Australia has been one of the most proactive democracies in the world in implementing network-level filtering of a variety of content types. Although the Rudd government has stuck to its line in invoking child protection and ‘offensive’ material as the raison d’être for its widely-criticised policy, there is little doubt that, as we suggested would happen with such a system, the filtering techniques deployed in trials have blocked access to a lot of other types of material also.
It was therefore quite refreshing to read the ASPI transcripts and see that they suggest that filtering is not the way forward in interdicting access to ‘extremist’ material online. They also recommend caution in adopting legalistic approaches, citing difficulties with human rights, and extant and problematic anti-terrorism laws.
ASPI argue that freedom of speech is a far more powerful tool in countering radicalisation than its suppression. This not only defuses the anti-Muslim narratives perpetrated by extremist paranoiacs but also provides an intelligence dividend to security agencies. As we demonstrated in our research process – by consulting commercial firms – ASPI also propose a closer working relationship between government and industry.
The ASPI workshop does not provide specific policy proposals as we did but it is good to see that there is a developing consensus amongst major nations as to how to address the issue of online radicalisation. Policies should be based upon respect, freedom of expression, and human rights, not repressive legislation or divisive censorship regimes. We can only hope that in the case of Australia the findings of groups like ASPI will help to reverse their government’s drift towards internet censorship.