The field trials of the Rudd government’s compulsory Internet filters, which were completed just before Christmas… no, they started before Christmas… no, that’s not right either… when do they start? Senator Conroy? Anyone? Can’t say? Fat kid on the far right? Okay, The Australian says they’re “imminent”. So another Christmas then.

The Oz “understands” that one cause of delay is that ISPs taking part want more money. My understanding is that their understanding is understandable. Of the $44.2 million for the filter project, $300,000 is for field tests. A mere 0.7% — under $20,000 per participating ISP — seems remarkably little for trialling a major cross-organisational IT project — especially given the need to properly evaluate this controversial technology.

Anyway, while the government’s sorting out the trials, let’s reflect on where the support comes from.

Senator Conroy tries to portray the filter-fighters as “extreme libertarians”. But with GetUp!’s “Save The Net” campaign having already gathered 95,000 signatures and $50,000, it’s starting to look pretty mainstream. That, plus a new survey by middle-rank ISP Netspace, starts to paint the supporters of compulsory filtering as the minority.

Netspace isn’t taking part in the trials because the Expression of Interest contained “insufficient detail, unrealistic timeframes and unclear funding arrangements”.

“We considered these barriers to participating in any meaningful way,” said Matthew Phillips, Netspace’s Regulatory and Carrier Affairs Manager. “Instead we are contributing… in another way, by engaging our customers to find out what they want and how they feel about the government’s ISP filtering policy.”

Some 9,700+ responded, roughly 10% of Netspace’s customer base plus a few outsiders. The results are clear. When asked “Do you agree with the Federal Government’s policy to make ISP level filtering mandatory for all Australians?” 79% either disagreed or strongly disagreed.

Mandatory Internet filtering is presented as core ALP policy. Yet it dates back to 2006, when Kim Beazley was leader. His other policies, like a department of homeland security and a coast guard, are long dead.

But the current push for censorship really started with Clive Hamilton and his 2003 report, co-authored with Michael Flood, Youth and Pornography in Australia: Evidence on the extent of exposure and likely effects. As watchdog group Electronic Frontiers Australia documents, 2003 was when Hamilton was quoted as saying “the information superhighway is principally a conduit for pornography”.

The petitions started the following year.

“Since Nov 2004, there have been at least 35 petitions tabled calling for mandatory ISP-level filtering,” writes that tireless documenter of censorship, Irene Graham.

“24 of them are a petition form published by the Australian Family Association (which is actually a religious right organization). Those petitions also want ISPs to be subject to ‘liability for harm caused to children by inadequate efforts to protect minors from exposure’.”

In 2006, Senator Conroy presented the key petition supporting the current policy, with 20,646 signatures, the bulk of which were gathered through churches. The remaining 11 petitions are copies of that, with from 18 to 145 signatures each.

The Christian Right continues to be Conroy’s main supporter. Only last weekend the Fairfax news sites carried the Australian Christian Lobby’s Jim Wallace’s argument for compulsory filtering, which I have deconstructed elsewhere.

Curiously, Wallace uses exactly the same two examples of over-the-top p-rnography, r-pe and b-stiality, that Hamilton used in his polemic for the ABC News website in November. Who’s coordinating whose talking points here?

Peter Fray

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