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Stephen Conroy: Dear Crikey, here’s why you’re wrong

In these times of bloggers, citizen journalism and the 24-hour news cycle, quality journalism is under threat. Nowhere is it more apparent than in Crikey.

Its coverage over the past week with regard to the government’s announcement on ISP level filtering has been nothing short of disingenuous.

The government has been clear that mandatory filtering will only be implemented for RC-rated content. This content is illegal to display, distribute, sell or make available for hire under existing Australian law. RC-rated content is not available in newsagencies, it is not on the library shelves, you cannot watch it on a DVD or at the cinema and it is not shown on television.

Bernard Keane put forward his views in his article Net filtering won’t work, so what is Conroy up to?

Clearly, Keane doesn’t think the government should try to limit exposure to RC-rated material online. He is entitled to his opinion. In arguing his position, however, he makes a number of errors that should be corrected.

Keane claims “the trial saw up to 3.4% of content wrongly blocked”. The trial showed that a defined list of URLs — which is how the mandatory component of filtering would be done — was achieved by all technologies tested with 100% accuracy.

The figure he quotes of 3.4% refers to the testing for the optional filtering of a wider range of content as decided by families. The performance of the various technologies was tested against additional lists of content developed by Enex for innocuous and inappropriate content. Many families may be prepared to accept some over-blocking to have a wider range of material blocked. This is a choice for the family or individual.

Keane argues “the trial … saw speed reductions of 30-40%”. In fact one technology tested in the trial returned this result while the remaining technologies returned a figure of less than 10%. Enex has described a result of less than 10% as negligible impact and Telstra has put it into real-time as one seventieth of a blink of an eye”.

Enex explains in the report the filter that got the higher level of degradation used “pass through” technology and the content list was maintained overseas, which may explain the higher level. The government will not mandate what technology an ISP should use and clearly it would make no sense for an ISP to choose the worst-performed product unless these issues could be overcome.

Keane argues the government’s announcement is based on “the big lie, that filtering works” because it can be circumvented. The government has never claimed that filtering cannot be circumvented and has continually explained that it is just one part of a range of measures designed to make the internet a safer place.

Yes people will use means other than the web to trade in child pornography and other vile material, and that is why the government has also committed $49 million for additional federal police officers to the Child Protection Unit and a further $11 million for prosecution.

Keane then attacks the existing classification laws, which is refreshing in that he is one of the few critics to acknowledge the internet is currently subject to censorship. Keane is wrong though when he argues that “www.childpr0n.com would be blocked under both [the RC content list and the current ACMA blacklist], [whilst] trying to inform the terminally ill about options for euthanasia online would be blocked under one but not the other”.

Such content is RC and would therefore be included on both the ACMA blacklist under the existing laws and the RC content list under the new scheme.

He argues “how would you know whether you were blocked under mandatory filtering” or under the current legislative framework? In the government’s public consultation paper on approved transparency and accountability measures — one option put forward is the use of block pages which would notify the user that the material they are trying to access has been blocked because it has been deemed to be RC content. It would only be blocked under existing laws if you were using a PC filter that filters the ACMA blacklist or some other form of self applied filtering.

I understand that people feel passionately about this issue but if you want to have a reasoned debate you need to have the facts straight. Bernard Keane could start by looking at the FAQ on the department’s website.

Then we had the case of not letting the facts get in the way of a good story with Stilgherrian’s “The swift takedown of stephenconroy.com.au.

Stilgherrian wrote about a fake Stephen Conroy website having the domain deleted by the industry self-regulatory body auDA where he asked, “Did Senator Conroy or someone in his office pressure auDA for a quick result?”

Stilgherrian had the answer to this question but clearly he didn’t like the answer so he chose to ignore it. He contacted my office at 7am on Tuesday asking whether anyone from the office had asked auDA to take action on stephenconroy.com.au.

At 11.19am he was provided with the following response: “The Minister’s office made no request and took no other action in relation to the domain stephenconroy.com.au” and was referred to auDa regarding their policies.

Stilgherrian replied and made no reference to the response being close to deadline or being too late to pull the story to at least add the response. (See the full exchange here.).

Despite including my office’s response in the “Corrections” section the following day, the fact remains that, in having the answer that my office had made no request well before deadline, but still proceeding with an entire article based on the suggestion that I or my office had requested action, Stilgherrian is either calling me a liar or he has decided to deliberately ignore the response so that he can write the story he wants to write anyway.

But he didn’t stop there with making up the facts to suit his story. He then drew a correlation to allegations run by Asher Moses in the Sydney Morning Herald when he said “Conroy’s policy advisor Belinda Dennett did try to silence one of Conroy’s critics, network engineer Mark Newton.”

At the time Asher Moses, a vocal critic of ISP filtering, made these allegations my office advised him that this simply did not happen and he had been misinformed. That Moses ran the story with the allegation anyway seems to be enough of a “fact” for Stilgherrian to repeat whenever he feels it helps his story.

And then there was Colin Jacobs article Reporters without Borders: Don’t Do it Rudd.

Interestingly Colin Jacobs, who has been spruiking his views on the government’s position, blurring the lines, burying the facts and wilfully misleading the Australian public, makes the point that the international coverage is “not a good look” and that Australia is “gaining a reputation as the Iran of the South Pacific”.

The irony in this is that it is Colin Jacobs himself who has been out there whipping the media into a frenzy; with his loose use of language and most extraordinary misrepresentations it is no wonder he has managed to get global attention.

The government has made it very clear that its policy will see online content that is RC-rated according to the National Classification Scheme criteria is the only content that will be blocked.

Jacobs argues that the government’s policy will “block access to inappropriate websites”, the same language he criticised the government for using months ago as being unclear.

While much of the commentary has referred to the blocking of websites we should make it very clear that the RC content list will only include URLs. URL’s lead to specific pages on a website and only if those pages contain RC-rated content will they be added to the list.

Jacobs quotes the letter written by Reporters Without Borders to the Prime Minister that subjects such as “abortion, anorexia, Aborigines and legislation on the sale of marijuana would risk being filtered as would media reports on these issues.”

This is just misrepresentation designed to mislead the public. The elements the National Classification Board looks at to assess these include sx, violence, matters of an abhorrent nature, instruction in crime and instruction in violence. The only way these subject matters RWB have outlined would fall into the RC category would be if they included step-by-step instruction in self harm or were extremely violent. It is hard to see how legislation or websites about Aborigines would be included.

