Internet Regulation and Filtering in Australia

Internet Studies Project
Project Coordinator: Dr Mark McLelland

30 November - 1 December 2009, University of Wollongong

A report of this event is available

At the instigation of the Rudd government various ISPs in Australia are now trialling a filtering system that will block access to a ‘blacklist’ of, among other things, child-pornography and ultra-violent sites. Various stakeholders have raised questions about how such sites are deemed unsuitable by whom and for whom since a wide range of sites can potentially be filtered out including animation, manga and gaming sites, ‘pro-ana’ (anorexia) sites, sites discussing euthanasia and sites connected with ‘terror’ groups. It has been pointed out that content-based filtering systems do not adequately address questions of purpose, practice and use and may unreasonably limit access for legitimate purposes. Furthermore, because of differing State and Federal laws the process of gaining exemption to allow academics and other parties access to such sites is extremely time consuming and cumbersome.

This workshop brings together academics who require unfettered access to the Internet (such as those studying online sexuality, transnational crime or mental health issues) and other stakeholders including civil-liberties advocates and those charged with developing regulations policy and administering surveillance systems to discuss the issues and problems involved. There is a great deal of argument taking place in the public sphere between two polarised camps: those speaking out in the interests of freedom of information and those concerned with protecting vulnerable members of the community from potential harm from an unfiltered cyberspace. It is of extreme importance that these two sides are brought into dialogue and that this conversation is made publicly available.

More details on the CAPSTRANS website.


PROF PHILIP OGUNBONA (Dean of Informatics, University of Wollongong, NSW)
DR PETER CHEN (University of Sydney, NSW)
‘Where We Are at and How We Got Here’
MR DAVID VAILE (University of New South Wales, NSW)
‘Prohibited Packets and the Great Firewall of Canberra: Inspecting the Despicable, Assessing the Unacceptable’
SENATOR SCOTT LUDLAM (Australian Greens Senator for Western Australia)
‘Greens Position on Filtering/ Progress of the Legislation so Far in the Senate’ (via telecast from Perth)
12.00pm – 1.00pm LUNCH
MR ALASTAIR MACGIBBON (Managing Partner, Suretegroup)
‘The Role of Professionalism and some Hard Questions’
2.30pm – 3.00pm AFTERNOON TEA
DR TERENCE LEE (Murdoch University, WA)
‘Internet Filtering in Singapore’
DR KWANG-SUK LEE (Sung Kon Hoe University, Korea)
‘Internet Regulation in Korea 1993 – 2009’
4.30pm DAY CLOSE



10.00am – 12.30pm SESSION 4 - ONLINE CULTURES OF USE
DR GAIL HAWKES (University of New England, NSW) & DR DANIELLE EGAN (University of St. Lawrence, NY, USA)
‘Sexual Rights of Young People’
DR KATH ALBURY (University of New South Wales, NSW)
‘Sexting and Citizenship: Regulation and Representation of 16 and 17 Year Olds’
MR AJOY GHOSH (Security Executive, Logica Australia, NSW)
‘Students, Sex and Cyberbullying: A Case Study Based on the Experience of One Class, One School and their
12.30pm – 1.30pm LUNCH
1.30pm – 3.00pm SESSION 5 - ONLINE CULTURES OF USE (Continued)
PROF BRIAN MARTIN (University of Wollongong, NSW)
‘Tactics of Net Regulation’
DR CHRIS MOORE (University of Wollongong, NSW)
‘The Double Bind: Australian Games Classification and ISP Filtering’
DR JASON WILSON (University of Wollongong, NSW)
‘Mistaken Identity: Computer Game Regulation in Australia’
3.00 – 3.30pm AFTERNOON TEA

DR KATH ALBURY, University of New South Wales, NSW
‘Sexting and Citizenship: Regulation and Representation of 16 and 17 Year Olds’
This paper looks at the ways that current Australian classification laws and media regulations render (consensual) sexual images produced by/of 16 and 17 year olds as unrepresentable. Popular and legal discourses around adolescent ‘sexual citizenship’ are contrasted to recent debates regarding the lowering of the voting age to 16.

‘The Role of Professionalism and some Hard Questions’
• What does it mean to be a professional in the IT security space?
• What does professionalism have to do with Internet content regulation and cybersafety?
• The price of anonymity – should we need a passport to travel in Cyberspace?

