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Dec 17, 2008

The lies of the internet censors: Your. Filter. Won't. Work.

It’s time to call the purveyors of pervasive internet censorship out on their lies and demand to know why they’re not advocating the real solutions to child s-xual abuse, writes Stilgherrian.


Gloves-off time. The purveyors of pervasive internet censorship — handful that they are — have burned their goodwill. It’s time to call them out on their lies and demand to know why they’re not advocating the real solutions to child s-xual abuse.

Bernadette McMenamin of ChildWise, you’ve crossed the line, defaming everyone who’s protested the government’s plans. “Most of these people are not fully aware of the facts and secondly, those who are aware are, in effect, advocating child p-rnography,” you said. How dare you!

Ms McMenamin, to really stop child abuse we need to spend our resources efficiently. Let’s run through it one more time. And let’s skip those hysterical, made-up “statistics” you still peddle. Child abuse is bad enough without heading into your paranoid fantasyland.

Kiddie-p-rn is hard to find. As Inspector John Rouse, former head of Queensland Police’s Taskforce Argos told the authors of The Porn Report, “the chances of stumbling across this material… are minimal as it isn’t really distributed on web pages.” P-dophiles use peer-to-peer software and, as Crikey reported six months ago, none of the filters can deal with P2P. The filter will not work. The. Filter. Will. Not. Work.

Every single dollar wasted on a demonstrably unworkable filter isn’t just wasting taxpayers’ money in tough times. It’s a dollar that hasn’t gone to the police so they can do what does work. Good old-fashioned policing and the kind of undercover sting that resulted in 19 arrests last week, including a retired QC and a NSW police officer.

But, as blogger Jon Seymour points out, Ms McMenamin has a vested interested in moral panic. “An ineffective filter is actually a very good thing, because it means the oxygen that sustains the flames of moral panic, and her organization ChildWise, will never disappear,” he writes.

“Perhaps McMenamin and ChildWise have done worthy work in the past. Perhaps they do some now. But why should anyone continue to be charitable about a person who unapologetically accuses her opponents of being witting or unwitting supporters of child p-rnography?”

“Public intellectual” Clive Hamilton has been the other public face of censorship since 2003. In Crikey last week he deconstructed Paul Kelly’s writing about emissions trading, saying “Kelly’s spray could be used as an exemplar in a course on how to use debating tricks to try to win a losing argument.” The same could be said for Hamilton’s own writing in support of censorship.

In a piece for ABC News, Hamilton cherry-picks blog comments to construct an anti-censorship straw man of such awesome proportions his hay fever will last a century. He fails to even mention the rational arguments he should be addressing, and then admits, “I have deliberately not considered the question of whether it is feasible to effectively filter extreme and violent p-rnography on the internet.” Let’s not let reality get in the way, shall we Clive? Fortunately the post’s 275 comments re-introduce that reality.

And finally the minister, Hamilton claims Senator Stephen Conroy is boldly going ahead with filtering trials billed as a “live test”. But no, it’s another closed network test and won’t involve actual customers. Even the list of “10,000 sites” is a made-up number.

Opposing the filter are the Opposition, The Greens, Save the Children (who’ve rolled up their sleeves and done the dirty work of protecting kids since 1919), the National Children’s and Youth Law Centre and even ultra-conservative Liberal Senator Cory Bernardi and Glenn Milne.

Why is taxpayers’ money still being spent on this farce?


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24 thoughts on “The lies of the internet censors: Your. Filter. Won’t. Work.

  1. Charlie


    Great work in finally drawing the line between wasting money on being seen to do something – and the natural fact that money is being taken from people who just get on with doing it.

    Good work.

  2. Andrew Thompson

    Well said. It’s high time that the outrageous lies and libel being peddled by self-interests hiding behind the cloak of protecting children are confronted for what they are. Excellent, considered piece, Crikey.

  3. brettreasure

    McMenamin says: “most of these people are not fully aware of the facts and secondly, those who are aware are, in effect, advocating child pornography.” Stilgherrian is right to draw attention to this allegation. A person unable to separate policy criticism from criminality is not a suitable person for a government working group.

  4. Kerry

    Thanks Crikey for highlighting the ignoramus Bernadette McMenamin of ChildWise and her outlandish claims, in the main unsupported by fact. Why, if she has the interests of children at heart, she does not get opinions of experts in Internet site blocking and filtering instead of going off on a tangent, abusing anyone who disagrees with her uneducated rants. Perhaps if she was to do something very simple, try googling the subject, that shouldnt be too hard for even her brain to comprehend. She may be surprised at what searching the words net filtering, etc etc will bringup. I am convinced this stupid person isnt really concerned about stopping the availability of child pornography but more interested in being on the Conroy bandwaggon to get as much publicity for herself as she can. Being aligned with the Minister is as clever as laying down in front of an oncoming steamroller. Conroy has shown total ignorance of what he is doing or he is just plain stupid. I cannot believe Rudd is allowing him to make the Govt look a bloody fool, unless of course Rudd himself is one who actually believes the nonsense being spouted about the virtues of filtering. I cannot imagine he is that silly, or is he?