Jacobs then demonstrates just how he has managed to get worldwide attention with his outrageous claim that I have “attempt[ed] [to] deflect criticism by implying filter opponents were all card-carrying members of the Child Pornorgaphy Apologists League”. I have never made this comment and I challenge Jacobs to provide evidence of such a quote. It seems that if Jacobs makes the claim often enough, without pointing to any evidence, he will convince people — including the RWB.

If regulation or so called censorship of the internet has got Colin Jacobs so enraged with the government’s recent announcement, where has he been for the past nine years where the internet in Australia has been regulated far more heavily. The government’s filtering policy applies only to the worst of the worst content hosted overseas which brings it into line with what has been going on in Australia for the past nine years without the outrage.

Let me repeat the government has been clear that mandatory filtering will only apply to RC-rated content. This content is not available in newsagencies, on library shelves, at the cinema or on DVD and you certainly can’t watch it on TV. Why shouldn’t Australian ISPs be required to block access to such content?

I am happy to debate the merits of this policy and listen to the genuine concerns of Australians but let’s ensure people have the facts and not build campaign based on disingenuous misrepresentations. As recently as today I have read articles that claim mandatory filtering will include content that is rated X18+. I suggest people you are interested in the facts go to my department’s website where they can read the FAQ’s www.dbcde.gov.au

I wish Crikey and all its readers a very merry Christmas.

CRIKEY ED: Just to be clear, Stilgherrian did forward the response from Conroy to Crikey but the addition was missed in the production process, the fault was ours, not Stilgherrian’s. Conroy’s office has now been informed of this.

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  • 1
    John
    Posted Wednesday, 23 December 2009 at 1:56 pm | Permalink

    I’m all in favour of blocking RC content. Sectarianism rules, OK?
    Well, maybe not, because I’d also like you to block C of E content and all other religious content as well.
    And while I’m at it, didn’t you learn in Sunday school “thou shalt not steal”?
    Well, I own Telstra and you shouldn’t steal it from me!

  • 2
    Posted Wednesday, 23 December 2009 at 2:02 pm | Permalink

    The only way these subject matters RWB have outlined would fall into the RC category would be if they included step-by-step instruction in self harm or were extremely violent.”

    Just one thing, Mr Conroy.

    In 2007, the videogame “Blitz, the league” was refused classification as in it the player can take drugs to boost performance. No where in this game is there a step by step instruction on how to take the drug - you just press a button.

    In 2008, the videogame Fallout 3 was refused classification, again because it involved drug use. The issue was the us of the real world term “morphine”. Again, it was never a step by step instruction, and this time it did not boost performance - it merely healed the player much like the magic mushroom pickups in Mario games.

    I realise the classification for videogames is different to the classification of books, film, and music, so can you please explain to me what, in the case of the internet, which classification scheme will be applied?

  • 3
    David Higginbottom
    Posted Wednesday, 23 December 2009 at 2:17 pm | Permalink

    For the sake of further balance I provide this link - Crikey should have added this within the body of the article.

    The departments FAQ can be found here:

    http://www.dbcde.gov.au/online_safety_and_security/cybersafety_plan/internet_service_provider_isp_filtering/isp_filtering_live_pilot/isp_filtering_-_frequently_asked_questions

    I support debate - but the reporting in this area is often a repeat of conspiracy theories based on background briefings given by those with agendas. This is an area where strong “religious” views - whatever the flavour of those views - predominate.

    Cheers

  • 4
    David Sanderson
    Posted Wednesday, 23 December 2009 at 2:34 pm | Permalink

    If you have not read the Stilgherrian article linked to above or the infamously titled “Internet filtering: first step on the path to Burma?’ from the previous day then I suggest you do so (look at the comments too).

    You will find excellent examples of would-be crusading journalism gone seriously awry.

  • 5
    Simon Rumble
    Posted Wednesday, 23 December 2009 at 2:36 pm | Permalink

    “attempt[ed] [to] deflect criticism by implying filter opponents were all card-carrying members of the Child P-rnorgaphy Apologists League”. I have never made this comment

    Okay, you’ve done this trick many times so I call bullshit.

    If people equate freedom of speech with watching child pornography, then the Rudd-Labor Government is going to disagree” SMH earlier in the year.

    I trust you are not suggesting that people should have access to child pornography.” Hansard earlier in the year.

    How is this not painting it that way?

  • 6
    Jon Seymour
    Posted Wednesday, 23 December 2009 at 2:37 pm | Permalink

    Minister,

    In 2003 Margaret Pomeranz attempted to screen the film Ken Park in front of an audience who objected to the RC-rating this film had been given by the OFLC.

    This film is legal to possess and legal view in Australia.

    You have previously stated that your plans only target “the worst of the worst”. Are you prepared to label Margaret Pomeranz “the worst of the worst”, or will you admit that your filter also targets a broad range of legal material that is of interest to normal Australians such a Margaret Pomeranz.

    I invite you to read and respond to a blog post I have written on this subject:

    http://tinyurl.com/yd6expf

    Your claim that you have never attempted to smear opponents as supporters of free access to child pornography is truly laughable, since it is so clearly documented by the ABC, by Hansard, and by this blog post of mine from January 2008.

    http://broadbannedrevolution.blogspot.com/2008/01/deconstructing-stephen-conroy-peddler.html

    Your words were: “If looking at child pornography is defined a free speech then we are going to take issue with that. “

    If this is not attempt by you to label opponents of your plan as supporters for free access to child pornography then, seriously, what is?

    You have changed your position, and then denied that you have ever held that previous position, so many times that your attempt to question the credibility of others can be judged for what it is.

    jon seymour.

  • 7
    Andrew Wilcockson
    Posted Wednesday, 23 December 2009 at 2:40 pm | Permalink

    Could someone please point out to the Senator that he is getting it completely wrong when he says:

    Keane argues “the trial … saw speed reductions of 30-40%”. In fact one technology tested in the trial returned this result while the remaining technologies returned a figure of less than 10%. Enex has described a result of less than 10% as negligible impact and Telstra has put it into real-time as one seventieth of a blink of an eye”.”

    This is a very disingenuous argument.

