Electronic Frontiers Australia today announced that over 500 Australian websites will be "blacked out" in protest against the Rudd government's mandatory Internet filtering scheme.
Included among the websites are the Australian Greens, the Australian Democrats, an Internet service provider, media outlets, and hundreds of other Australian businesses and organisations.
"This policy has caused considerable anxiety amongst Australian Internet users," said EFA Vice-Chair Colin Jacobs. "The idea that the Government will be inserting itself in every Internet connection in the country is a tough one to swallow, especially without a workable policy goal behind it."
The "Great Australian Internet Blackout" was the idea of activist Jeff Waugh, and is endorsed by the EFA. For a week starting on Australia Day, participating web sites will appear to turn black and will display a one-time message to visitors explaining the Government's plan and offering them more information before allowing visitors to continue as normal.
The plan, which will see all Australian Internet connections subject to a Government-controlled blacklist of banned sites, will apply to all Australian Internet connections within 12 months of the legislation being passed.
Although originally touted as a "cyber-safety" policy, the resulting filter will not filter out all websites unsuitable for children, instead targeting a select list of "refused classification" material.
Greens Communications spokesman Senator Scott Ludlam, in deciding to support the campaign, said "The Government's plan will not protect children, will do nothing to crack down on criminal activity online, and sets a dangerous precedent of centralised net censorship."
Critics of "the list" say its broad scope, its secret nature, and the inability of Australian businesses to know if and when they have been placed on the list are among its key failings.
"One of our main concerns is how the list might expand in the future," said Jacobs. "It's hard to imagine this and all future governments responding to special interests, electoral pressure and the news cycle only with restraint forevermore."
The Internet Blackout on Australia Day marks an escalation of opposition to the plan, which will continue throughout the year. "Our goal is to ensure the Australian public knows what it is in for," said Peter Black, EFA's campaign manager. "It's important that such a major and expensive policy gets the public scrutiny it deserves."
Earlier this week, Communications Minister Senator Conroy sent out a press release celebrating quotes from a speech given by US Secretary of State Hilary Clinton, in which she said "All societies recognize that free expression has its limits."
Although Clinton followed her quote with the explanation that she was referring to "agents of al Qaeda who are at this moment using the Internet to promote the mass murder of innocent people," Senator Conroy made the most of Clinton's comment to support his internet filtering scheme. “The Rudd Government agrees with Secretary Clinton’s observation that ‘all societies recognise that freedom of expression has its limits’," Conroy said.
“Australians have always recognised that there is some content which is not acceptable in any civilised society," he said.