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Politics

Jan 23, 2009

So Conroy's Internet filter won't block political speech, eh?

Conroy's protecting us from ped-philes, stopping terrorists, that sort of thing. It’s like the regulation we have for TV, films and books. Except it's not. It's not even close, writes Stilgherrian.

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“Freedom of speech is fundamentally important in a democratic society and there has never been any suggestion that the Australian Government would seek to block political content,” intoned Senator Stephen Conroy on Tuesday.

Yet the very next day, ACMA added a page from what’s arguably a political website to its secret blacklist of Internet nasties.

The page is part of an anti-abortion website which claims to include “everything schools, government, and abortion clinics are afraid to tell or show you”. Yes, photos of dismembered fetuses designed to scare women out of having an abortion. Before you click through, be warned: it is confronting. Here‘s the blacklisted page.

Mandatory Internet filtering, says Senator Conroy, is only about blocking the ACMA blacklist. The blacklist, he repeatedly insists, is “mainly” child-abuse and ultra-violent material. He’s protecting us from ped-philes, stopping terrorists, that sort of thing. It’s like the regulation we have for TV, films and books. Except it’s not. It’s not even close.

As always, Irene Graham’s meticulously-researched Libertus.net explains how Internet censorship actually works now and what the Rudd government has been planning.

This pro-life nasty may not be suitable for children. You may or may not agree with the website creators’ political views or their tactics. However, it does represent their sincere political beliefs and, no doubt, derives from their strong moral beliefs. It’s perfectly legal material for adults to view. These pictures could be shown on TV news, just like the all-too-frequent photos of war casualties, provided we were warned “some viewers may find these images disturbing”. You can decide for yourself whether to avert your eyes or hustle the kids out of the living room.

Because it’s The Big Bad Internet, though, things are different.

This content is hosted outside Australia, outside ACMA’s jurisdiction, so they can’t demand it be taken down or guarded by an age-verification mechanism. They can only add it to the blacklist — and under Conroy’s plan, everything on the blacklist is blocked, secretly, for all Australians. No choice.

“The Government does not view this debate as an argument about freedom of speech,” says Senator Conroy.

But that’s precisely what it is. Internet filtering is about what information may or may not flow through the public internet. This case highlights some of the flaws in the Rudd government’s plan.

Just where does political speech begin and end? Scholars and judges have wrestled with the boundaries of political speech for centuries, from John Milton to Alexander Meikeljohn. Has the Rudd government suddenly found the magic answer?

Peter Black, who lectures in internet law at QUT, reckons it’s probable this website does indeed constitute prohibited content or potential prohibited content under the Broadcasting Services Act.

But that is only because the definitions in the Act inevitably treat all content in the same way; the same standard applies to political and non-political content,” he says.

“Ultimately the fate of this website is an illustrative example of the dangers inherent in any Government censorship scheme. Issues of political speech, classification and accountability are without doubt both complex and important, and any notion that they can be adequately addressed and balanced by a Government regulator engaging in prior restraint is somewhere between being unbelievably naive and downright dangerous.”

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25 thoughts on “So Conroy’s Internet filter won’t block political speech, eh?

  1. Gagged

    Let’s face it. This legislation is going to be used to gag dissidents. Don’t trust them. Don’t give them the power. It will be one further step to being enslaved.

    We can’t trust the corporate media. It’s bought and paid for.

  2. Sam Voron

    Using Internet Explorer 7 today I cannot access my Google Blog site on http://somaliaradio.blogspot.com BUT I have no problem accessing it using Google Chrome.
    My other website on https://sites.google.com/site/somaliahamradio IS OK so far.
    Is one company blocking and the other not blocking?
    Can anyone confirm my experience and if confirmed who do I contact to request that my website be unblocked?
    Sam Voron. Email somaliahamradio@yahoo.com

  3. Sam Voron VK2BVS, 6O0A

    Internet Explorer 7 is back in action. Now both IE7 and Google Crome can access my site. Thanks you all. Regards, Sam Voron, Sydney, Australia.

