Protests erupted across Australian capital cities on Saturday in opposition to the government's A$70 million national clean feed Internet scheme, which will impose blanket content filtering for all Web connections.
The rallies, organised by members from activist groups including the Electronic Freedom Project and Digital Liberty Coalition (DLC), saw hundreds gather at Sydney's Town Hall, Brisbane Square, Melbourne's State Library, Adelaide Parliament House, Perth's Stirling Gardens and at Tasmania's Parliament Lawns to voice their opposition to the scheme.
Greens MP Scott Ludlam spoke at the Perth protests to a crowd of hundreds and questioned the need for national Internet content filtering scheme. Other speakers included members of Amnesty International, academics from state and national universities, the Electronic Frontiers Australia, and the Australia Sex Party.
Digital Liberty Coalition Brisbane rally coordinator Jasmine Marosvary said more than 15,000 people were expected to attend the rallies, which were organised through community and blog sites, Facebook and YouTube.
"The problem is not with the concept of protecting children, in fact senator Conroy has been adamant at dismissing all criticisms of his filter by alluding that the critic clearly has a stash of child porn hidden away," Marosvary said.
"It is mandatory, restricts adults to material only suitable for MA15 audiences, and filters out political communication of whatever is deemed 'hate' literature by the government in power at the time."
"There are no checks or balances in place in the legislation to prevent future abuses of this filter to infringe more on the human rights of all Australians."
Marosvary said further protests will be held in Canberra if the government pushes ahead with the clean-feed Internet scheme. The DLC will call on participants from today's state-based protests to convene at Parliament house next March.
Optus Internode and iiNet will trial ISP-level Internet content filtering this month to determine how the scheme could be implemented, tests show it is viable. The initiative, part of the government's A$125.8 million cyber safety plan to reduce child pornography, will block nefarious and illegal content listed in a separate clean-feed and opt-out blacklist, operated by the Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA).
Blacklists will be immune from public scrutiny under an ACMA exemption to the Freedom of Information Act as disclosure of the banned Web sites would allow paedophiles to avoid detection and would hinder law enforcement efforts. The addition of new content categories to the blacklists requires parliamentary approval.