The famous maxim “I disapprove of what you say, hemorrhoids but I will defend to the death your right to say it” was never actually uttered by Voltaire. It was the work of an upright lady named Evelyn Hall, summarising his attitudes in her book, The Friends Of Voltaire. An exacting biographer, she was aghast to find the quote misattributed. And she might rethink writing it at all in the era of the internet.
In any case, Stephen Conroy probably wouldn’t let her.
In case you hadn’t heard, Senator Stephen Conroy, the Communications Minister, will soon serve Australians a smut-free internet. Or, at the very least, he’ll soon supervise the audition for his sanitised feed. Late last year he announced it on his now-defunct blog. Any day now, some of Australia’s internet service providers – the companies you pay for your web access – will join in a pilot of the minister’s filter.
It will defend to the death our right to be spared from digital filth.
Part of the Federal Government’s cyber-safety plan, the initiative will block content blacklisted by the Australian Communications and Media Authority. It is claimed the blacklist will prohibit access to child pornography – and no rational person would argue with that. Not even Evelyn Hall or Voltaire. And certainly not me.
Nonetheless, rational people are arguing with a scheme that could block anything a government authority doesn’t fancy.
Last November, Conroy said the blacklist would filter child-porn sites as well as “other unwanted content”. How untoward those “other” sites might be is not a matter for public discussion. The authority’s list issecret.
Naturally, advocates for free speech are troubled and one might say their concerns have been answered with dogged piety. “If people equate freedom of speech with watching child pornography, then the Rudd Labor Government is going to disagree,” Conroy said in 2007.
According to some, this particular ministerial blogger has been nothing short of bolshie. To those who fear their speech will be stifled, or their net access slowed, he has offered a stubborn response: if you’re opposed to the department’s cyber-safety plan, you are opposed to the protection of children.
His evangelical logic seems lost on many, and not only civil liberties groups who are unhappy with his Reverend Lovejoy decree. Much of the IT community is adamant the clean feed will slow our connectivity. Normally moderate thinkers are horrified that we’re taking cultural cues from China and North Korea. Even some child protection workers gently suggest that federal attention and funds would be better disbursed elsewhere.
Nonetheless, it remains difficult to counter the won’t-someone-think-of-the-children reasoning without being branded a perve. Upright people are trying, though. They’ve been loud and eloquent in their censure.
It’s time for the less seemly to have their say. It’s time for fans of Voltaire, and his civil biographer, Miss Hall, to defend to the death the tastes of people like me. It’s time to ask: “Won’t someone think of the porn fans?”
I enjoy pornography. Perhaps not quite so much as I enjoy living among citizens who take an entitlement to free speech for granted. But I do like it quite a lot. And it seems that my porn is endangered.
If Conroy’s clean feed works, which some tech sceptics argue that it cannot, it will prevent access to all pornography. According to the interpretation of Electronic Frontiers Australia and other advocates, the clean feed will mean that garden-variety X-rated material may not be viewed online in Australian territory. Further, R18+ content will be prohibited. And MA15+ sites hosted in Australia will probably go as well. According to the communication authority’s criteria, everything saucy must go.
This will certainly save many Australian adults thousands of hours. This will possibly save a handful of unsupervised minors from harm.
But not many. As a keen internet hobbyist, I can report that one doesn’t simply amble into X-rated or even R18+ material. One must actively seek it. I have become adept at this; children, presumably, have not. And if they have, clearly they are the issue of the world’s most reprehensible parents and should be sent to live with Hetty Johnston forthwith.
The usefulness of the World Wide Web is threatened by Conroy. I have found the medium terribly instructive. When I am lacking culinary inspiration, I will browse a recipe database. When my writing is misfiring, I catch up with The New Yorker. And when my boudoir has become as flavourless as my writing or my food, I go to a website that propriety will not permit me to divulge.
I am very grateful for the DIY stylings of my internet teachers. And I imagine many others are grateful for the inspiration that gushes from these amateur couplings as well.
Despite the best efforts of some, there is no evidence that pornography will negatively affect me or other consenting adults.
The only lasting effect of my access to porn is a reflex giggle when the pizza delivery man knocks on my door.