  4. Mike

    @JS

    If you’ve watched any internet p0rn at all, and obviously you haven’t (good for you!), you’d know that the actual content rarely bears any relation to the descriptive text.

    Also, I’ll wager that that link takes you to a subscription site, as 99% of these sites are. IE, you need a credit card to sign up – one of the best child-filters there is.

    Were you to search a bit harder, you’d find exactly the same content for gay men. So by your reasoning, that’s derogatory to the other half of the worlds population. Oddly enough, no one ever mentions protecting the dignity of men, nor have I ever heard mens groups raging against being portrayed as mere pieces of disposable meat by a $billion p0rn industry, nor that gay p0rn is responsible for a (non-existant) rise in sexual assaults against men. Presumably gay p0rn sails straight through all these filter things since it doesn’t meet the criteria used to justify the restriction on straight p0rn.

  5. Venise Alstergren

    When governments decide to censor anything; why is the censorship always aimed at pleasing the least intelligent member of the electorate?

  6. roger

    The senator has gone too far and is turning Australia into china,burma and n. korea. Come election time . i will be spending time at the booths and wont be flying any Labor flags. Steve fielding , go fu#k yourself and childwise is a scam ($650,000 in grants in 2006 -07.)

  7. Anthony

    I am not anti-abortion and disagree with those who are “pro-life”, yet I find it absolutely intolerable that our government decides that a particular viewpoint should be silenced. We are not children. We view blood and gore everyday when we see pictures of wars. murders, and other violence smeared all across our news television. If parents want to protect their kids, then they can supervise them on the internet or install NetNanny. I find it insulting that the government is treating us all as children.

    Conroy is the Kevin Andrews of this government, that much is clear, but given Rudd is also persisting with this dangerous plan, I can only conclude that sinister ulterior motives are going on. I volunteered my time to get this government elected at the last election, but if they persist with trying to control the internet for their political purposes, I will be only too happy to volunteer my time to get rid of them at the next election. I certainly won’t be voting for them. Freedom to access the internet overrides all other issues as far as I am concerned.

    By the way, if the government’s filtering system accidentally blocks commercial websites or websites that depend on links to blocked websites, will website owners be able to sue for lost revenue?

  8. Mark Newton

    @Steve:

    The blacklist is comprised of the corpus of material which ACMA has labeled as “prohibited or potentially prohibited”.

    This is the list of 1300 URLs which Conroy has been waving around since last October, which ISPs are required to test against in the live trials, if they ever happen.

    Under current law, ACMA’s utilization of the list is limited to providing it to PC filtering software vendors. The NetAlert programme which the previous Govt implemented (and the current Govt canceled on 31 Dec 2008) is an example of that kind of outcome, wherein all the approved filter products which the Govt gave away for free included utilization of the ACMA list.

    Under the Govt’s current policy, the ACMA Prohibited Content list (which, as of last week, includes at least one anti-abortion site as reported above) would be implemented by ISPs instead of (or as well as) PC-level filtering vendors. Application of the list would be mandatory, and the 1300 (up to 10,000) URLs on the list would be banned for adults.

  9. RealAusTech

    I had reason to visit the blacklisted site a few days ago, and the images on the home page that were the reason for black listing the site have been removed. So the question that must now be asked is: “How long will it take before the site is removed from the black list?” According to the information given, it took about 3 weeks from the initial complaint to inclusion on the black list. Unless there is something in the ACMA guidelines that I missed, there is no mechanism to remove black listed sites, unless there are regular checks carried out by staff to see if offensive material has been removed from sites??

  10. Stilgherrian

    @Tom W: You’ve just spotted the inconsistency in our internet censorship system, and the fraud in Conroy’s description of the ACMA blacklist.. Material doesn’t have to be “illegal” to end up on the blacklist. I encourage you to follow the link to Libertus.net and read Irene Graham’s explanation of how the rules which are already in force can cause perfectly legal material to be blocked.

