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The Great Australian Firewall: Will Google Abandon Australia?

January 17, 2010

It’s difficult to think of two countries more different than Australia and China. In fact, it’s difficult to think of anything the two countries have in common.  It seems, however, they may soon have one shared characteristic to brag about: a controlling internet censorship system that limits free speech and inhibits the free flow of information.

On December 15, 2009 it was announced by the Australian Labor Party that new legislation entitled “Measures to improve safety of the internet for families”, would be introduced to support mandatory internet filtering. These proposed laws on internet censorship are sometimes referred to as the Great Australian Firewall, Rabbit Proof Firewall, Firewall Australia or Great Firewall Reef (sorry Aussies, it just doesn’t have the same ring as ‘Great Firewall’).  If all goes according to plan, the legislation should be implemented in the Autumn of this year aiming to target sites on controversial topics such as euthanasia and racism- along with a host of video games.

Having lived in China for three years, I know all too well how slippery the slope can be. From the beginning to the end of my stay, I saw virtually everything that made the internet what it is gradually get placed behind the Great Firewall: Facebook, Twitter, Youtube, Blogger, WordPress- the list goes on.  Although people in favour of the legislation will claim Australia’s firewall is not as high or as far-reaching as China’s, it raises interesting ethical questions on who should decide what internet content should be blocked and on what grounds. At what p0int does blocking internet content start ‘protecting’ families at the expense of free speech?

Perhaps PM Kevin Rudd has spent too long in China over the years, but I believe western countries cannot preach civil liberties to developing countries when they fail to practice these building blocks of society themselves. Will Google threaten to withdraw from Australia when it begins censoring its internet?  I didn’t think so. Will Amnesty Australia implement a social media campaign of the same scale as its campaign last year against China’s Great Firewall?  I doubt it.

The Great Australian Firewall is just another example of western hypocrisy- and just another reason for China to rightly resent the west.

Sign the petition against internet censorship in Australia here.

And here’s a clever little video that made me smile after my 20 minute rant.

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