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As anyone with ears or a head is aware, Australia has been implimenting a series of ‘filters’ and ‘legislates’ to censor Australian ISPs.

For people interested in cyber-anthropology, internet social research or media studies this serves as a fantastic flair up of information. First, there is the discourse of regulation, the thinly vailed political motivations, and the inept enforcement. Second, there is the back-lash.

First we need to introduce some key actors in this story.
Main protagonist 1:

‘Senator the Hon Stephen Conroy was appointed Minister for Broadband, Communications and the Digital Economy in December 2007′ and in that time, rather than make the internet a more pleasurable, cost effective and safe expereince for Australians he has reduced connection speeds and squandered millions of Australian Dollars, all while having no effect whatsoever on internet safety.

From Wikipedia:

Conroy has faced severe criticism over his Internet censorship policies from various groups. While initially promoted as a way to block child pornography, the censorship policy has been extended to include a much broader range of material, including sites depicting drug use, crime, sex, cruelty, violence or “revolting and abhorrent phenomena” that “offend against the standards of morality”.[7]

On 19 March 2009 it was reported that ACMA’s blacklist of banned sites had been leaked online, and had been published by Wikileaks. Conroy described the leak and publication of the blacklist as “grossly irresponsible” and that it undermined efforts to improve “cyber safety”.[8]

Stephen Conroy had not faced an interview about the issue for at least six months,[9] before appearing on the ABC show ‘Q&A’ on March 26 2009, and the SBS show ‘Insight’ on March 31 2009, where he defended the policy in front of critics and supporters of the policy.

In June 2009 he was named “Internet villain of the year” at the 11th annual Internet industry awards in the UK, for “individuals or organisations that have upset the Internet industry and hampered its development – those whom the industry loves to hate.”[10]

In December 2009 “Internet pranksters” registered the domain name stephenconroy.com.au[11] which was swiftly removed by auDA[12] raising concerns[13] about auDA’s political neutrality and the further potential for suppression of political speech after the proposed mandatory Internet filter is legislated.

Key Protagonist 2: ‘Anonymous’ or ‘Anon’, which is effectively a collection that is so broad and chaotic that it is an organic and singlular entity. Specifically, it is a loose collective of internet mischeivists, people with above average computer expertise, a strong dislike of authority and any form of regulation. Historically, ‘Anon’ comes from ebaumsworld and then /b/ (the famous section of 4chan). Like all communities that were once website based, ‘Anon’ is now networked socially. First, acheiving wide recognistion as a politically motivated group, ‘Anon’ fought against The Church of Scientology because the church was attempting to censor the internet. What is most interesting from an academic point of view is that still, this top-down, paternal form of censorship (which has been proven not to work time and again) is still being banged about by conservative would be censors.

For more about ‘Anonymous’ see wikipedia first and encyclopedia dramatica second.

While the entire debacle has been well documented on most major news websites including the BBC, the most thorough going over is at (again) encyclopedia dramatica 1 2 including the rebranding of ‘Operation Titstorm’ into ‘Project Freeweb‘ with a resource center available for would be ‘Anons’ to use in the fight against censorship.

So, the question is; who is regulating the internet? In some sense, the web is akin to ‘the wild west’ – a place where people with the power to impose their will ruled. This happens for a number of reasons; technology and the ability to use it (the best guns and the fastest gun slingers) and the reordering of a society of people with essentially no social regulation. The top down regulation that governments attempt to impose is about as useful as if 17th Century Europe sent decrees to Wild West Saloons telling outlaws how to behave – they have neither the technology or the force to implement such a plan and any attempt serves only to undermine their ‘rule’. It is not this paternal form of regulation that we need but a blunt-base, social regulation. As long as common people neglect this (through their elected representatives) we are placing the world wide web firmly in the hands of the gun-slingers, the hackers… Anonymous.

I find Australia’s attempt to regulate the internet baffling. The internet was developed precisely so that it could not be ‘regulated’ (or attacked from outside sources). This type of regulation has proven to be ineffective time and time and time and time and time again. This type of regulation undermines the rule of law and unites groups who have greater numbers, technology and technical expertise and motivation than the regulators. In essence, Senator Conroy’s behavior demonstrates either complete ignorance and incompetence or contempt for his electorate.

Here is Senator Conroy prior to his website shutting down and the mass spamming that ‘crippled’ the Australian Government’s communications.

One Comment

  1. Is it a surprise that the internet is being regulated or a country like Australia, which is supposed to be more liberal than some other countries, is doing the regulating?
    China has been using the internet to promote its own agenda as well as keenly looks at every byte that goes through its servers. The good thing about internet is that there is enough space for the data to be moved elsewhere, so there is constant regulation and constant rebelling. And that I guess the point of internet – balance.
    (I came across your blog on the 100 best blogs of anthropology. Just felt this was a relevant point.)


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