Is there anyone who reckons trying to filter bad stuff out of the Internet is the right way to go? Or even possible? Apart, that is, from s-x-obsessed panic merchants and moral crusaders, politicians with Senate numbers to count on stubby little fingers, shiny-suited salesmen hawking boxes marked “Rooly-Trooly-Safe Internet Filter”, or cud-munching Luddites who just don’t understand anything about the Internet generally?

Those with a clue are getting sick of pointing out the same policy and technical flaws. But Minister for Denying the Bleeding Obvious Senator Stephen Conroy relentlessly continues his warped version of the trials program set up by Coalition predecessor Helen Coonan.

Filters won’t work because no shut up doesn’t matter let’s try again they don’t work no let’s try again they don’t work let’s try again don’t work try try try try … FFS!

The Rudd government says it’s all about evidence-based policy. Maybe this new report from the US Internet Safety Technical Task Force will help. This panel — a who’s who of Internet heavies — was set up by 49 state Attorneys General to tackle the problem of children being solicited for s-x online. It discovered there’s actually no significant problem at all.

“The problem of bullying among children, both online and offline, poses a far more serious challenge than the sexual solicitation of minors by adults,” reports The New York Times.

“In the cases that do exist, the report said, teenagers are typically willing participants and are already at risk because of poor home environments, substance abuse or other problems.”

Colin Jacobs from Electronic Frontiers Australia has trawled through the report in more detail and agrees, filtering won’t deliver for Aussie kids.

Irene Graham is the full bottle on censorship in Australia. Want to debate these issues? Go scour her well-researched even-toned It’s packed full o’ juicy titbits, like the fact that $2.8 million, which the Howard government allocated to expand the Australian Federal Police’s Online Child S-xual Exploitation Team (OCSET), was instead used by Rudd to help create the $44.5 million internet filter program.

That would’ve been a real help, because OCSET’s entire annual budget in 2007 was only $7.5 million. Instead, OCSET has to palm off cases to the states because they don’t have the staff.

“Only half are likely to be investigated by child protection police,” reported the Daily Telegraph .

“The rest will be farmed out to local commands or dropped”.

That is, to police without appropriate training.

What a great way to “protect the children”, eh? Take money from the police, where it’d do some good, and instead burn it on a poorly-defined IT project. Anyone who knows anything about IT will tell you the same thing: without clearly-defined goals up front, you will go over budget, over schedule and in all likelihood, your project will never be completed.

So why is it happening?

Maybe it’s what Barry Glassner, author of The Culture of Fear: Why Americans Are Afraid of the Wrong Things, calls the “fear industrial complex”.

“The fear industrial complex is composed of politicians, activist groups and corporations that all sell us on the idea that they can provide safety from the very dangers they are scaring us about,” he told ABC News in the US.

“Whenever somebody’s trying to scare us, the question to ask is ‘Are they benefiting from it, and in what way?'”

Peter Fray

Fetch your first 12 weeks for $12

Here at Crikey, we saw a mighty surge in subscribers throughout 2020. Your support has been nothing short of amazing — we couldn’t have got through this year like no other without you, our readers.

If you haven’t joined us yet, fetch your first 12 weeks for $12 and start 2021 with the journalism you need to navigate whatever lies ahead.

Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey