Bad Ideas, Bad for the Jews, and Bad for Democracy

Recently the Federal Government re-affirmed their commitment to setting up an internet filter to censor what Australians can view online.

They then decided that this might not be a great policy to spruik right before an election, so they decided to delay it for a year – but they have not scrapped it.

Such a filter would mean that we fall into line with Iran, North Korea and China in government blocks on the internet, or like other liberal democracies, avoid such censorship?

Most people who consider the proposal fully agree that this is a very bad idea.

This consensus exists even on the assumption that the filter would serve its main intended purpose: blocking child pornography. According to just about everyone in the industry, such a filter could be bypassed by anyone with minimal technical skills.

Also, most child pornography is distributed via peer-to-peer mechanisms which no filter could ever block.

But this is not the only cause for concern. The list of banned websites provided by Wikileaks is very troubling.

Some of the sites to be banned are in fact illegal; however, a large number of the sites contain content that is merely objectionable to certain elements in government, such as euthanasia and legal porn. Other, even more innocuous, sites have made it on to the list only to be removed after Wikileaks publicised the list.

Wikileaks itself is out of favour with the Government which has publicly stated that the black list needs to remain secret.

Within the Jewish community there are a number of individuals who I have spoken to who have come out in favour of this filter.

Their main contentions are that, 1) it is good for the government to censor some of the nastier anti-Jewish sites and 2) there are certain elements of society that need to be hidden from view.

I shall deal with each argument in turn:

1)      A bad idea does not become a good idea simply because the bad idea is supporting your point of view.

And this filter is a very bad idea. If the filter promises to block all anti-Semitic sites, what would stop the arbitrators from changing their minds to blocking all Zionist websites should the winds of politics one day blow in that direction?

It is a narrow world view that analyses every political move within the framework of whether something is ‘good for the Jews’. This position’s short sightedness often creates ill will in wider society that ironically ends up being very bad for the Jews.

2)      Placing decisions that should be ours alone to make, in the hands of the government is both an abdication of moral responsibility and very dangerous.

We must not forget the politicians making these decisions are the people who turn on their former ‘friends’ to serve if electorally necessary, and who sacrifice their ideals on the alter of pragmatism every day.

Even if there is an independent group determining what will be censored and what will not, it still presents a problem.

It is possible (even likely) that I disagree with many of the lifestyle choices expressed in the online world. But such disagreement is very different from acting to close down our ability to see and think about these options.

While closing discussion might provide a false sense of security in the short term, it may also creates a population that will be unable to think effectively for itself, and which is therefore vulnerable when confronted – through whatever means – with proscribed material. Essentially our society is weakened without the immunity built up from years of having to make real decisions regarding the content we view.

The biggest worry regarding the filter, however, is how much of a non-story it was.

The news agencies in Australia seemed to bury it and it died as a newsworthy item in only several days. This is in spite of it being close to the most commented on story in both the Australian and The Age online. Similarly, we are yet to hear the Opposition come condemn the filter as a matter of policy.

Even with such little coverage, there was enough public hostility to the filter that the Government decided to delay it until after the election. The filter does, however, is still part of the Government’s agenda.

From the reaction of readers on The Australian and The Age websites, the delay may not be sufficient. Almost unanimously, commenters wrote that this issue had the ability to change their vote.

In addition, Senator Conroy, the architect of the scheme, is now up for election in Victoria, and there are many who are advocating voting below the line on the senate ballot. They hope that in putting Conroy last, there will be a sufficient protest vote that will throw him out of office.

This online advocacy stands in stark contrast with the silence of politicians and the media. It is frightening how easy it will be to give up our freedom.

Genuine historical watersheds are rare in Australia, but this is certainly one. If we ignore it and hand over decision making to those for whom politics trump good sense and morality, we leave ourselves vulnerable to continuous encroachments on our freedom and, perhaps, even greater abuses perpetrated by those in power.

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5 Responses to “Bad Ideas, Bad for the Jews, and Bad for Democracy”

  1. Asher Wolf says:

    Who needs to burn books when you can blacklist websites, surveil the masses internet searches through their ISP’s and log their movement by linking that info to their passports.

    Freedom of access to information is a basic imperative to ensure democratic participation and this government is fighting tooth and nail to put it’s citizens in the dark.

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    • Mohan says:

      Asher Wolf Is spot on. Freedom is freedom when the other voice can be heard not just the ones with access to the big media and money to buy space.

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    • Yaron Gottlieb says:

      Asher and Mohan,

      You both have very good points and I think it is one that is even scarier considering the wall of silence that we get from the mainstream media – are they complicit? Who knows?

      And then if everyone is determined to pass this how can we as the little people stop it?

  2. melina smith says:

    Alex,
    If you could consult Maccabi and ask them about the anit-semitic incidence that occured within your community via a facebook account,some of the culprits were Jewish in the other team.

    http://www.theage.com.au/news/national/cricket-club-under-fire-for-antisemitism/2007/08/18/1186857841956.html

    There are unfortunately rotten apples in your community as well.

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  3. Asher Wolf says:

    Melina: which part of your comment responds to Yaron’s post? Avoid thread distortion, please avoid doing so by staying on topic.

    The idea of online citizen journalism means that you too Melina have the right to call Maccabi and investigate. If you want to share what you learn, I look forward to reading a new blog by you.

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