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Federal

Dec 17, 2009

Internet filtering: first step on the path to Burma?

It's a strange day indeed when retired Justice Michael Kirby and Fox News sing from the same hymn sheet. But Senator Stephen Conroy’s internet censorship plans have created that day.

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It’s a strange day indeed when retired Justice Michael Kirby and Fox News sing from the same hymn sheet.  Senator Stephen Conroy’s internet censorship plans have created that day.

Kirby says mandatory filtering is opposed “on the basis that this is the thin end of the wedge of government moving into regulating the actual internet itself”.

“In the past, as I understand it, the service providers have just been, as it were, a tube. They have merely provided the material, and then it’s up to those who use the material to answer to any laws that society lays down,” he told Fairfax Radio’s Latika Bourke this morning.

“Once you start [regulating content], well, you get into the situation of Burma and Iran where the government is taking control of what people hear and what information they get,” he said, adding that it’s a bad example for a democracy such as Australia to be setting.

Meanwhile, a Fox News report carried the subtle headline “Joining China and Iran, Australia to filter internet”.

Conroy rejects the comparison, of course.

“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,” he told a conference in January — despite that little glitch with an abortion website.

China, Iran or Australia — the system will be just the same. A bureaucrat adds particular content to a secret blacklist, and that content is automatically blocked by ISPs using exactly the same technology. All that’s different is the type of content selected.

Once the processes and technology are in place, the government will always be tempted into a bit of mission creep — the kind of thing that has seen an architectural photographer apprehended under the UK’s anti-terrorism laws for snapping a church, or council officers able to authorise a phone tap to catch people dumping rubbish.

Or if not this government, the next one. Or the one after that.

This mission creep has already been happening.

The Refused Classification category has already been expanded three times since the Broadcasting Services Act started covering internet content in 1999.

In 2000, National Party MPs held a porn-viewing night with borrowed videos, one of which wasn’t even classified, and therefore illegal to sell in Australia.

They were shocked. The result? The Censorship Bill 2000/2001 removed from the X18+ category — that is, added to RC — any material depicting fetishes including “body piercing, application of substances such as candle wax, golden showers, bondage, spanking or fisting.”

In 2005, the X18+ guidelines were changed without public consultation to ban material including “a person who is, or appears to be, a child under 18 (whether the person is engaged in s-xual activity or not)”. Previously, the age has been 16, matching the age of consent in most states.

And in 2007, the Classification (Publications, Films and Computer Games) Act 1995 was amended  to refuse classification to material that directly or indirectly “advocates a terrorist act”, or even “praises” one.

Irene Graham, who meticulously documents Australia’s changing censorship landscape at  http://libertus.net, doubts we could prevent mission creep.

“I say that having observed broadening of the RC category and the ACMA blacklist, a number of times during the last decade in the face of apparent widespread public opposition, and at least once without even prior notice to the public,” Graham told Crikey.

“If it turns out that concerned citizens can’t stop implementation of mandatory blocking in the first place, then there’s zero chance they’d be able to stop future scope creep.”

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97 comments

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97 thoughts on “Internet filtering: first step on the path to Burma?

  1. Stilgherrian

    Congratulation, Mr Sanderson, you not only consistently misrepresent my position, you’ve also thought of a name for it so you can more easily reference your straw man and use this label to tag your opponents.

    You also seem intent on depicting only extreme or absolutist positions — for example than unless there is a “guarantee” than scope creep can “never” occur, then I believe (or so you claim) that there should never be any mechanism whatsover to look into the conduits. I repeat, I do not hold this position.

    What I object to is the commitment to this specific proposal before the examination into transparency has even started. I contend this is backwards policy-making.

    I also object to $44 million of taxpayer’s money being spent on this proposal when the trials only looked at this proposal and didn’t consider other alternatives — such as increasing the funds for the AFP’s OCSET team who, as I understand, have cases on their books which they can’t investigate for lack of funds.

    The only reason I have “failed to address” various points you raise is that they’re off topic. There’s only so much that can be said in a 600-word article and in the time allowed by the budget — especially when, as I’ve said, there was a specific focus to this article. Those are points for another article, another time — or, in fact, in many cases they are arguments which have already been addressed elsewhere.

