extremely wary of authoritarian philosophies, given their history of catastrophic consequences.

    But the sheer intellectual force of Madeleine’s arguments have overwhelmed me. The spectre of a speeding, brakeless Ferrari ripping through the Tassie environment has convinced me that the allocation of rights and freedoms is best left to those who are highly suspicious of them, thinkers such as Madeleine, Rene, Brenton, Barty, Thuggo, etc.

    All we need is faith.

    John Hayward

  8. Robert LePage

    October 13, 2010 at 8:40 pm

    Dear Madeleine,
    I am sure that you are right but why stop with the Internet?
    Bring in censorship for the TV in all of it’s forms, radio, newspapers (those that are not owned by the big 3 and already censored), and even meetings. We could stop any discussion at local council meetings and committees, the possibilities are endless.
    The State and federal Governments also could be censored so that no discussion on proceedings is allowed.

  9. Robin Halton

    October 13, 2010 at 6:39 pm

    Hello Madeleine good to see you back on deck! Tell me my dear if you had been elected to State Parliament, how would you cope seeing the present and disheartening things happening with child protection! The GBE’s need an overhaul which could be your area of expertise with your knowledge of industrial law! I cannot imagine you sitting quietly on the back bench saying nothing! I think that you like action and involvement and to be noticed in the House. I’ll tell you what Madeleine, if Bartlett and his close cronies ( Aird and Lara) dont start governing this state fairly and more openly all hell is going to break loose and they wont see the term out.

  10. Leonard Colquhoun

    October 13, 2010 at 6:14 pm

    Two observations:

    (i) formal debating is like competitive sport, but with words. Under most scoring systems, content (‘Matter’) is scored on less than 50% of the total. Cleverness in the other two categories (‘Method’ & ‘Manner’) can trump the best content – bit like politics, really. Eloquent rhetoric doesn’t guarantee effective action – just ask Obama. (Note: competitive debating, as one adjudicator explained to me, is the only ‘sport’ where you get a bigger score because you won, rather than win because you got the bigger score – think about that one.)

    (ii) any argument which relies on that nasty old fraud J-J Rousseau ought be hit for six. A more hypocritical philosopher would be hard to find anywhere – he ought to be the Patron-in-Chief of those who reckon marching en masse over a nearby bridge on a nice sunny day solves anything.

    BTW, the world’s biggest debating competition is the Schools Competition run by the Debaters Association of Victoria, “a not-for-profit incorporated association, aiming ‘to facilitate effective debate in Victoria’.

    “The Debaters Association of Victoria was formed in the late 1920s after an amalgamation of pre-existing debating societies. It is the largest debating body in Australia. Its Schools Competition, in which more than 10,000^ debaters compete each year, is one of the largest debating competitions in the world. The association also trains the Victorian Schools Debating Team and runs a variety of school-level debating programs including the Junior Secondary Program and a British Parliamentary tournament”.

    More – http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Debaters_Association_of_Victoria#Debaters_Association_of_Victoria

    Good luck to Ms Ogilvie, and to all who took part. (But lose the Rouss!)

    PS: one of the hardest tasks I found was weaning speakers off hand notes with full sentences & paragraphs on them, and many debates are lost because of reading rather than speaking.

    A change in rules I’d propose would be that both teams know the topic in advance, but they don’t find out whether they are Affirmative or Negative until, say, 10 or 15 minutes beforehand. Think about it . . .

    ^ so much so, that by the late 1990s, the Schools Competition had become so popular that it was in danger of being devoured by its own success. And BTW, I sighted a memo which the DAV received from the Victorian Education Department discouraging its schools from participating on the grounds that (a) students might have to speak against what they believed in; (b) it was ‘elitist’; and, !!!!, (c) it was dominated by private schools – classic bureaucracy at ‘work’.

  11. Dave Hobart

    October 13, 2010 at 5:42 pm

    I read this dubiously argued, metaphorically moribund diatribe and came to the conclusion as an UTas Alumni I was glad I chose not to attend on the night. Secondly it made be glad that I read philosophy and not law if this is what passes for argument at the Law School; brake-less Ferrari’s more like brain-less interlocutor. Mind you this rubbish proves the old adage that nothing is completely useless it can always serve as a bad example so congratulation Ms Ogilvie at least at this level you you scrape a pass.