  11. Steve

    This hasn’t been added to the ACMA blacklist – it doesn’t say that anywhere. The most relevant part of ACMA’s response was, “Following investigation of your complaint, ACMA is satisfied that the internet content is hosted outside Australia, and that the content is prohibited or potential prohibited content.”
    In accordance with the code, ACMA has notified the above content to the makers of IIA approved filters, for their attention and appropriate action. “

    This applies to the prohibited content for filters designed for children – not the illegal one for adults, which it won’t, because it’s not illegal.

  12. Mark Newton

    Another comment Conroy made at the ALIA conference, regarding the (always the bridesmaid, never the bride) “live trials”:

    “Several technical claims have been made about ISP filtering – including that it will slow down the internet or result in over-blocking of content.

    “Let’s put those claims to the test. “

    I don’t think we need to do that anymore, Mr. Conroy. You’ve just proved that even if your proposed system is 100% perfect and exhibits no overblocking whatsoever, YOU’LL STILL BLOCK CONTENT THAT SHOULDN’T BE BLOCKED.

    Remind me again: What’s the point of the live trial? I think you’ve just relegated it to a face-saving exercise, you’re just doing it so nobody will ever be able to say that those damn hippies on the internets forced you to stop. You bozos budgeted $1m for this, so I guess you’re putting a price-tag on your pride.

    – mark

    – mark

  13. Venise Alstergren

    Next question. Why do the most ‘moral’ (?) of the community/parliament preach the least ‘moral’ imperatives?

  14. Simon Rumble

    So they’ve blocked that URL. What about if I had a page that referenced the image URLs inline? Then what if I referenced those images in a manner that wasn’t intended to shock, but was instead intended to be some kind of medical information, or perhaps safe handling procedures?

  15. Venise Alstergren

    Some questions the voters should ask themselves before voting for an aspiring leader. (mainly male)
    1) Is he short? 2) Is he a God-botherer? 3) How far out of wack does his god-bothering take him? 4) Does he/she come from QLD? 5) Does he have a legal background? 6) Does he have a bureaucratic background? 7) Does he have a self-deprecating sense of humour? 8) Any sense of humour? 9) Is he very ambitious? 10) Does he/she know anything about art/litereature/cinema? (these being the first thing a potential dictator will seek to censor) 11) Does he make a virtue of hard work? 12) Does he give military awards then have his photo taken with the receipient? 13) Does he keep reminding people about his hard slog to get to the top? 14) Does he bang on about spurious (spurious because we don’t have anything which is truly ours to celebrate) national dates and events? 15) Does he loathe his 2IC because they are as smart as he is? 16) Does he aspire to have mediocrities-Steve Conroy springs to mind-surrounding him? 17) Does he have an unseemly understanding of the media? 18) Is he unusually-even for a politician-fond of his own image? 19) Does he mention the word honesty more than once? 20) Is he, basically, a turd?
    As with John Howard so with Kevin Rudd; neither of them should have been allowed to enter politics.

    Note: Censorship is the first resort of the dictator and the Steve Conroys are the vomitous means of achieving this ambition. Did someone bring up the word legal? If it was legal they wouldn’t have gone to so much trouble to build firewalls around it. All governments tend to be crooked. Equally criminal are the members of the electorate who allow them to get away with it. However, anyone who could have justifiably voted for the re-election of the John Howard, axis of complete evil, Coalition belongs back in the dark-ages.

  16. JS

    With Conroys ISP filtering proposal the thing most submissions on the internet are claiming
    a terrible concern about is freedom of speech. As if they are part of activist group risking
    life and limb working to bring down some dictatorial regime. I find this disingenuos.
    The vast majority of internet traffic has nothing to do with political and social activitism. So please do not
    feign outrage about your freedom of speech being curtailed if all you have used the internet for
    in the last week is shopping and reading your daily newspaper.

    This is not to deny the internet has been a massive move forward in gaining and propagating information
    about injustices and unfairness. I just find it odious that in defending the hard-core pornography
    industry, the rallying cry of the ‘Freedom of Speech’ is used.

