Last night I attended a forum organised by New Matilda on the federal government’s plan to introduce a mandatory filter for Internet Service Providers.  I usually don’t find forums where all the speakers hold roughly the same view particularly enlightening, but the speeches were all to the point and not too long, which allowed a good amount of time for questions.

The organisers had invited a representative from Minister Stephen Conroy’s office without success, but there are similar forums being organised for Melbourne, Sydney and Adelaide in coming weeks and they did mention they were expecting someone to put the Minister’s case at the Melbourne event.

I think the case about the expensive ineffectiveness and censorship dangers involved has been more than adequately made.  The fact the Minister had a habit from the earliest days of his proposal of equating opponents to his plan with people who supported child pornography just reinforces my scepticism.

But I do think those of us who rightly oppose his plans need to put as much energy into promoting alternative strategies which will help reduce the danger that does exist from those who seek to use the internet to prey on vulnerable people, including children, who might not be aware of some of the risks.

I loathe portrayals of the internet as some sort of borderless den of infinite iniquities. The fact that there are many ignorant and silly scare campaigns about the Web which are begging to be mocked shouldn’t blind us to the fact that there are some real risks to the unwary or vulnerable from criminal and dangerous activities.

It was good that, after a lot of time spent bagging the dangers of the government’s plans and showing how it won’t address the things it purports to, the question session of the forum did turn to what some effective solutions might be.

The answer given by Greens Senator Scott Ludlam to a question addressing this important part of the debate were clear and to the point. He talked of using an “old fashioned” approach for dealing with the use of new technology for engaging in old fashioned crime. I’d even say he displayed an old fashion, though sadly all too uncommon, common sense approach to the issue.

Some of the resources being wasted on filtering could be devoted to empowerment of the users through education of the risks – particularly through allowing overly open access to contact details and Instant Messaging – while also using funds on beefing up law enforcement to track the criminal activity such as stalking, or distributing and accessing child pornography.

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