  12. Jolly Frog

    October 13, 2010 at 4:45 pm

    Another opinion from a bleeding heart do-gooder using inane analogy to hammer bias.
    Sorry Madeline the internet is the collective voice of humanity – with all its faults and peeves.
    This is not a perfect world and those wishing to make it so are wasting their time – learn to discern and accept the things you cant change.

  13. Tom

    October 13, 2010 at 3:58 pm

    Is this serious?

    The internet IS being censored right now.

    The analogy with a Ferrari is inanely dumb. The euthanasia comment is nauseating but at the same time point to the conclusion that the Net should not be censored because you already have the right to turn off your PC. And boy I wish she did exercise that right.

    If this is what you get from a lawyer – no wonder Tasmania is a laughing stock of the nation.

  14. Dr Kevin Bonham

    October 13, 2010 at 3:44 pm

    Given that “formal debating rules” were applied, is this an exercise in debating for the sake/sport of it ([i]a la[/i] high school debating, where one argues the side one is given whether one actually believes it or not), or does this speech represent Madeleine Ogilvie’s political views for which she is willing to be held accountable by voters should she contest another election?

  15. Gary

    October 13, 2010 at 3:29 pm

    An interesting analogy…..but I’m damned if I’d buy a Ferrari that only runs on 2 of it’s 8 cylinders, and can only be driven on traintracks either.

  16. davies

    October 13, 2010 at 2:24 pm

    Another profile raiser from someone keen to get into a parliament which will increase the size of the trough to allow a few more piggies in.

    Under your scenario, we will have a government owned and run internet service. A service you will be MADE to have. You have no choice. But it is ‘spun’ to us with nice weasly words including the best attribute by far which is its speed!

    Boy will it be fast! Until of course the Government imposes over the whole Australian population it’s censorship filter. Experts say this will have the effect of slowing the whole internet down…PLUS it wont actually work anyway.

    I know, a government controlled internet with government controlled censorship is like a wet dream to you socialists. But for most people, it is just seen as another extension of the seemingly insatiable appetite that governments and politicians have for dictating what we should do and think.

    Remember, traditionally politicians and governments where there to serve us. Only recently have they flipped it so we are supposed to serve the politicians. And now you want them to be our moral guardians too?

  17. Steve

    October 13, 2010 at 1:11 pm

    Surely using the comparison of a car with no brakes against the animation of Lady Chatterly’s lover is stretching it a bit?
    I do get the point but I can’t agree that heavy censoring is the best way to approach the internet.
    Child pornography is an obvious point of discussion. The vast majority of people do not want to use it and would rather it was not available. Sounds a bit like heroin doesn’t it, and yet after years of being illegal, heroin appears to still be readily available. Just costs a bit more.
    Exactly the same would happen with heavy filtering. As fast as governments come up with filters, others will find a way round them. Meanwhile the vast majority of law abiding citizens will find they can’t view Mickey Mouse or something because it’s been nailed by a filter.
    Censorship has never really worked, even with books.

  18. Wes Young

    October 13, 2010 at 12:58 pm

    An interesting approach. Yet not a word about how pay TV is essentially free to broadcast any classification of content any time of the day. Pay TV and the Internet are both essentially subscription services but you don’t hear boo about a pay TV filter.

    The reality is the horse has bolted and ACMA is powerless to catch up. Lastly, who here trusts the Federal Government to decide what content is in and what’s out for an Internet filter?

    Not this little black duck, that’s for sure.

  19. BigEars

    October 13, 2010 at 12:43 pm

    #2 — A shame to begin your post with a ‘tut tut’ about simplistic similies only to blunder into your line about additional house locks only stopping “honest” people!

    Nobody reads this site, let alone contributes to it, unless they acknowledge the power of the written word. Many of us would also acknowledge the power of the visual image — power that can be amazingly uplifting but which can also be traumatically damaging. Our laws, and the technologies we use to give effect to those laws, are attempts to limit the unfettered exercise of power, across a range of contexts.

    Madeleine Ogilvie is correct — there is no absolute right to free speech. Indeed there must never be any such right. Nor any other absolute right, for that matter. All of the rights that we cherish intersect in ways that inevitably lead to a restriction of freedoms. The question isn’t whether we restrict the flow of text and images across the internet, but in what contexts, for what purposes.