    Is the concern that if the government builds the infrastructure to filter hard-core pornography
    that they will then filter material critical of government? Maybe so, but western governments
    have been spinning and repressing information in the medias forever. It is a constant battle
    between our right to know and the governments desire to censor.

    Question. If every woman in the world had complete self-confidence and respect, where
    would we find all these girls for the hard-core porn industry. We don’t allow the display of such material
    on the newsagent stand. We do not allow it be broadcast on TV or radio. The internet is no different.
    The internet is still young and I bet there is plenty more potential yet to be found.
    But we should not be afraid to experiment with ways to ensure that the internet is not exploited by a few
    to profit off the publishing of material that we do not condone.

    And if you condone some of the crap to be found in hard-core porn you should consider yourself on the fringe.

  17. The Colonel

    So who made you God JS so they you may pronounce that porn shouldn’t be available ?. Another cretin that doesn’t even understand the nature of the rampant porn industry today whch has become a backyard industry. It’s probably supporting tens of thousands of families !. As for your fatuous implication that somehow woman are forced into the porn industry-grow up. No-one is forced to and if you don’t like it-stick your head in the sand and turn your comp off so you can’t see it.

    If you think you and someone else wants the power to decide what I should see or read I’d like to come around and knock your head off. What a cheek-what a goose and f***wit you are-actually telling people if all they do is a bit of shopping on the net they should buzz off out of the argument.

    Christ-and people try to claim there aren’t mini dictators surrounding us ! Fielding can rot in hell as well because he’s a faux Christian that won’t be ending up in paradise.

  18. Bohemian

    Whether Conroy is sincere or merely naive doesn’t matter. The next minister may be fully aware and committed in their attempt to stifle political comment. This is not about kiddie porn or any other porn as these suppliers invariably find a way to meet demand. This is and has only ever been about control over the freedom to comment on what the state is up to or trying to get away with. This is such a perfect example of exactly that. It has to stop. It isn’t yet a dictatorship and by Crikey it is not going to become one – depression or no!

  19. Tom W

    For it to be prohibited, it must be illegal content. It has not been explained how this is as such. If it is not, then the government should be contacted ASAP to remove this from the blacklist.

  20. The Colonel

    So that’s it then-if Conroy has blocked even one website that isn’t as he claimed he is an absolute liar. This is disappointing as he now joins the lacklustre AG Robert McClelland who mistakenly believes his role is to “protect the Commonwealth”, (his words) rather than-as the countries no 1 legal identity-ensure correct law and order prevails, as in letting off the hook the AFP over their outrageus actions during the Haneef affair.

    Sad to see 2 Labor donkeys so far. The worst aspect-Conroy has fallen for the claims of a tiny handful of creepy NGOs like ChildWise who have become self appointed media whores to justify their inflated government grants-not one penny of which is used to help desperate children. This is the real scandal. Millions of taxpayer $$ will go to private corporations when it could have been used to help abused children here and abroad. Conroy is a disgrace-he should investigate the reputations in Asia of those pumping for this useless filter and he may find them wanting.

  21. Greg Angelo

    Never trust a politician from the right or left. I agree that Conroy is the Kevin Andrews of the Labor Party. Can you imagine what Kevin Andrews would do with this type of control if the Liberals got back into power. Free speech is the essence of democracy. After some of the gratuitous violence shown on commercial television, I can see no reason why we should be ups set by a few dismembered foetuses.

    In respect of the recent craven supplication of The Age newspaper to the Zionist lobby in relation to the Backman article we have much to fear from censorship whether it be overt or covert. According to the Zionist lobby it is racist to publicise their fascist bully boy tactics against civilians, therefore this type of information must be suppressed by the carefully greased response machinery maintained by the Zionist lobby. This is not to justify a similar brutality, albeit on a smaller scale, by Hamas. In a liberal democracy we should be able to see all points of view and make up our own minds.