    The Telstra quote relates to DNS based filtering, which is based on blocking IP addresses, not URLs. It is also much easier to implement and has a much lower performance impact than the URL based filtering employed in the Enex trial.

    If Senator Conroy wants to accuse people of telling porkies, then perhaps he should first stop misrepresenting the facts himself.

  • 8
    Andrew Wilcockson
    Posted Wednesday, 23 December 2009 at 2:43 pm | Permalink

    Another big straw man in Senators Conroy is this statement that he seems so fond of at the moment:

    Let me repeat the government has been clear that mandatory filtering will only apply to RC-rated content. This content is not available in newsagencies, on library shelves, at the cinema or on DVD and you certainly can’t watch it on TV. Why shouldn’t Australian ISPs be required to block access to such content?”

    Why, Senator Conroy?

    Because although it is illegal to sell such material in Australia, it is NOT illegal to possess nor view such material.

    This filter is all about the government getting into bed with the ACL and having their right wing extremist “Christian” morality forced onto the entire population.

  • 9
    Richard Wilson
    Posted Wednesday, 23 December 2009 at 2:53 pm | Permalink

    One man’s definition of restricted content is another man’s definition of speaking out against the tyranny of the state. Pornography may be defined as the defiling of any image of Kevin Rudd next year, no matter how pompous.

  • 10
    David Sanderson
    Posted Wednesday, 23 December 2009 at 3:06 pm | Permalink

    One man’s definition of restricted content is another man’s definition of speaking out against the tyranny of the state. Pornography may be defined as the defiling of any image of Kevin Rudd next year, no matter how pompous.”

    This kind of stuff is so personally and politically immature that it defies any attempt to deal with it other than by complete dismissal.

  • 11
    Marc
    Posted Wednesday, 23 December 2009 at 3:21 pm | Permalink

    Stephen Conroy, here’s why you’re wrong.

    The Minister’s office made no request and took no other action in relation to the domain stephenconroy.com.au”

    Sorry if I remain sceptical, but that sounds like no official request was made. We don’t know if a casual phone call was placed and I’m not sure we ever will (and no, I won’t take your word for it).

    The government has been clear that mandatory filtering will only be implemented for RC-rated content.

    We’ve already established that RC-rated content is a very wide category. Things that could easily be considered RC-rated:

    - Wikipedia entries on euthanasia.
    - Normally child-friendly websites that have been hacked (so there’s potential to punish legitimate businesses).
    - Things considered a “fetish”, like tying someone up to a bed with a silk cloth.
    - A normally child-friendly blog, because of RC-rated comments (possibly even RC-rated, automated spam).
    - Etc etc

    The fact that a path will be offered to appeal a black-listing is not good enough. It seems very possible that a legitimate business could be crippled by a spam-related black-listing (or even by an erroneous black-listing).

    This content is illegal to display, distribute, sell or make available for hire under existing Australian law.

    Two very important points:

    - Australian Law does apply to Australian companies, individuals and websites. There’s already good mechanisms in place for catching wrong-doers.
    - The web isn’t just “content”, it’s also a communication medium. Should casual conversations on the street about euthanasia also be banned? It’s pretty hard to argue that Twitter or Facebook conversations are too different to a conversation on the street.

    Here’s the strongest point though: The filer is (supposedly) needed because people stumble on bomb making sites and child pornography on a regular enough basis that something MUST be done. I’ve been using the internet for a very long time and I’ve never visited a bomb making site or seen child pornography. NEVER. EVER.

    The filter is an ill-conceived, heavy handed solution to something that’s not even a problem.

    I will not vote for an individual or party that supports this proposal.

  • 12
    Virro
    Posted Wednesday, 23 December 2009 at 3:30 pm | Permalink

    This is a choice for the family or individual.” Er… Stephen it is because you are hoping to take away our “choice” that the issue has become a stinking dead albatross around your neck. The real choice will come at the next election unless another petition can provide you with a sense of reality.

    Regarding the slower speeds, I refer the Senator to ‘Untangling the Net’ (Lumby Green and Hartley, 2009). Thanks to the other hero of the Internet (Nick Minchin), Australian internet speeds have remained sub standard for over 10 years. His reliance on Telstra’s “blink of an eye” explanation for lower speeds is pulling the wool over the other eye. And remember the tests were conducted at slower speeds with fewer blocked sites. Did the scalability of the solution get a good thrashing?

    As for the Minister’s office response to Stilgherrigan - it must have been worded by the legal department as it clearly leaves the way open for the Senator to admit that he acted alone and did in fact request the take-down without his office being aware of it. One of Howard’s tools of the trade. And to turn the response around in under 5 hours suggests a Grech-like panic.

    The only merit of the policy is that it provides Australia the rare opportunity to rub shoulders with other like minded countries: China, Ethiopia, Iran, Jordan, Libya, Pakistan, Singapore, Sudan Syria, UAE. (Source: Open Net Initiative.)

    Does the Senator wear an Amnesty International pin too?

  • 13
    James McDonald
    Posted Wednesday, 23 December 2009 at 3:33 pm | Permalink

    In this transcript of Estimates 20 Oct 2008, Senator Conroy suggests that the mandatory filtering scheme is in line with similar restrictions in free countries Sweden, UK, Canada and New Zealand. (None of those, by the way, are listed on the Reporters Without Borders website as “Under Surveillance” as potential “Enemies of the Internet”.)

    Senator Ludlam questions whether the filtering schemes in those countries are mandatory or optional.

    Senator Conroy attempts to deflect the question as follows:

    Illegal material is illegal material. Child pornography is child pornography. I trust you are not suggesting that people should have access to child pornography.”

    Senator Conroy attempts to deflect the same question two more times, saying, “I was wondering if I could get the questions without being accused of being the Great Wall of China,” and “We are talking about mandatory blocking, where possible, of illegal material-illegal material. “

    When asked the question a fourth time, Senator Conroy admits they are all optional one way or another.

    Senator Conroy also suggests, “There are calls for, as an example, banning pro anorexia websites. “

    Senator Conroy, even if I trusted you, I could never trust that this power won’t be abused by those who inherit this power from you. And in any case, I do not trust you.