  2. James McDonald

    He’s out there. He can’t be bargained with, he can’t be reasoned with. He doesn’t feel pity, or remorse, or fear, and he absolutely will not stop, ever, until he has won the argument.

  3. David Sanderson

    I was only agreeing with you Evan. What more can you ask?

    I am sure it is unwise of me to respond to your meaningless attacks so you are certainly welcome to have the last word.

  4. Evan Beaver

    Youst can’t help yourself can you David. Always have to get the last word in, try and become a winner.

  5. David Sanderson

    Exactly my point, Evan.

  6. Evan Beaver

    No arguments from me David. I’ve been trying to engage in reasoned debate all year.

    None has been forthcoming.

  7. David Sanderson

    It is safe to say that the above two are incapable of engaging in reasoned argument.

  8. Evan Beaver

    I think it’s reasonably safe to say that David hates deomcracy.

  9. Benno Rice

    I think at this point it’s reasonably safe to say that David Sanderson is either a troll or unwilling to listen to the arguments of others. Either way, it’s probably best not to encourage him further.

  10. skipjack

    @Sanderson – “I am interested in examining ‘internet exceptionalism’ – that is the belief that the internet has a unique right to be free of censorship”.

    This is off topic and whether or not the author of the article holds this view is irrelevant to the topic at hand. (He has said he does not hold this view, but Sanderson continues to assert he does).

    Regarding scaremongering, Sanderson states that “Every other form of censorship is very accountable and very controlled and has been for some considerable period and there is no basis for claiming that will all be thrown out when it comes to internet censorship.”

    It would seem obvious that calling a secret government blacklist accountable is laughable, to say the least. Accountable to who?

  11. James McDonald

    The Open Letter to Australia from Reporters Sans Frontieres says it all, actually. There’s nothing I can add to that.

  12. James McDonald

    The highly respected organization Reporters Sans Frontieres (Reporters Without Borders) tracks freedom and safety of reporters across the world, and also freedom of information over the internet.

    At the bottom of theirinternet freedom page, is a list of Internet Enemy countries:

    [Burma, China, Cuba, Egypt, Iran, North Korea, Saudi Arabia, Syria, Tunisia, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, Vietnam ]

    And a list of Countries Under Surveillance, in danger of joining that list:

    [Australia, Bahrain, Belarus, Eritrea, Malaysia, South Korea, Sri Lanka, Thailand, United Arab Emirates, Yemen, Zimbabwe ]

    See also this report by leading media-policy academics Catherine Lumby, Lelia Green and John Hartley. It’s an excellent report, easy to read and not very long, worth reading in its entirety.

  13. David Sanderson

    I have not been “off-topic” because as I have repeatedly said the underlying agenda is to prevent “the conduit” being utilised in any way to disrupt the distribution of banned material. Stilgherrian would not support the proposed censorship plan if it could be guaranteed that scope creep would never occur in the future because he is against against any censorship that targets the distribution methodology. This is despite the fact that all censorship regimes attempt to disrupt the distribution of banned material by intervening in the distribution system. As indicated in Stilgherrian’s quote from me he has said (6.05pm) that Australia Post could be a model despite the fact that Australia Post is an active player in preventing the distribution of banned materials. In any censorship regime all distribution systems which could play a significant part in the distribution of banned material are normally intervened in to try to prevent such distribution. Stilgherrian and others believe that the internet should be a unique exception and this is why I describe that view as internet exceptionalism.

    Stilgherrian is a de facto nil censorship supporter because he says that the only method which has any chance of being effective – ie the disruption of distribution – should be off-limits. He knows that the great bulk of the sources of banned materials are beyond the effective reach of Australian authorities. Because he opposes intervention in the distribution system he also effectively makes it highly unlikely that the receivers of banned materials could be traced. I have made the first point before and Stilgherrian has failed to address it which indicates that he is failing to acknowledge the true nature of the policy he supports.

  14. Stilgherrian

    David Sanderson, you say:

    My focus was on the underlying agenda — the promotion of the belief that the internet has a unique status as a media source that ought to be free of censorship. And, of course, the scaremongering.

    I wanted to see that status justified and that never happened. … Stilgherrian has been promoting the post as a model of a simple unimpeding transmitter ignoring the fact that Australia Post does play an active role role in disrupting the transmission of banned material, a role that is reasonably analogous … to the role the ISPs will be required to play.

