Late last week, Australian Labor Government Communication Minister Stephen Conroy announced that his nearly five-year quest to centrally filter Internet content before it could be accessed by the Australian populace was officially over, the Herald Sun reported. The censorship plan never had much chance of success. A few years ago, the head of Telstra, the largest ISP in Australia, insightfully stated, “My view on that is that's like trying to boil the ocean... to think that you're going to be able to centrally filter everything, I think that's a pipe dream.”
Declaring a victory of sorts, Conroy said that while the government would no longer pursue a centrally-directed means for filtering the Internet, the country’s telecom companies have agreed to block some 1400 child pornography websites that are on Interpol’s blacklist.
Minister Conroy, in a statement, said that, “Blocking the INTERPOL ‘worst of’ list meets community expectations and fulfils the government’s commitment to preventing Australian internet users from accessing child abuse material online. Given this successful outcome, the Government has no need to proceed with mandatory filtering legislation.”
The government’s plan to selectively censor the Internet was opposed by the Coalition and Green political parties. Both groups welcomed Conroy's news. The Coalition couldn’t resist, however, pointing out that the government’s decision was, in effect, “walking away from yet another promise it took to the 2010 election,” when it said Australian ISPs couldn’t be trusted.
The Australian Christian Lobby, which strongly supported the filter, said it was “greatly disappointed” that the government was breaking its campaign promise.
In related news, Google reported that its services in China were blocked on Friday 9 November and into Saturday, as the 18th Communist Party Congress—where China selects its next leadership—was set to begin, the New York Times reported over the weekend. Service came back later on Saturday and was said to be intermittent on Sunday, but access apparently is now fine.
Also late last week, the U.S. State and Treasury Departments levied sanctions against four Iranian nationals and five government-related bodies for “censorship or other activities that prohibit, limit or penalize freedom of expression or assembly by citizens of Iran or that limit access to print or broadcast media, including by jamming international satellite broadcasts into Iran, and related activities,” the AFP reported. Those affected by the sanctions include Reza Taghipour, Iran’s Minister of Communication and Information Technology, as well as the the country's Ministry of Culture and Islamic Guidance and its Press Supervisory Board.
A State Department press release explains what the sanctions mean: “U.S. persons are prohibited from engaging in transactions involving the designated individuals or entities, and all designated individuals and members of designated entities are subject to a ban on travel to the United States. This action also blocks, or freezes, the property and interests in property of designated individuals or entities.”
The Iranian government, in response, dismissed the sanctions as ”unimportant.”
Robert N. Charette is a Contributing Editor to IEEE Spectrum and an acknowledged international authority on information technology and systems risk management. A self-described “risk ecologist,” he is interested in the intersections of business, political, technological, and societal risks. Charette is an award-winning author of multiple books and numerous articles on the subjects of risk management, project and program management, innovation, and entrepreneurship. A Life Senior Member of the IEEE, Charette was a recipient of the IEEE Computer Society’s Golden Core Award in 2008.