  • 14
    Jon Seymour
    Posted Wednesday, 23 December 2009 at 3:36 pm | Permalink

    In the interests of accuracy, it wasn’t actually documented by Hansard. The conversation I was referring to actually occurred in estimates committee hearing as documeted by GetUp! here - http://bit.ly/4XQ3OC

    The Senate Standing Committee on Environment, Communications and the Arts, Estimates, 20 October 2008 (Canberra):
    Sen. Conroy: […] I trust you are not suggesting that people should have access to child pornography.
    Sen. Ludlam: No. That is why I was interested in asking about the law enforcement side of it as well.
    Sen. Conroy: No, we are working both angles at it. We are just trying to use technology to enforce the existing laws.
    Sen. Ludlam: I am just wondering if I can put these questions to you without being accused of being pro child pornography.
    That would assist.

    Play a game of semantics if you like, but the imputation is clear - anyone who dares question the ALPs position on this filter is carrying a candle for the child pornographers.

    jon seymour.

  • 15
    tony
    Posted Wednesday, 23 December 2009 at 3:40 pm | Permalink

    Glad to see Conroy finally admit that the filtering technology is dead easy to circumvent.
    He fails to say again what the full range of RC content is once again… surprise surprise… it also contains fetish material and any game that does not fit under ma15+. Among a raft of other content.

    As for Conroy saying people opposing this policy are twisting facts and misinforming the public… lol.

    http://scott-ludlam.greensmps.org.au/content/tv/senator-ludlam-questions-minister-conroy-internet-censorship

    http://libertus.net/censor/ispfiltering-au-govplan.html#RC

    http://libertus.net/censor/ispfiltering-au-govplan.html#RCexamples

    A Rudd Labor Government will require ISPs to offer a ‘clean feed’ internet service to all homes, schools and public internet points accessible by children, such as public libraries.
    Labor’s ISP policy will prevent Australian children from accessing any content that has been identified as prohibited by ACMA, including sites such as those containing child pornography and X-rated material.”

    While the Government has implemented its Protecting Australian Families Online programs simply not good enough. The message isn’t getting out there, the PC filters can be bypassed and Australian children are at risk.

    This will be remedied by Labor’s Cyber-safety Policy.”
    Source: http://www.alp.org.au/download/now/labors_plan_for_cyber_safety.pdf

    Senator Conroy: “Cleanfeed is broader than the prohibited sites. You can’t opt in or out of the prohibited material. The cleanfeed is something you can opt out…”
    Source: http://au.youtube.com/watch?v=o4UGEWYf2bY

    Senator Conroy- “…we are looking at two tiers - mandatory of illegal material and an option for families to get a clean feed service if they wish.”
    Source: http://www.aph.gov.au/hansard/senate/commttee/S11346.pdf

    Antony Funnell: A lot of people will be concerned about what will be on that list of banned sites. Who will determine what are the banned sites, and will that list of banned sites …

    Stephen Conroy: There’s actually an existing list. I mean people are saying suddenly ‘Where’s this list come from?’ It actually exists today. If offensive content is hosted by Australian ISPs now, and when we say offensive, refused classification content, then it gets issued with a take-down notice today. This is an existing blacklist.”
    Source: http://www.abc.net.au/rn/mediareport/stories/2008/2405376.htm

  • 16
    James McDonald
    Posted Wednesday, 23 December 2009 at 3:42 pm | Permalink

    What do the Australian Federal Police think about this? Last year they arrested a large number of persons who downloaded illegal underage p0rn, after tracing their IP addresses. Genuine pa3dophile p0rn (as opposed to illegal teenage p0rn, which is what most of those arrested actually downloaded) is not that easy to find, and you risk arrest if you do find and download it. The major search engines voluntarily screen it out.

    Have the AFP recommended in favour of this filtering scheme? Has their opinion been sought?

  • 17
    tony
    Posted Wednesday, 23 December 2009 at 3:47 pm | Permalink

    The pilot [of ISP-level filtering/blocking] will specifically test filtering against the ACMA black list of prohibited internet content, which is mostly child pornography, as well as filtering of other unwanted content. While the ACMA black list is currently around 1,300 URLs, the pilot will test against this list as well as filtering for a range of URLs to around 10,000 so that the impacts on network performance of a larger black list can be examined.”
    Source: http://www.aph.gov.au/hansard/senate/dailys/ds111108.pdf

    Senator LUDLAM-Can you provide for us, either here or on notice, a current breakdown of the material that is on the black list, as you have done in the past?

    Ms O’Loughlin [ACMA]-I can provide that to you now. As at 30 September there were 1,175 URLs on the black list. Fifty-four per cent of those were URLs where we had found prohibited content at the refused classification level. Of that 54 per cent, approximately 33 per cent was child sexual abuse material.

    Senator LUDLAM-Was it one-third of the RC?

    Ms O’Loughlin-It was one-third of the 54 per cent, yes. Forty-one per cent was X18+ and five per cent was R18+, which was commercial product where there was no appropriate restricted access system in place.”
    Source: http://www.aph.gov.au/hansard/senate/commttee/S12489.pdf

  • 18
    Marc
    Posted Wednesday, 23 December 2009 at 3:52 pm | Permalink

    Senator Conroy, even if I trusted you, I could never trust that this power won’t be abused by those who inherit this power from you. And in any case, I do not trust you.

    Well said. I agree completely.

    For the record, I don’t see pro anorexia websites as being any less evil than extremist Christian websites. I also don’t believe either should be blocked.

    Senator Conroy, we know what you’re up to. It’s on record that you’ve been talking to the Australian Christian Lobby (ACL) regarding the filter and it seems like a fairly safe bet you’ve been talking to AFACT (Australian Federation Against Copyright Theft), or will at some point. Money talks and I’m sure they’ll both influence the black-list in some way. And before you say “the list will be managed by ACMA, an independent organisation”, ACMA is still a government department, so I’m sure there’s a myriad of ways your office, ACL and AFACT could influence their decisions.

  • 19
    Hugh Ripper
    Posted Wednesday, 23 December 2009 at 4:00 pm | Permalink

    This odious proposal has nothing to do with the interests of the Australian public and everything to do with the sucking up to the moral police who hold the balance of power in the senate.

  • 20
    Orin Thomas
    Posted Wednesday, 23 December 2009 at 4:02 pm | Permalink

    Want to watch how quickly the Conroy Filter is used to block material that isn’t smutty? Watch how quickly the Senator adds any site that publishes workarounds to his list of restricted sites.

