Our fellow Internet freedom advocates at Electronic Frontiers Australia are gearing up for an important fight in the new year as the Australian government proposes mandatory national Internet filters with a secret blacklist. EFA is looking for volunteers and colleagues — particularly Australians, but they can use help from outside Australia as well — to help take on this critical issue. As Lelia Green wrote in the Sydney Morning Herald, the censorship proposal risks "legitimating a range of repressive policies pursued by some of the globe's least accountable governments."
In 2006, the New York Times reported that the People's Republic of China was defending its Internet censorship and surveillance practices by claiming that they were not particularly different from those of other countries. The Times reported that a Chinese official argued (in the newspaper's paraphrase) that "the controls [China] places on Web sites and Internet service providers in mainland China do not differ much from those employed by the United States and European countries".
"If you study the main international practices in this regard you will find that China is basically in compliance with the international norm," [Liu Zhengrong] said. "The main purposes and methods of implementing our laws are basically the same."
"It is clear that any country's legal authorities closely monitor the spread of illegal information," he said. "We have noted that the U.S. is doing a good job on this front."
This argument sounded like a weak rationalization in 2006, and the Times noted various qualitative differences between Internet restrictions in the PRC and those in liberal democracies. But researchers have told us that governments around the world, including Australia's, seem eager to chip away at those differences. The forthcoming book Access Controlled from the OpenNet Initiative, according to its authors, reports on an alarming trend where "Internet filtering, censorship of Web content, and online surveillance are increasing in scale, scope, and sophistication around the world, in democratic countries as well as in authoritarian states." The OpenNet Initiative researchers have also noted that governments are increasingly looking to other countries' practices as precedents. Soon illiberal regimes' claims that Internet censorship and national firewalls are a widespread international norm could ring less hollow. Some year soon, it may be sober fact rather than rationalization.