    There is a very real danger that those who seek the maximum possible flow of information — and express this by campaigning against any ‘filtering’ processes — will deal themselves out of important conversations / negotiations about how we manage this complex issue. Just like so many other issues (like forestry management), the people we most need at the negotiating table are too busy being impotently principled.

  20. Counsellor

    October 13, 2010 at 12:42 pm

    More Government regulation to protect the stupid.
    Government driven Internet censorship restricts nothing for those determined to access it and is as stupid as the major prohibitions in our society have proven. By all means give people the tools as the Howard Government briefly did with Free Net Nanny services for families and make them simple to access. I will never support the Government as the arbiter of what I view.

  21. Chris Harries

    October 13, 2010 at 12:40 pm

    Hi Madeline,

    I put a case recently in a national magazine that before a new product is placed on the market it should be subject to comprehensive environmental and social impact assessments.

    To cut a long story short, the free market continuously places new products and technologies onto the market and then aggressively sells them through advertising. Yet the downsides to those technologies are not attended to until they become manifestly problematic. There are many examples such as the now ubiquitous lumpy 4WD car that has caused the plummeting of fuel efficiency of the Australian car fleet and has caused so many deaths and injuries of toddlers in driveways – both unforeseen problems at the time. The high energy consumption plasma TV is another example. As is the halogen light bulb that has caused so many house fires.

    If you or I wish to undertake a development on land we are subject to a range of planning laws, in order to minimise any possible environmental or social harm from resulting. A major project can be stopped in its tracks if a rare endemic species is threatened by that development. But there is no such comprehensive process in place with regard to placing things on the free market. The negative consequences can be much worse for the whole of society than is the case of a single land use development.

    I am making this point because your arguments for restraints on the internet have merit in some situations (especially in relation to the protection of children) however the market is an unconstrained beast at best. Imposing overall restraints on the internet is highly selective when the doctrine of the free market is in nearly all other cases regarded as a sacred cow. In essence, the real debate is much bigger than just the internet, it’s about appropriate controls on the free market generally, in the interests of the public good.

    The internet is specifically under the microscope because, unlike manufacturing, it is not dominated by a small number of large corporations that can easily resist such controls being placed on them.

  22. Stephan

    October 13, 2010 at 10:53 am

    While the use of the “Red Ferrari” simile is simplistic at best, because of the misleading mental image it projects, I fail to see the justification in censorship of the internet where it (censorship) is considered anaethema in many other forums. As a member of our democratic community I appreciate the ability to have an opinion and to voice it. I also appreciate there are laws vis-a-vis libel and slander. More often than not the prosecution of these laws proves nothing other than the fact that one party’s bank balance was larger than the others.

    There’s no justice when money is the arbiter of guilt or innocence. Add ill considered censorship to a medium that allows a generous mix of free speech and anarchy would prevail. I expect as a “modern” user of the net you’re largely unaware of the other online facilitie available (more commonly known as the undernet)? “Private Networks” aren’t. All packets can be interrogated for content.

    And in the end there is no anonymity on the net for the dedicated and concerted investigator.

    Censorship of the Net would be like adding additional locks to your house. The only people it would stop are the “honest” ones. Aren’t these the people the ones who deserve a voice and to be heard? Yes, in anonymity or in the open. I put it to you that while anonymity is often abused it also allows people to feel less exposed for telling an otherwise unpalatable truth.

    My name is Stephan. My surname is unique. If it was Smith I’d post as such but it’s not. I do not want the world beating a path to my door to abuse, vilify or consecrate my view.

  23. Philip Lowe

    October 13, 2010 at 10:48 am

    Bit of a whacky analogy there Madeleine,but if we do go along with the fast and dangerous car comparison,how about you,and a few others have a look at the fast and dangerous car situation,real and not theory,in Tasmania.
    Cars darned near as fast as some Ferraris are sold and re registered every week without any form of mechanical inspection.The Mercury will advertise for free cars that are priced under $3,000.This situation is daft and dangerous.What are you going to do about it?Nothing I suspect.Get your priorities right Madeleine please.

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