  • 21
    Kez
    Posted Wednesday, 23 December 2009 at 4:03 pm | Permalink

    @Funk J

    Conroy’s comment that “The only way these subject matters RWB have outlined would fall into the RC category would be if they included step-by-step instruction in self harm or were extremely violent.” is (suprise suprise) in direct reference to the subject matters that RWB brought up. Precisely he’s talking about ““abortion, anorexia, Aborigines and legislation on the sale of marijuana would risk being filtered as would media reports on these issues.”

    What Conroy is saying is that with respect ot abortion, anorexia, Aborigines and legislation on the sale of marijuana only.

    The video games Blitz and Fallout 3 were RCed because they create incentives for drug use (eg if you take drugs your game character performs better).

    As an aside creating incentives related to drugs (or other illegal behaviour) is grounds to refuse classification for both video games and films. If there was an R18+ rating for games that was a direct mirror of the film classification system then both these games still would have been banned.

  • 22
    Kez
    Posted Wednesday, 23 December 2009 at 4:08 pm | Permalink

    Andrew Wilcockson wrote “Because although it is illegal to sell such material in Australia, it is NOT illegal to possess nor view such material.”

    Actually it’s illegal to possess RCed material in WA.

  • 23
    ktzqbp
    Posted Wednesday, 23 December 2009 at 4:13 pm | Permalink

    The government has failed to identify a need for Mandatory ISP-Level Content Filtering.

    Even if there was a need, the government has failed to demonstrate that mandatory filtering is wanted by the Australian public.

    Even if the public wanted mandatory filtering, it won’t work.

    Even if it could work, it’s too expensive, especially in the long-term with the government having to compensate every single ISP in the country, year after year. You think $44m will cover it? HA!

    Even if it wasn’t too expensive, it will be implemented poorly. The Classification Act does not require the ACMA to seek a classification decision from the OFLC before adding overseas content to the blacklist, this really is a case of one public servant’s personal discretion deciding whether a content item should be banned in Australia, with no mechanism for notification or appeal.

    In the unlikely event that it’s implemented perfectly, it will enable child abuse. Several hundred ISPs in the country, each of which will require access to the black list.

    The black list will leak, without question. And once it does, every internet-connected pervert on the planet, and any Australian perverts who avail themselves of circumvention methods, will have access to it. With any perceived positives accompanying the scheme undermined by the fact that it won’t work, the negatives will be all we have left. Is increased world-wide child abuse an acceptable price that you, personally, Mr. Conroy, are prepared to pay for the implementation of this policy?

  • 24
    Michael
    Posted Wednesday, 23 December 2009 at 4:34 pm | Permalink

    If regulation or so called censorship of the internet has got Colin Jacobs so enraged with the government’s recent announcement, where has he been for the past nine years where the internet in Australia has been regulated far more heavily. The government’s filtering policy applies only to the worst of the worst content hosted overseas which brings it into line with what has been going on in Australia for the past nine years without the outrage.

    Conroy still doesn’t understand. Regulating the servers is different to regulating the network. Banning RC-content being hosted in Australia is perfectly fine and feasible. Filtering the feed is an exercise in wasteful insanity.

  • 25
    Mark Gibbons
    Posted Wednesday, 23 December 2009 at 4:35 pm | Permalink

    The RC classification has been changed by politicians several times in the past. As a result, RC is broad, eclectic, and mostly legal to possess & view. It can’t help but include political material simply because it is so broad. Movies like Ken Park, various kinds of fetish porn, and even Euthenasia material like the Peaceful Pill handbook is all within RC. (And does anyone really think the government should be censoring one side of a contraversial debate?)

    As Jon Seymour said, “It has deliberately chosen to continue down the path of ensuring that the National Classification Code is uniformly and universally applied to citizens as if each and every one of them were themselves film and literature distributors”.

    In every other western country, filtering has been narrowly defined to target child porn. There is a category for child porn within RC that the government could have used, but they just had to go after legal content as well. And in that we’re alone.

    (Every time the government tries to conflate RC with “child sex abuse content, bestiality, sexual violence including rape and the detailed instruction of crime or drug use”, I donate $25 to the getup campaign. So I’m kinda hoping Conroy stops doing that otherwise this is going to be one expensive Christmas season).

  • 26
    RaymondChurch
    Posted Wednesday, 23 December 2009 at 4:40 pm | Permalink

    I am in debt to the contributors to this blog. I have learned more about what Conroy is intending by reading the remarks here and going to the informative links provided in support . It may well assist the Senator in learning what a good cross section of the electorate are thinking by taking an interest in what is being written here ,rather than concentrate on advice being offered to him by those who support his point of view for whatever reason, be it political patronage, religious fanaticism, or just good old sucking up for future considerations by the Govt.
    To me it seems Mr Conroy is crying wolf, he seeks to respond to points made , by claims of attacks on his pure intentions, his well meaning, well diagnosed, well tried, well rehersed, not fool proof technology.
    Humbug Mr Conroy, nothing but humbug and porkies. Do your convictions allow you to wander from the truth or are you just pig headed and stupid, doing the masters bidding.
    This could come back to bite you, in the months ahead.

  • 27
    cameronreilly
    Posted Wednesday, 23 December 2009 at 4:46 pm | Permalink

    Senator Conroy states: “The government has been clear that mandatory filtering will only be implemented for RC-rated content. This content is illegal to display, distribute, sell or make available for hire under existing Australian law. RC-rated content is not available in newsagencies, it is not on the library shelves, you cannot watch it on a DVD or at the cinema and it is not shown on television.”

    What he doesn’t say is how broad the RC classification is. According to the National Classification Code, the following publications can be listed as RC:

    Publications that:

    (a) describe, depict, express or otherwise deal with matters of sex, drug misuse or addiction, crime, cruelty, violence or revolting or abhorrent phenomena in such a way that they offend against the standards of morality, decency and propriety generally accepted by reasonable adults to the extent that they should not be classified; or

    (b) describe or depict in a way that is likely to cause offence to a reasonable adult, a person who is, or appears to be, a child under 18 (whether the person is engaged in sexual activity or not); or

    (c) promote, incite or instruct in matters of crime or violence

    The classification code does not ban, as Conroy tries to make out with his use of limited truth, merely child porn or pro-rape content. It is open to casting a much wider net, as the distributors of the film “Ken Park” found out just a few years ago.

