The ABC’s Q&A programme spent about 30 minutes last night pondering Senator Conroy’s mandatory Internet filtering plan… well, idea, because it’s increasingly clear that “plan” is too strong a word. Conroy was, frankly, an embarrassment. To be honest, most of the questions put to him were not especially articulate, but Conroy made a mockery of himself. What disturbs me is that he seems to be fully cognisant of the reality of public opposition, the technical barriers and even the dangers of encroaching on political freedoms, and yet at the same time he has no inkling that it means anything. Sure, ACMA may have blacklisted a dentist’s website, among a number of other worrying examples, but somehow that’s perfectly alright and acceptable simply because Conroy is able to explain how it happened (something about the Russian mafia, apparently). Forgive me if the idea of a secret blacklist doesn’t fill me with confidence. If said blacklist hadn’t been leaked recently, such errors would never come to light, and so there would be no pressure to correct them.
Andrew Bolt’s remarks on the filter were mostly directed at the Internet libertarian strawman. The argument – not terribly innovative – lays down a few of the worst examples of criminal behaviour and suggests that you can’t allow free access to everything. Possibly true, and utterly beside the point. Mandatory Internet filtering is and should be opposed on the grounds that there just isn’t a workable mechanism, by which I mean one that is effective while being compatible with basic democratic principles. Ultimately, it doesn’t matter what your filtering criteria are. Computers aren’t smart enough, humans aren’t honest enough and the Internet is just too damn big.