DR PETER CHEN, University of Sydney, NSW
‘Where We Are at and How We Got Here’
This paper places current arguments about online content regulation in perspective: historical and policy.
The paper begins by identifying the established tradition of censorship in Australia and its attempted depoliticisation in the 1970s. From this perspective online content regulation fits within a pattern of recurring challenges to this political settlement. These challenges are motivated by technological developments which generate real or imagined moral risks and undermine established regulatory institutions. The current filtering debate is compared with the similar conflict under the Howard Government (circa 1997 - 2000). This comparison will identify the universally unsatisfactory policy response embedded in the Broadcasting Services Act (Online Services) 1999, and will draw out key similarities and differences in the nature of the political debate.

DR DANIELLE EGAN, University of St. Lawrence, NY, USA
‘Sexual Rights of Young People’
Danielle is Coordinator of Gender and Sexuality Studies at St. Lawrence University and has published extensively on cultural constructions of childhood sexuality. She is co-author with Gail Hawkes of Theorizing the Sexual Child in Modernity (Palgrave Macmillan, forthcoming).

MR AJOY GHOSH, Security Executive, Logica, Australia, NSW
‘Students, Sex and Cyberbullying: A Case Study Based on the Experience of One Class, One School and their Response(s)’

DR GAIL HAWKES, University of New England, NSW
‘Sexual Rights of Young People’
Gail lectures in sociology at the University of New England. She has researched and published extensively on the history of the sexual regulation of young people and is co-author with Danielle Egan of Theorizing the Sexual Child in Modernity (Palgrave Macmillan, forthcoming).

DR KWANG-SUK LEE, Sung Kon Hoe University, Korea
‘Internet Regulation in Korea 1993 – 2009’
I will explore the recent asymmetric relationships between the citizens and the state, especially as they are revealed in the online regulation practices of the Korean government. Since the time the first civilian government took office in 1993, Korea, even more than most countries, has been overwhelmed by the dual effects of the bureaucratic state and the advance of digital technologies. The government considered the broadband Internet to be the first step toward accomplishing a rosy digital future by interconnecting
government agencies and public institutions such as provincial administrations and schools at the national level. Within the design of technical codes, however, anti-democratic and retrogressive aspects of the Korean political culture have been deeply embedded. Due to the government’s pro-IT policy, Korean society has accomplished rapid growth in networking and mobile technology, while at the same time the nationwide Internet network, as well as the high penetration rate of mobile phones, has allowed the government elites increasing electronic access to citizens’ data. The new material conditions of electronic networks have enabled the government to synchronize the citizens’ activities with the regulatory system through the state’s surveillance practices, to integrate citizens’ local data into the national computer server, and to sort out the collected information based on the government’s specific purposes in a given situation. I read critically these new patterns and tendencies of the Korean government’s online regulation from the first civilian government of 1993 up to the present. In conclusion, I would like to relate the Korean experience of Internet regulation to plans to increase regulation in Australia, and alert people to the combinative effects of the bureaucratic desire and the Internet regulation.

DR TERENCE LEE, Murdoch University, WA
Terence is Associate Professor – Communication & Media Studies, School of Media Communication & Culture and Asia Research, Centre Murdoch University.
‘Internet Filtering in Singapore’
As one of the first countries in the world to implement Internet filtering and censorship en masse, Singapore’s regulatory approach towards the management of the Internet is legendary. Despite such draconian or authoritarian modes of regulation, Singapore has continued to score impressively in the technological competencies of its citizenry and government. Statistically and on appearance,
developments and investment in Singapore’s Internet-driven economy have not been hamstrung by such regulatory constraints. The Singapore government can thus be said to have achieved its aim to regulate the Internet with a ‘light touch’, or what I have described in earlier works as an ‘auto-regulatory regime’ where regulation is indirect and subtle, and seeks to attain political compliance, economic progress and socio-cultural discipline.