    I think what bothers many people like myself is that, similar to what has happened in the United States over the last 20 years, our senior political ranks are today being stacked with fundamentalist Christians. Conroy, Rudd, Abbott and Fielding are all fundamentalists. Their “standards of morality, decency and propriety” are likely to be different from many people in Australia, a country that can boast one of the most secular and open-minded populations in the world. Films such as “Ken Park” might easily be defined by a small group of people hidden in a small room in Canberra as “indecent” and banned when it would be acceptable to many people.

    Conroy’s continual argument that “this content is already illegal” deliberately misses the point that the real argument for censorship in the first place is *not* to stop adults having access to content - it is to limit distribution of content so it won’t be available to children or accidentally offend people who aren’t searching for it.

    The internet is a PULL mechanism. You only get content if you go looking for it. If you type “happy bunny rabbits” or “Jesus loves me” into Google, you are highly unlikely to find a fisting site (I just checked to make sure).

    The Ruddites are trying to enforce their 1950’s sense of uber-Christian decency on the rest of Australians when we should, instead, be bringing our censorship laws into the 21st century.

  • 28
    James McDonald
    Posted Wednesday, 23 December 2009 at 4:57 pm | Permalink

    Raymond - “… rather than concentrate on advice being offered to him by those who support his point of view …”

    Just what are those bodies that support it, by the way? Apart from churches, have any authoritative bodies supported this? The AFP, which investigates child p0rn? Any of the Police Associations? Any of the child protection lobby groups?

    Churches do not count, following James Madison’s wisdom that “Religion flourishes in greater purity, without than with the aid of Government,” and Section 116 of our Constitution:

    The Commonwealth shall not make any law for establishing any religion, or for imposing any religious observance, or for prohibiting the free exercise of any religion, and no religious test shall be required as a qualification for any office or public trust under the Commonwealth.

  • 29
    Posted Wednesday, 23 December 2009 at 5:01 pm | Permalink

     —  — -BEGIN PGP SIGNED MESSAGE —  — -
    Hash: SHA512

    Dear Senator Conroy,

    How do you reconcile the claim of 100% blocking of the ACMA list with this Watchdog International report? Since Watchdog run the New Zealand filter and since Enex worked with them for their own report, it stands to reason that the 100% success was achieved by removing URLs containing question marks (e.g. dynamic websites and YouTube videos).

    It’s a bit hypocritical to accuse Bernard Keane of mis-representing the situation with blocking items on the blacklist as part of the filtering when:

    1) Enex and ACMA, after working with Watchdog International, modified the blacklists tested to remove URLs which would be incorrectly parsed by the filter.

    2) You habitually use the term filter to describe all aspects of stopping targetted material, when it should be made clear there is a difference between blocking and filtering. A difference which is made clear in the 2008 ACMA report, which actually provided more technical detail than the recent Enex report.

    It also doesn’t help that there is still no information available regarding precisely which protocols will be affected by either blocking or filtering.

     —  — -BEGIN PGP SIGNATURE —  — -
    Version: GnuPG v1.4.9 (Darwin)
    Comment: Use GnuPG with Firefox : http://getfiregpg.org (Version: 0.7.10)

    iEYEAREKAAYFAksxsi8ACgkQNxrFv6BK4xOKKgCgtgBaEyrSCDPWySPdKppzZIMP
    rL0An3eQ1Cbe/9Co4DFvhxSVHrzcrEsm
    =+BRm
     —  — -END PGP SIGNATURE —  — -

  • 30
    EngineeringReality
    Posted Wednesday, 23 December 2009 at 5:08 pm | Permalink

    The whole flaw in the process - as others have highlighted is that what constitutes RC (which in this country is a very narrow and arcane definition) and more importantly who decides what is RC. Too many films and increasingly computer games that are being watched in other countries are being banned here.

    With the current proposed filter it seems that its a few public servants in ACMA who decide.

    And where do the sites to be banned come from? Is there to be an office in ACMA’s headquarters where a few staff members sit at their computers hunting for the worst of the worst material - and only after downloading it and examining it does it make it onto the blacklist.

    Is it one person deciding - or will a group of sites be collated for a daily or weekly Bad Porn Committee Meeting where a group of public servants sit down to watch porn for a few hours and then decide if the OFLC would classify it as RC or not.

    But who oversees this? Will all of the sites be sent to the OFLC to confirm the view of the ACMA staff - or will we just have to take the government’s word that the ACMA staff are as good as the OFLC?

    Or is it, more concerningly, more dependant on radical groups such as Australian Family Association etc complaining about sites they are opposed to. Will the blacklist just morph into something that increasingly begins to look like the Australian Family Association’s blacklist?

    We won’t know of course - because the blacklist is so “vile and evil” that we can’t know of its contents. Yes I know, its starting to sound like a witchcraft trial from the middle ages…

  • 31
    James McDonald
    Posted Wednesday, 23 December 2009 at 5:52 pm | Permalink

    And what’s going to stop a Godwin Gretch getting on that committee and using it for his own political agenda? The banned list will be thousands of URLs; trying to find anything out of scope could be a needle in a haystack.

  • 32
    David Sanderson
    Posted Wednesday, 23 December 2009 at 5:55 pm | Permalink

    And what’s going to stop a Godwin Gretch getting on that committee and using it for his own political agenda?”

    We have a clear winner. This is the silliest comment thus far. It may be hard to top but I’m sure there must be some triers out there.

  • 33
    Rena Zurawel
    Posted Wednesday, 23 December 2009 at 5:55 pm | Permalink

    Dear Mr. Conroy
    Try to fight pedophiles, first!!!! Then you can get to the Internet viewers.

  • 34
    Brian Kelly
    Posted Wednesday, 23 December 2009 at 6:01 pm | Permalink

    There are two main problems I have with all this Mr Conroy. I don’t believe you and I don’t trust you. Following on from this I don’t trust bureaucrats and given the history of politicians in this country I certainly won’t trust any of your successors unless they can earn that trust through trustworthy deeds. And this from a lifelong ALP supporter and former member of the party.

  • 35
    John T
    Posted Wednesday, 23 December 2009 at 6:25 pm | Permalink

    Right with you Marc.

    Further, any minister capable of writing this: “nothing short of disingenuous”, and thinking it is telling, in some appealingly clever way, should be allowed nowhere near any judgment about literate matters.