    I fear that the Labor government is pandering to Family First rather than protecting our democratic freedoms for which the Labor movement has fought for over a century. Conroy’s duplicity in relation to these matters is an utter disgrace and a reflection of the arrogance of the Rudd government.

    The tools that the government is apparently putting in place are no different from controls use by despotic governments in China, Burma, North Korea, and less repressive but similarly obsessive governments in countries like Malaysia. If we allow this ISP filtering control to proceed we are potentially facilitating “Big Brother” controls for a despotic future government

    We must preserve our democratic right of access to information, ideas and images no matter how challenging. Internet filtering in the children’s section to libraries and schools where parental supervision is not possible is quite acceptable but mature adults should have the right to see what they want

  22. Mark Newton

    @JS:

    The mistake you’re making, which is the same mistake which virtually everyone of your ilk makes, is that you appear to be absolutely OBSESSED with pornography.

    I can guarantee to you that most of us on my side of the fence aren’t so myopic to focus the complete totality of our energies on pornography. Indeed, most of us hardly ever think about it at all.

    What we are most concerned with is our Government lying to us to make the case for a system that can potentially control us.

    If the Govt came out and said, “We have this problem, and we think it’s serious, and we have this narrowly targeted solution, and it’ll work, what do you think?” we’d all give it a good solid chuck of consideration before passing judgment on it.

    But the Government has lied about the problem, clearly lied about whether they take it seriously, have a solution that’s so broad that it protects children from illegal material by banning anti-abortion sites ferchrissakes, and which can never, even in some imaginary utopian reality, ever work.

    Some of us think that’s stupid.

    My answer to the Govt is pretty simple:

    There’s no real problem to solve.
    Even if there was, the public hasn’t asked them to solve it.
    Even if they had, this is a bad solution that won’t work.
    Even if it worked, it’d be too expensive.
    Even if we could afford it, it’ll be implemented by the same style of incompetents WHO BAN FREAKIN’ ANTI-ABORTION SITES, DAMMIT!
    Even if it was implemented perfectly, the blacklist behind it will leak, thereby enabling perverts all over the world.
    There is no possibility that the list won’t leak.

    You, Sir, appear to be against pornography. How will you feel when Senator Conroy’s officially sanctioned list of child porn sites (+ at least one FREAKIN’ ANTI-ABORTION SITE!) shows up on Wikileaks.org? A bit foolish?

    This whole proposal is, at its base, stupid. People who support it ought to be ashamed of themselves.

  23. steve martin

    Free speech is certainly worth fighting for, so I agree with the gist of this article. But hasn’t Crickey been attacking the Age over a “antisemitic” piece written as I understand it by Backman. I haven’t read it so I have no idea whether it is antisemitic or whether it is fact only anti-Israeli. There is a difference.
    ” I disagree with what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.” -Voltaire

  24. Mim

    I’ve pretty well resolved to vote that other party in next election. I’ve never voted for them in my 40 years of voting, but the Rudd government has snookered me. It’s not the labor party I used to know. I thought Howard was bad, but at least every one knew he couldn’t be trusted. These guys came in pretending they were going to return democracy. They’re doing the opposite. Of course, the rate they are going, there won’t be any more elections. We are but children and the government knows best.

  25. JS

    There is pornography and there is hard-core. A gulf exists between the two. The latter is generally unreservedly misogynist.

    Follows is the tone of hard-core porn that I found on the first page of a Google Search. And you will have to concede that this gives only a hint of the nature of hard-core.

    Is it a fundamental human right that people have access to publish and read material that is derogatory of half the people on the planet.

    “Hardcore fucksite packed with German filthy whores pumping their wet twats with fat cocks and big dildos”

    “Even though she’s got a very unpleasant face on her, this chick really loves doing the nasty.
    She starts out fucking her hair free fuck tunnel with a vibrator then takes things internal.
    Letting her hung ex boyfriend wreck her furburger while she uses her vibrator to nail that swollen
    clit until she cums…”

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