  5. Connor Moran

    What a nonsense Stilgherrian. Filters can be made to work. In our business we do it day after day. Having said that, I disagree with the approach because it should be that;

    ISPs are REQUIRED to provide two feeds on request. A feed with a filter for all the crap, viruses, spam, porn and then an unfiltered feed. You should have to OPT out of the filter. I know endless parents, schools and businesses that would start with that filtered feed first.

    You’re on shaky ground by suggesting Glenn Milne is in your corner. That hardly re-inforces your argument.

    This is exactly the sort of writing that had me let my subscription lapse!

  6. david

    Gail you hit the proverbial nail on the head. Miss McMenamin most certainly has a hidden agenda and it is money. What the country should be asking for is an audit of her travel and accommodation over the last 5 years. lets get some explaining done by the said protector of the internet why she has spent tens of thousands of dollars on overseas jaunts that would do the PM proud. This woman is a phony and should be shown for what she is. Her interest is ruled out by her ignorance of the facts, she has produced no good arguement as to how and why a filter can possibly work. The woman is frankly unstable and the Minister is condemned by his acceptance of her. As has been asked here earlier, is Rudd stupid? How can he allow Conroy to be conned as he is certainly being, more to the point whats in it for the Government? Perhaps the Hon Fieldings vote in the Senate on other matters.

  7. garyb

    has childwise advocated moving to remote indigenous communities?

    seems the reported child abuse since the intervention is less than the two major capitals
    makes for a strange comparision

    so one must be ‘seen’ to be doing something….regardless of how effective it all is
    part of the impotent pious approach to telling people what to do , instead of coming up with real workable solutions

    the church and government keep doing this…don’t they ever learn?

    one thing…internet users do learn, and take appropriate action to overcome real world issues

    wireless workarounds which bypass ISPs can only be a step away…
    satellite technologies are available to any home user

    there is no need to use the main satellite feed

    by introducing such a poor implementation Snr Conroy runs the risk of assisting the illegals become uncatchable..again

  8. Dave Liberts

    Good article. The pro-censorship lobby are very hesitant to discuss the practical side-effects of their proposal, such as slowing internet speeds and blocking harmless material accidently. We could take the same approach with the climate debate, ban all carbon emissions and conveniently ignore any side effects this might have (eg stopping breathing). We’d be dead, but ideologically pure.

  9. Clancy Obermann

    It’s difficult to ascertain what rent-a-quote Ms McMenamin and ChildWise actually do apart from the chairman attending conferences in Asia and staying at 5 star sponser hotels. What the foundation does physically to aid the prevention of child abuse is pretty non-existence. McMenamin, who openly complains about other charities like Youth Of The Streets because of their capacity to raise large donations and attract well helled sponsors whilst doing wonderful work with a superb track record for assisting young people , should be called to task for libelling anyone who doesn’t agree with her.

    She has repeated nonsense similar to the former US Attorney General Alberto Gonzales claiming the net has tens of thousands of child porn sites bringing in billions of dollars a year. Neither of them offer any proof for these claims and if it were true why aren’t they allerted authorities to these illicit sites so they may take action to close them down.

    Everyone wishes to prevent the abuse of children whether it’s sexual, mental, physical or from cruelty or neglect but it is time to call these self -appointed experts like McMenamin who think it’s fine to insult others who do not agree with their beliefs-particularly when those beliefs are simply unrue such as the internet censorship proposals which simply do not work.

    Childwise prevent no facts-just claims and beliefs and to further add insults and libels to the majority of Australians who disagree is outrageous. Nor does it advance the cause of child abuse prevention.

  10. Jon Seymour


    If Glenn Milne is not in our camp, he does a remarkably good job of airing most of our arguments. Perhaps you care to point to the evidence that suggests Milne has a contrary opinion?

    Why require the filter to be opt-out? If there is demand for it, if it is effective, if it doesn’t have any performance impacts, why aren’t families queuing up for it? Why make it mandatory for everyone?

    The truth is, most people don’t want the filter. If the filter was opt-in, the Government would have to subsidise it and any flaws would cause the population to abandon it in droves. The filter is opt-out because that is the only way to guarantee that the bulk of the population sticks with it. That is co-ercion. That is flat out unacceptable in a democratic society.

  11. mikeynet

    Parts of Crikey are blocked on the filter at the school where I teach. Hmm… must be all the kiddie porn on this site!

  12. Peter

    I have used the internet for almost 20 years, indeed before it was fashionable, in that time I have never encountered a “child p-rnography site”, but then I have never looked for one.