    Or was the writer a ministerial staffer suffering from a schooling in post-modernist English literature?

  • 36
    paddy
    Posted Wednesday, 23 December 2009 at 6:25 pm | Permalink

    Dear Senator Conroy, I guess Bernard Keane’s guide to writing to Ministers (16-12-09) must have really worked eh. :-)
    Your staffers (or even your good self) have certainly come up with an absolute field of straw in reply with today’s effort.
    Others, far more eloquent and knowledgeable than I, have already torn shreds off the so-called rationale for the network filter. So why Senator, why?

    It’s clearly a dog of an idea, and we mere mortals can only wonder what madness drives you to keep pushing it……….Is it Kevin? Enquiring minds would like to know.

    All that political capital you gained for confronting Telstra and listening to informed advice on the building the NBN…….All being flushed down the virtual drain for this horrible turkey, pretending to be a magic bullet.

    Fortunately, you’re up for election next year………………Even more fortunately for you, being top of the ticket means you’re assured of winning another term. But it also means, there might be an interesting number of Victorian voters who, like me, generally support the Rudd Government……But who will take the time and effort to put Stephen Conroy last on the Senate ballot paper.

    P.S. I doubt Lindsay Tanner feels nearly as sanguine about the fallout from this mess.
    Losing one of the ablest and most articulate members of the cabinet might be a high price to pay for a no-win policy.
    After all, you and your faction have form when it comes to the law of political unintended consequences.
    (That other Senator called Steven was a great result, wasn’t he?)

  • 37
    Peta Waller-Bryant
    Posted Wednesday, 23 December 2009 at 6:41 pm | Permalink

    I am happy to debate the merits of this policy and listen to the genuine concerns of Australians”

    This is the biggest lie of all and I remain appalled. I do not claim to be an expert on internet filtering, RC content or the possible reduction of speed - however, not once has the government listened to and taken into account the overwhelming opposition to this plan.

    This opposition has included genuinely concerned Australian individuals, relevant industry bodies, industry leaders and spokespeople. No, Conroy - you’re neither happy nor interested in listening to the views opposing you. You are only interested in telling. This has been the case for this entire process and is unlikely to change.

    Have you even consulted internet users? What did they say? What were the percentages of support?

    Australian governments are not elected to be parental they are elected to be representative.

    As someone still in their youth and planning to spend my life a staunch Labor voter - let me add my voice to those saying they will not be voting for you until this is overturned and reassessed.

    I’m going to go see if the new Pirate Party are still taking membership.

  • 38
    Junior
    Posted Wednesday, 23 December 2009 at 7:21 pm | Permalink

    1700 words to make a spurious point. Perhaps like his boss Elmer Conroy should take a lead from old Bill’s Polonius “brevity is the soul of wit”

  • 39
    David Sanderson
    Posted Wednesday, 23 December 2009 at 7:30 pm | Permalink

    1700 words to make a spurious point. Perhaps like his boss Elmer Conroy should take a lead from old Bill’s Polonius “brevity is the soul of wit””

    You just can’t win with some people. Conroy (or perhaps more likely. an adviser) writes an average size article to briefly state his case and rebut some critics and Junior found it all a bit much. If Conroy had written just 500 word Junior and others would be complaining about how terse and arrogant Conroy is.

    It is a pity that some of the contributors here, wallowing in all kinds of puerile dark speculations, are not eligible for the Arsehat of the Year Award because they would be bloody strong contendors.

  • 40
    Norwood1997
    Posted Wednesday, 23 December 2009 at 7:32 pm | Permalink

    Another tip:
    Send your letter twice - once in english and once in a foreign language. (If you don’t speak anything other than english, use an internet translation service to translate your letter from English to a foreign language or dialect). Send one copy of the letter in English, and a second copy using the name of another person in your household, in the foreign language of choice. Getting letters translated eats up even more time and resources!

  • 41
    October
    Posted Wednesday, 23 December 2009 at 8:32 pm | Permalink

    We have a clear winner. This is the silliest comment thus far. It may be hard to top but I’m sure there must be some triers out there.

    Sanderson, why these asinine comments? You either attack the person or ignore them. Rarely do you engage in argument.

    Could you, or that slippery chekist, Stephen Conroy, please explain why suddenly, after many many, years, the internet must now be censored? It is a fine tool that has been working for decades with no problem, and only now do you want to stick your noses in.

    As for the “we already censor TV and magazines” red herring—you don’t. You have laws in place to sue publishers. You don’t have filters and spies in publishing houses that makes things disappear without trace. You have specific items named for suppression.

    This new filter is nothing like the current system.

    It’s disgusting that our Prime Minister Kevin Rudd has allowed a loose cannon like Conroy to get this far.

    Disgusting.

  • 42
    MichaelK99
    Posted Wednesday, 23 December 2009 at 8:38 pm | Permalink

    Conroy says that it will only be URLs (ie specific pages) which will be blocked.

    I feel fairly certain that in reality they will block whole sites, and not determine which pages are ok and which are RC. Thus a large site with only one or two pages of RC material will probably all be blocked.

    For this reason I feel certain that most of the blocked content will not be RC.

  • 43
    tony
    Posted Wednesday, 23 December 2009 at 8:42 pm | Permalink

    Funny how the argument has shifted away from ‘blocking’ access to Child pornography. Rather it is about ‘inadvertent’ exposure to Child pornography.

    How many people have accidentally stumbled upon CP? Please, I’d like to know.

    The chance of stumbling onto something like that would be so minuscule it wouldn’t be worth talking about. Let alone spending huge amounts of money trying to fix.

    Please Minister, can we see some evidence that children are ‘accidentally’ stumbling upon this abhorrent content?

    Perhaps giving that money to victims of child abuse and the Police might have somewhat more noticeable outcome, rather then erecting a shark net that’s 1 meter wide and saying its protecting the oceans!

    I can hear the comeback already!

    ITS NOT A SILVER BULLET!

  • 44
    James McDonald
    Posted Wednesday, 23 December 2009 at 8:42 pm | Permalink

    David Sanderson - “We have a clear winner. This is the silliest comment thus far.”

    I appreciate the compliment, unintentional though it may be, of being singled out as being far from what you would call rational.