    I’ll say it again. I don’t hold the view that “the internet has a unique status as a media source.” I’ll say it again, I don’t see the need to justify a position I don’t hold. I’ll say again, I believe that the rules regarding what material is available should be the same across all media. That’s the last time I’ll say it.

    No, the internet is not a source, it is a conduit. “The internet” does not make content, it carries it from producer to consumer.

    I know someone’s made an analogy to the newsagent, but I don’t think that analogy doesn’t work because a newsagent is precisely engaged in an act of selecting stock. I think a better analogy would be to compare the internet to the road system. The Roads & Traffic Authority’s job is primarily about making sure the conduits work.

    Like all analogies this is poor, because the boundaries of all organisations are fuzzy. But turning the argument into one about where those boundaries lie is to diverge from the entire thrust of the original article — all very interesting, but off-topic.

    There are many, many issues connected with censorship and internet filtering and child protection. But I do think it would be better to keep discussion on-topic — and leave the other issues to more appropriate comment threads.

    This thread is about the relative risk (or not) of scope creep once a system for internet filtering is deployed, based on a comment originally made by Justice Michael Kirby — although, yes, I agree with him. I propose, that on this thread at least, we stick to that point.

  15. Evan Beaver

    David, no one said the internet shoud be free from all censoring. The argument that it should not have this censorship is another point entirely.

  16. David Sanderson

    Interesting that cheap shots and nothing substantive are all you have left. What a dismal admission of failure.

  17. James McDonald

    Interesting that only now you start reading people’s posts. Keep going, read the rest. You might learn something.

  18. David Sanderson

    I have had a look back through a few of James’ previous posts and we have this classic scaremongering denunciation of the dangers of democracy:

    “Then there’s legalized scope creep further down the track. This will not be carried out by a hostile Stalin-like government at gunpoint; it will be done democratically, at an opportune moment, following Daily Telegraph scare campaigns on terrorists, motorcycle gangs, euthenasia drugs, racial hate, anti-sem1tism, or whatever is the demon of the day that someone offers to save us from. At a hysterical moment, we will give it away, forgetting as most people so easily do, that freedom is easy to hand over to someone you trust and much harder to win back when passions have cooled and another government with a different religious outlook inherits that power – that uniquely opaque and unaccountable censorship tool.”

    James conveniently ignores the fact that we have had the Daily Telegraph, and its own ugly form of scaremongering, around for a long time and yet we have still managed to maintain a regulated and accountable censorship system without the wild swings and gross manipulation that he so breathlessly recounts above. It is a pity James cannot recognise that his own scaremongering habits are a mirror image of what the Daily Telegraph spews up week in and week out.

  19. David Sanderson

    Well, nobody can say you haven’t failed. Abject failure to establish that historical precedent means nothing and police-state style censorship (aka “exceptional degree of arbitrary power”) has suddenly become the new norm for the first time in Australia’s peace-time history.

  20. James McDonald

    Well, nobody can say you didn’t try. Lousy, feeble debating, but you certainly did try.

  21. David Sanderson

    A common feature of virtually every censorship system is that it is mandatory. The censorship method is obviously specific to the medium and materials being censored. You are claiming that the internet should have nil censorship because the censorship would be unaccountable and uncontrolled. This is a claim based purely on scaremongering and alarmism. Every other form of censorship is very accountable and very controlled and has been for some considerable period and there is no basis for claiming that will all be thrown out when it comes to internet censorship.

    The idea that democratic accountability and control will now disappear is based upon no evidence and presupposes that the constitution, democratic institutions and independent courts will disappear. As I have said all along this is indicative of a desperate and dishonest scaremongering, where no lie is too outrageous if it helps to achieve the ‘righteous’ goal.

  22. James McDonald

    So I have given you a key reason why the internet is an exceptional medium, and why mandatory censorship of it would give the government an exceptional degree of arbitrary power.

    Your only reply is that you are “simply not interested in arguing about how the mechanics of internet censorship might work, or as you claim won’t work”.

    You’ve just admitted defeat on your central argument about the lack of exceptionality. If you are reluctant to acknowledge that, then at least state your motives for continuing to insist that mandatory internet filtering is not exceptional.