  13. Simon Rumble

    We all know about Bernadette’s obsessions, but what’s with Clive Hamilton’s obsession with sex? He’s said he doesn’t want pro-anorexia or hate sites blocked, but does want consensual, non-violent sex blocked. That’s a pretty narrow focus, and given it depicts perfectly legal activity while hate speech is illegal, I don’t get it.

  14. Michael Harvey

    Thank you Crikey and Stilgherrian, this is why I subscribe. I remember Frank Zappa standing up against censorship of popular music by the religious right in the 80s – how successful the moral majority was then I don’t think!

  15. John Horsley

    Valid comment. However could you please stop referring to child pornography as “kiddie-porn”. It is an unacceptable euphemism.

  16. jyan

    Great article. Its terrible that Mc Menamin has been able to extort so much of the tax payer dollar when her report on internet child porn has been shown to be based on false data. In particular the number of so called child porn web sites is no where near the claimed number. Ofcourse she needs to propagate the lie that C.P. is everywhere to ensure she keeps her tax payer funded income and lifestyle. She will certainly be dispised by the tech savvy for a long time to come thanks to her insults to the anti-censorship crowd. Shame on mainstream media for giving her so much air time.

    Connor Moran – Many ISPs already offer a “family safe” internet account. Why don’t all the endless people you know go and sign up with one of said ISPs? Can’t find one? Start with http://www.whirlpool.net.au Failing that they could always install one of the many software filters that are available?
    Why not let demand dictate the need for censored internet? Oh wait, because it is not about “protecting children” at all. It is about control of information and futile attempts to stop online piracy.

  17. Bernard Keane

    “Kiddie porn” is a euphemism for “child pornography”?

    Evidently the definition of euphemism was amended without anyway telling me.

  18. Mark G

    Excellent article. Says it all really – the failure of the filter is garaunteed. There’s nothing left to chance or hope on this one. Insofar as the filter supporters want to spend money on this instead of more police & more child support servies, they are the true enablers of child abuse. Their moral high ground exists only in their heads.

  19. Mark G

    Nice try Connor, but work filters are different. People at work do not have administrator access to their computers, which means they don’t have peer to peer file sharing nor can they install programs like Tor. There’s no comparison with home computers.

    Nonetheless, I appreciate the attempt to address an actual argument … mostly the pro-filter mob limit themselves to spanking their straw man.

  20. Stilgherrian

    The trick about saying that filters “work” is that you need to define success. “Successful” filtering in a workplace or school network is very different from something for the entire population. It’s one thing to stop employees slacking off to YouTube, or having to get the IT department to fix a false positive, because there is no right to free communication. It’s quite another thing to stop the determined child abuser who’s using every tool available to avoid detection while using the public network where we all have the right to free and open communication.

    If the aim of the filter is “block access to a few URLs on the ACMA blacklist”, sure, the list can be blocked. But that list doesn’t define where the bad stuff is, it’s only what has been complained about. The if the aim is “stop the distribution of child pornography”, you need to stop the deeply-hidden communications channels. That’s something which current filters can’t even begin to address, by the government’s own research.

    Irene Graham has written up the monetary implications of filters versus detectives at http://libertus.net/censor/ispfiltering-au-govplan.html#s_38

  21. Jared

    Conner, you’d have better luck asking your local council to provide a “filtered” road network that removes all the bogans and dangerous drivers.

  22. robert

    Q: Why is taxpayers’ money still being spent on this farce?
    A: Steve Fielding

  23. Gail

    People’s lives are ruined by this sort of accusation. This witch hunt goes back some years. This is 2003 http://www.onlineopinion.com.au/view.asp?article=381

    I’m not convinced that Bernadette McMenamin, Hetty Johnson, Clive Hamilton or other proponents of this are free from hidden agendas. They seem to have vested interests. That interest seems to involve substantial sums of public money.

    Childwise and Bravehearts both have a seat of the government’s Cyber Safety Working Group which has not one single member without a vested interest in censorship except the IIA. Even the public servants are building their empires. These people are providing the government with policy advice on these issues in secret and with no evidence at all for their position.

    Childwise, for example got more than $660K in government grants in 2006-2007 according to their annual report – available for download from their website.

    This is one academic publication. http://susiebright.blogs.com/Adler_ThePerverseLawofChildPornography.pdf (there is a text file on the harvard .edu site but it’s very hard to read)

    Is academic study of this issue too dangerous for academics that may be interested? There is simply no substantial body of independent, peer reviewed academic work to support any the arguments put up by the proponents of the censorship regime. Moral panic and outrage is not a substitute for real evidence and genuine research material. If there was such substantiated research available, it would surely have been cited by the proponents of censorship.

    Prohibition and McCarthyism are still good examples of why moral outrage shouldn’t be a basis for government policy. How about evidence based policy making?


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