The Unknown Promise of Internet Freedom

MELBOURNE – Google has withdrawn from China, arguing that it is no longer willing to design its search engine to block information that the Chinese government does not wish its citizens to have. In liberal democracies around the world, this decision has generally been greeted with enthusiasm.

But in one of those liberal democracies, Australia, the government recently said that it would legislate to block access to some Web sites. The prohibited material includes child pornography, bestiality, incest, graphic “high impact” images of violence, anything promoting or providing instruction on crime or violence, detailed descriptions of the use of proscribed drugs, and how-to information on suicide by Web sites supporting the right to die for the terminally or incurably ill.

A readers’ poll in the Sydney Morning Herald showed 96% opposed to those proposed measures, and only 2% in support. More readers voted in this poll than in any previous poll shown on the newspaper’s Web site, and the result is the most one-sided.

The Internet, like the steam engine, is a technological breakthrough that changed the world. Today, if you have an Internet connection, you have at your fingertips an amount of information previously available only to those with access to the world’s greatest libraries – indeed, in most respects what is available through the Internet dwarfs those libraries, and it is incomparably easier to find what you need.