Friday, January 13, 2006

School censorship legalities

I spoke to a lawyer (Kim from WA) about internet censorship in schools. My goal was to clarify the legal situation in Australia about student rights, parent rights, teacher rights, school rights, education department rights wrt this issue. What follows is a rough summary of some notes I took at the time and is my own interpretation of the conversation.

Australia is a signatory to the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child and from reading Article 13 you would expect it to provide some leverage in the direction of expanding the legal right of children to explore and use new internet communication technologies:
Convention on the Rights of the Child
Article 13


1. The child shall have the right to freedom of expression; this right shall include freedom to seek, receive and impart information and ideas of all kinds, regardless of frontiers, either orally, in writing or in print, in the form of art, or through any other media of the child's choice.

2. The exercise of this right may be subject to certain restrictions, but these shall only be such as are provided by law and are necessary:
(a) For respect of the rights or reputations of others; or

(b) For the protection of national security or of public order (ordre public), or of public health or morals.
However, I was told that for the UN Convention to acquire legal weight then it was necessary for Australian parliament to endorse it, a further step beyond Australia being a signatory. Unfortunately, our parliament has not formally endorsed this convention. So the real situation seems to be that the Australian government pays lip service to the rights of the child but is reluctant to see this pass into law. This is a disappointment but also a possible focus for a campaign. Take the Rights of the Child seriously.

Kim drew a distinction between law and good policy.

Employers do exercise the right to block / filter / censor the internet. There is not a great deal of legal history of challenges to this in Australia. But in one case Ansett employees did win the right to receive union material at work through the internet.

Some Churches in Australia regard protection of children from porn etc. as part of Schools duty of care and have indicated that they may sue schools on this issue. This hasn't happened yet but the overall balance or political climate at the moment seems to be more on the side of censorship than freedom.

There are people in government who do want to censor the internet for the whole population and make ISPs accountable. This push was defeated a few years ago but it keeps re-emerging. One of the arguments here is that, "the filtering software is getting better."

I have argued elsewhere that censorship is not good policy but I won't repeat myself here. The purpose of my phone call was to clarify the legal situation.

In Kim's opinion the best way to proceed was through a fine grained, fact based comparative analysis of the specific blocking software. What does it block exactly? Where does the black list originate from? Document some of the absurd blocks created by the software.

I'm disappointed with the results of my phone call, particularly about the lip service paid by government to the Rights of the Child Convention. Nevertheless, I'm writing it up here because it's important to know where we are starting from.

This issue isn't going to go away because with more great web apps coming on line everyday the educational importance of student ability to write to the web will grow commensurately.

4 Comments:

Blogger botts said...

hi bill

i've come to this site in a fairly round about way but enjoy what you write.

the internet censorship thing is a biggie for me, not so much because of the things that get blocked but because i don't think censorship is an appropriate vehicle for determining what a population should or should not see.

i advocate an approach that allows teachers to "teach" students about the rights and responsibilities they have in deciding what sort of content they should be accessing.

i also wonder about the processes that are used to determine what is or isn't appropriate. if government imposed restrictions are stopping our students from accessing valuable content and tools, then surely the decision making process regarding the blocking of those sites sould be open to discussion and available for all to see. aren't our governments supposed to be about transparency and honesty and openness????????

i am keen to add my voice to any campaign aimed at opening up the opportunities that our students have to improve their educational outcomes and experiences.

have a great day

botts

http://bottspace.blogspot.com

12:43 PM  
Blogger botts said...

bugger...that should have been
http://bottsplace.blogspot.com

12:44 PM  
Blogger Bill Kerr said...

hi botts,

visited your blog, it's good - would have emailed you but no link there

I agree that what we view should be driven by the users in a negotiated process, not imposed from above in a way that blocks lots of good stuff along with the bad stuff.

about getting involved in a campaign, it seems to be starting at james farmers site: here and here

Hope you read this and join up!

12:59 PM  
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