  23. David Sanderson

    James,
    I am simply not interested in arguing about how the mechanics of internet censorship might work, or as you claim won’t work. There is simply no requirement, morally or whatever, that I be required to argue every issue others decide to throw at me.

    You argue that internet censorship would, for technical reasons, have to operate differently to other forms of censorship. Any reasonable person would be completely unsurprised by that. It is also not actually a necessity that a censorship regime should operate perfectly or not at all. Like any public policy measure it has to operate weighing up the benefits and costs/detriments involved.

    As I have said all along I am interested in examining ‘internet exceptionalism’ – that is the belief that the internet has a unique right to be free of censorship. I have also wished to expose the ludicrous scaremongering on this issue.

  24. James McDonald

    Mr Sanderson, you studiously ignore ninety per cent of arguments in this thread while addressing one or two points again and again.

    For the fourth time –

    Decisions on censorship of magazines in your newsagent example, as well as films, games, and so on, are done one at a time. Censorship decisions are accountable, one at a time. There are legal mechanisms for reviewing and challenging these decisions, one at a time.

    Internet sites are blocked thousands at a time or not at all. The sheer volume of candidates for internet blocking means that all voluntary filtering mechanisms currently in use are based only partly on content examination; the bulk of any filter pattern is necessarily heuristic. There will be no army of thousands of researchers and review committees to make a careful balanced consideration of every URL to be added daily to the blacklist. The taxpayer cannot afford it.

    The sheer volume, too, will make any transparency meaningless. Even if every daily update is published, along with the reasons, not one in a thousand will be verified independently. No one will have the resources, nor indeed the access, to see whether each blacklisting is justified and hold government to account. There may be technical accountability but in practice there will be none.

    The government will become an absolute arbiter of what is and is not accessible over the internet. They have never had any power comparable to this before, nothing even close to it.

    Internet filtering is a valuable tool and should be recommended for most users. But users must be able to select from a choice of filtering schemes available in a free market. That way, if they believe a filter is being heavy handed with the heuristics or moral standards, they can try out another one.

  25. David Sanderson

    Michael is pretending that the much higher technical complexity of the internet somehow excludes it from operating as a conduit that is obliged to comply with censorship laws. That is not the case.

    The critical factor here are these questions:

    Is a newsagent obliged to comply with censorship laws when acting as a conduit?

    AND

    Is a newsagent obliged to weed out from his offering anything which is on a banned list?

    The answer on both occasions is ‘yes’ and when applied to an ISP (where instead of magazines etc it is IP addresses) it is unjustified ‘internet exceptionalism’ to claim that the answer should not be ‘yes’ again.

    Says Michael: “Asking an ISP to open up every package they transfer is exactly analagous to asking Australia Post to open and check every letter for appropriate content.”

    This is really nonsense. If it was exactly analogous as he claims then we would have millions of people sitting in incredibly vast ISP offices opening and examining everything everyone downloaded from the internet. The fact is that there is nothing in the Conroy plan that would suggest that such an idiocy is about to be introduced and this claim is typical of the ludicrous scaremongering on this issue.

    Finally, I note that he has nothing to say about the iinet case which is likely to come to the unsurprising conclusion that ISPs do have an obligation to assist with enforcement of the law. And if I refer you again to the John Linton blog you will discover one ISP, which is probably far from alone, that does not have a problem with that.

  26. Michael Cordover

    Your newsagent is “just a conduit” but that does not mean he does not have a role in preventing banned material from being ‘transmitted’.

    Not in the same way as an ISP. ISPs are content-agnostic. They provide an IP connection, generally over PPP over copper (your average ADSL connection). These layers are well-defined in the OSI model. Your average ISP will provide some value-added services (like an email service, perhaps an FTP or rsync mirror, some still provide nntp, pretty much all provide a DNS server) but the primary thing you get from an ISP is IP connectivity (Layer 3 in OSI). This connectivity is deliberately content agnostic. It means you can run anything in layers 4, 5, 6 or 7 as long as it’s capable of running over IP layer 3.

    When you talk about content, that is above layer 7.

    Let’s go back to your newsagent. They select what magazines to stock then sell them. In that way, they are a conduit. But they can decide whether to stock Underage Golden Showers Monthly or not. If you come in to them and say “hey, I’m looking for UGSM” they have to order it to sell it to you. When you ask the internet for underage golden showers, your ISP is not providing you with that. Your ISP doesn’t go get it then pass it on to you. Your ISP provides you with an IP address. You can use that IP address to contact any other IP address. That’s the beauty of the internet.