    There’s a part of me that occasionally envies someone of such vapid naivete, such faith that he can convert people to a different point of view simply by insisting over and over that they are wrong. Just a small part of me; but a few drinks quicky take care of that.

  • 45
    October
    Posted Wednesday, 23 December 2009 at 9:01 pm | Permalink

    Funny how the argument has shifted away from ‘blocking’ access to Child pornography. Rather it is about ‘inadvertent’ exposure to Child pornography.

    And one of the odd things about child pornography, should one accidentally come upon it (once when checking the “Scorpions” album cover controversy, another time on the first page of “Kommersant”, Russia’s leading business paper, and so on), is that it doesn’t have any magical properties that damage one’s soul. It is completely harmless to look at, and then to look away from.

    The horror of child pornography comes from thinking of what could happen to one’s reputation if someone else saw the image on one’s own machine. What would happen if some pimply technician in the computer repair shop decided to rifle through the cache and make himself a hero by reporting unpleasant images.

    The making of the image is a completely different issue to being “inadvertently” exposed to its magical powers.

  • 46
    daz
    Posted Wednesday, 23 December 2009 at 9:06 pm | Permalink

    This has been my experiance when we workedin the UAE.

    This is what you can look forward to, if the Australian internet filter goes ahead.

    The wikipedia entry on Muhumad is blocked. Why would a muslim society block access to a collaborative, public encyclopedia dealing with one of its most signifcant religious figures?
    Because it deals with him as a normal subject.
    You could probably worry that a similar treatment concerning christian subject matter would not be tolerated by the refused classification guidelines, or the guidelines could be easily expanded to allow restricted access.
    Restriction on normal critical evaluation, that encourages further reading and evaluation from you, the reader, that happens to be delivered via the web.

    This is the job of the censor. To prohibit and retard the process of thinking and deciding.

    How about that process of thinking and deciding leads you to an atheist web site.(www.atheism.about.com)…but atheism is not a blocked page on wikipedia!? Is that inconsistant or is it just my imagination?
    Why would you restrict a source of inquiry concerning god or gods?
    The country tolerates lots of different religious beliefs on the ground…so many diffferent people make up the work force here…there are hindus, buddhists, christians, so why prohibit people from READING about what is essentially another belief system?
    I know why, and by doing a little reading and thinking you will know why too.

    Getting away from religious issues, what about restictrictions on how to burn DVD files in certain formats??
    http://www.petri.co.il/how_to_write_iso_files_to_cd.htm
    This information was blocked for us.
    Because some luddite thinks burning a DVD implies piracy.

    http://www.etisalat.ae/assets/document/blockcontent.pdf

    Go there and read the guidelines. They sound eerily like the things that would be refused classification by the Australian government.

    Oh…lets not forget that Flickr the photo sharing site is blocked here.
    You can expect access to Flickr to be restricted because there might be women in bikinis there, not to mention photos of sunsets, flowers, buildings and cars. So say goodbye to something you enjoyed, sharing cool photos.

    Do you feel insulted yet?Or is it just me?

    If photography is an art how about other types of art?
    I can see classic nudes on Wikipedia, but http://www.frankfazzetta.com is blocked.
    So say goodbye to classic art, and fantasy art… Norman Lindsay anyone?
    He was the bane of the wowsers back in the day.

    This proposal to rate the content of the internet according to some conservative Australians’ attitudes is insulting and in my experiance, impossible to enforce consistantly. If it cant be enforced consistantly
    then why do it?
    You do it because you are stupid… and a bit evil.

  • 47
    James McDonald
    Posted Wednesday, 23 December 2009 at 9:42 pm | Permalink

    October - And of course the possibility of being traced by the feds and imprisoned for up to 10 years.

    But yes, “Cyber Safety”, as the plan is being called … safety for whom? For the child subject of the abuse being photographed and marketed, or for the shocked user stumbling on the site, who might then be able to alert the AFP? Or if the user prefers, to notify the ISP, who is obliged to report it.

    Of course there is a tiny number of users who will enjoy the material. But those users are going to do so anyway, one way or another. Isn’t it better if there’s a chance of tracing and charging them, and then alerting Interpol to hunt down the source?

  • 48
    David Sanderson
    Posted Wednesday, 23 December 2009 at 10:08 pm | Permalink

    There are some on this thread who may be libertarians and therefore believe in zero censorship in all, or virtually all, media forms. They are of course entitled to their view but it is not one that has mainstream support.

    The rest presumably support at least some censorship in these other media forms but believe that media found on the web should be immune from censorship. In particular, they believe that the distribution mechanism should not be intervened in despite the fact that this is the only practicable method to prevent distribution, as most of the banned material is hosted beyond the reach of Australian authorities. It is also standard practice in other censorship regimes (eg that affecting printed materials) for disruption of the distribution system to be a major method of enforcing the censorship regime.

    Why then is it unacceptable to disrupt he internet distribution of banned materials but acceptable when dealing with banned content from other media forms?

  • 49
    David Sanderson
    Posted Wednesday, 23 December 2009 at 10:18 pm | Permalink

    There are a number of oddities on this thread but this one stands out:

    What do the Australian Federal Police think about this? Last year they arrested a large number of persons who downloaded illegal underage p0rn, after tracing their IP addresses. Genuine pa3dophile p0rn (as opposed to illegal teenage p0rn, which is what most of those arrested actually downloaded)”

    Since when was porn involving thirteen year old children not child porn or “pa3dophile p0rn”?
    Very curious and not the first time this person has made this claim.

  • 50
    thedukeofmadness
    Posted Wednesday, 23 December 2009 at 10:24 pm | Permalink

    This “censorship” of the internet has absolutely nothing whatsoever to do with protecting children. It is the first step in us having to pay to use the internet. I don’t mean as it paying for internet connection but paying for browsing on the internet.

    It’s very curious that this policy reared its head within days of Rupert Murdoch wanting to charge people to read News Limited content online. A person could, if so inclined, surmise that the two news items are linked. I’m not saying that the government would actively curry favor with Mr. Murdoch by allowing him something he has coveted since the Internet began in the late 80’s, the ability to make a lot of money out of it, but it’s just curious that two internet related stories should come out within days of each other.

    Even if it were just to “protect the children” then that’s what parents are for. I would hope that parents like that woman who left her child in the carpark were the exception not the norm. Protection of children should be done by parents not by governments anyway.

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