Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Who are the targets?

Senator Conroy and his Internet censorship goons have, until recently, been selling their compulsory filter idea as a way of protecting young Australians from kiddy porn, but if Conroy is allowed to implement his Great Barrier Firewall, he gives our federal government a filter that lets them block any information they deem unsuitable for your viewing.

Let me stress that point.

If we ALLOW our Federal Government to force this censorship scheme on us, it lets THEM decide what sites are not suitable for YOU to look at, download or purchase. They will have unprecedented contral over your access to information and what you are able to purchase because, as they have since revealed, the scope of their censorship goes far beyond blocking unsuitable porn.

Todays rant is inspired by articles in the news recently describing how Conroy already plans to expand the scope of his Internet filter to block out any websites that sell or allow you to download computer games that fall outside the MA15+ rating given by the Australian Film and Literature Classification Board. Australia is the only western country in the world that doesn't have an R18+ rating for computer games!

Do any of my readers play Second Life? Be prepared to kiss that little diversion goodbye - anything that lets it's players get creative and make whatever they want is definitely going to fall outside our ratings system!

Fallout 3 was banned in Australia for depicting drug use until a censored version was released.

Most of the GTA games have been banned in Australia because they depicted sex scenes. Censored versions have since been released.

F.E.A.R. 2 was banned because it was too violent. The publishers appealed the decision and it was reclassified as MA15+.

Basically, computer games get refused classification (and subsequently banned) because of drug use, sex scenes and violence - the very same reasons we have an R18+ rating for video and film releases.

The Interactive Entertainment Association of Australia (IEAA) recently conducted a survey revealing that the average age of the Australian gamer is thirty years old. Not really surprising considering the average price of a latest generation gaming console or games-capable PC tends to be out of reach of most pocket money budgets. So we know that the people buying games are - on average - adults. The same adults that can rent or purchase a whole range of R18+ movies depicting all kinds of drug use, sex and violence. In some places in Australia, these same adults are legally allowed to purchase X rated material. Yet when it comes to gamers, we are treated by our Government as children no matter what our age.

Savvy gamers in the past have simply ordered their game from a civilized country like New Zealand, a country like every other western country in the world that has an R18+ rating for their games, allowing adults to enjoy their games as they were meant to be.

Our very own Internet Villain Award Nominee, Communications Minister Stephen Conroy plans to put a stop to all that. His blacklist will now include any sites that provide access to games that have been refused classification in Australia. This means that any site that sells R18+ games will be blocked even if you wanted to buy a PG13 rated game.

And even if you think this is okay, even if you reckon gamers should wait until our Government to listen to the thousands of Aussie gamers crying out for a fair rating system for our games, you'd be naive to think that Conroys Internet Censorship scheme will stop at blocking computer games. The blacklist that blocks these 'unacceptable sites' can be added to at a whim. If the Government don't want you to see it, they can put it on their secret blacklist and you lose access to it just as if the owner of the site had pulled it down.

I have put a widget on the side bar of my blog where you can sign a petition at GetUp! who have had some success in promoting awareness about this censorship situation. This censorship scheme of Senator Stephen Conroy's has the potential to destroy the freedom we have online in ways that you won't realize until it's gone. It will give our Government the power to block your access to anything - independent news websites, entertainment sites, community networking sites, even blogs like mine could end up being blocked.

We have already seen the blacklist block legitimate business sites with the Queensland dentist who was added to the blacklist without any warning or explanation, costing them business because the site was down, costing them service and maintenance trying to figure out why their site wasn't working, and no, he will not be getting compensation.

A point I'd like to make here is that our current rating system was designed to apply to movies, films, television shows and also printed media and radio broadcasts. When applied to media, this kind of rating system makes sense. You can be assured that when you hire a DVD rated PG13 that your young teenager should be able to handle the content and you can make informed decisions on watching R rated or X rated content.

But, and this is a very big 'BUT', the Internet is not a one-way media. It is a communication system in which information is sent both to you and by you. Censoring the Internet is like censoring your telephone. It is like censoring your personal mail. It is taking away your access to information. It is removing any option to you to choose to view R rated or X rated material. It is removing your freedom of choice.

Don't let this happen. Sign a petition. Discuss the issue with your friends. Write about it on Facebook. Let Stephen Conroy and his pals know that we are Australian adults and we can choose for ourselves what we watch, what we listen to and what we play. We grown ups now, we like our freedom and we can decide for ourselves thank you very much.

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