This paper will present the Singaporean model of Internet filtering and regulation since the advent of mass Internet access in the mid-1990s and consider the effects on Singapore and the broader Asia-Pacific region via the following perspectives:

PROF BRIAN MARTIN, University of Wollongong, NSW
‘Tactics of Net Regulation’
The issue of regulating the Internet can be conceived as a struggle between proponents and opponents, each using tactics to achieve their goals. One set of tactics operates at the level of technology, including the mechanics of filters and technical options for avoiding or bypassing filters. At a political level there are tactics of mobilising support. These include rhetorical techniques, including arguments about the benefits of protecting children or the costs of slowing Internet access; another rhetorical technique is to frame the issue in a convenient way, for example as protection or censorship. Another tactic is to cast aspersions against partisans on the other side, for example labelling them as not concerned about child pornography. Analysis of Internet regulation in terms of tactics shows the strengths and weaknesses of the approaches used on each side. Should filtering be introduced, the likely array of tactics used will change, especially as new constituencies are brought into the fray.

DR CHRIS MOORE, University of Wollongong, NSW
‘The Double Bind: Australian Games Classification and ISP Filtering’
The missing 'restricted' (R18) ratings category for video and computer games has produced a tricky double bind for the Minister for Broadband, Communications and the Digital Economy, Stephen Conroy and Australian gamers. The proposed Internet filter has conflated the already problematic ratings and classification system for games in Australia, with unsubstantiated and vague claims made by the Senator's office in response to questions of 'unregulated' adult content in online multiplayer games. As it stands, the proposed filter will prevent access to online (multiplayer) games, downloaded games and even websites that allow games not 'suitable' for a 15-year-old audience (yes even Facebook). Due to the lack of the R18 classification for games and the inability to opt out of the proposed Internet filter, the effect on games like SecondLife and World of Warcraft are largely unknown and widely feared amongst gamers. This paper will explore the categorically flawed assumptions of age and gender of Australian gamers, and
the current access and content of games, and will speak to the potential future of games as social spaces in national, regional and globalised contexts.

MR DAVID VAILE, University of New South Wales, NSW
‘Prohibited Packets and the Great Firewall of Canberra: Inspecting the Despicable, Assessing the Unacceptable’
Exploring the chain of policy thinking that invested public funds into a proposal to introduce ubiquitous ISP-based monitoring and selective blocking of all Internet requests originating in Australia, against one secret fixed blacklist of unknown but tiny extent, and one or more others made up as it goes along. Implications for participatory and open governance of the Internet. Potential liability for unintended technical and other consequences when the objectives, requirements and risk tolerance are not articulated. Challenges to the practicality of accurate ‘classification’ of the trillion things on the web, or even the 10 - 60 billion a month that change. And what are the real needs of young people from tot to 18-year-old, ‘digital natives’ on the scary new frontier when their parents are not? Does filtering meet these needs? If not, what would?

DR JASON WILSON, University of Wollongong, NSW
‘Mistaken Identity: Computer Game Regulation in Australia’
This paper will offer a history--encompassing the period from the late 1980s to the mid 1990s--where the classification regime for videogames was developed in Australia. It will consider the role of ‘media panic’, a convergence of censorious political programmes, the acquiescence of the games industry, the lack of player representation, and importantly, the absence of media and cultural studies scholars, just as the infamous ‘policy moment’ was unfolding. It will consider the lessons it has for current considerations
around Internet policy--the contest around emerging cultural capital and technological literacies, the desire for states to implement exemplary regulation, and the key role for media and cultural studies in intervening in the regulatory process.


Papers from local and international scholars focused on the implications of the impending Australian government internet filtering policy. The history and practices of censorship in Australia, Singapore and Korea were also covered. The ‘cultures of use’ of the internet, of a wide array of groups that may be censored if internet filtering is introduced, was also addressed. The implications for Australian software businesses of the censorship was also addressed, of business going offshore if games and other software was not available in Australia. Senator Scott Ludlam, Australian Greens Senator from Western Australia joined the workshop via video conference on the 30th of November, and outlined the Greens policy on internet filtering. The papers were video recorded and the videos uploaded onto the ICR website:

One important outcome from the workshop is A/Prof McLelland's paper “ Australia’s Proposed Internet Filtering System and its Implications for Animation, Comics and Gaming (ACG) and Slash Fan Communities” (Forthcoming in issue 134 of Media International Australia, February 2010). In the paper A/Prof McLelland describes how the government has vastly underestimated the number of sites that may require filtering since Australia's anti-'child-abuse publications' legislation applies equally to purely fictional as well as actual representations of under-age 'persons' including manga, animations, artwork and text. The paper points out how Australia's extensive animation, comics and gaming communities will be negatively impacted by the legislation.