    With all ISPs you can contact that other IP address using TCP or any other protocol – UDP is common. You could make something up that runs over IP and use that. You can do anything. All the ISP does is make connections between two addresses. What goes on between those two is none of their business. To make sure it’s none of their business we have encryption which is used everywhere from Layer 5 up. This might be encyption between my computer and my bank or between my computer and my child porn provider. The whole point is the ISP can’t know.

    We already control content provided by the ISP — they have to listen to ACMA for what websites they provide. They would have to listen to ACMA on what DNS entries to host and if you wanted to ban a particular IP address, go right ahead. Of course, we know that these are extraordinarily ineffective so we don’t do them. Asking an ISP to open up every package they transfer is exactly analagous to asking Australia Post to open and check every letter for appropriate content. I’d object to that in any and every medium.

  27. David Sanderson

    It is apparent that the “internet is just a conduit and therefore has nothing to do with censorship” is a surprisingly common belief despite the fact that it does not survive the most cursory examination.

    Your newsagent is “just a conduit” but that does not mean he does not have a role in preventing banned material from being ‘transmitted’.

    For an internet example look at the iinet case – iinet is foolishly using the just a conduit defence in the current piracy case against it and all the indications are it will end very badly for them (see John Linton’s – head of Exetel ISP – blog for a damning ‘insiders’ commentary on this – no link as that will put this comment before the Crikey censors – how ironic – Google it).

  28. David Sanderson

    “David, just because you don’t understand it, doesn’t mean it is irrelevant or pedantic. You’re relying on the buzzwords ‘[a]cademics, commentators and millions of ordinary people around the world’ use in order to simplify the concept for people like you.”

    This is an entirely artificial separation but even if we accept your pedantic view then we can look at Australia Post as something that is genuinely just “a conduit” and see that it plays a very active role in disrupting the distribution of banned material, a role that is analogous, taking into account the different technological and practical requirements, to the role the ISPs will be required to play.

    “You still haven’t provided any evidence of the historical ‘bracket shrinkage’ that we can expect with this.”

    I didn’t say this and you should read more carefully. It is also not my responsibility to educate you about the history of censorship in Australia but, in broad view, it has in the modern period been a history of scope shrinkage rather than scope creep.

  29. Michael

    David, just because you don’t understand it, doesn’t mean it is irrelevant or pedantic. You’re relying on the buzzwords ‘[a]cademics, commentators and millions of ordinary people around the world’ use in order to simplify the concept for people like you.

    You still haven’t provided any evidence of the historical ‘bracket shrinkage’ that we can expect with this. Sure, there has been the Whitlam and Hawke governments that liberalised Australia’s society, but that was a far different political environment to the one we have to day. The ALP have long been socially liberal, yet we now have a communications minister who makes Brian Harradine look like Don Dunstan, a conservative Catholic Labor NSW Premier, and a troglodyte Liberal party. I don’t think we’re going to see much else other than scope creep for a good while.

  30. Benno Rice

    @David Sanderson Actually, just to save time, you’re wrong. The Internet is not a media source it is a media conduit. ISPs do not provide you with content, they provide you with access to content. The people we should be targeting in this are not the conduit providers, it is the content providers. I’m fairly convinced now that no argument will sway you to this point of view so I won’t bother posting any more on that.

  31. Benno Rice

    @David Sanderson Have X-ray machines developed an ability to see what’s printed on a piece of paper? Last I heard this wasn’t the case.

  32. David Sanderson

    “How many times does one have to be told that the internet is not a media source?”

    See my post at 1.38pm for my response to this irrelevant, pedantic rubbish

  33. Michael

    My focus was on the underlying agenda – the promotion of the belief that the internet has a unique status as a media source that ought to be free of censorship. And, of course, the scaremongering.

    How many times does one have to be told that the internet is not a media source?

  34. James McDonald

    Mr Sanderson, you’ve tried to ridicule the writer of the article, you’ve converted his argument into a straw man, you’ve ignored many strong arguments in this thread which counter your own points, you’ve skirted around them, circled back and tried to make those same points again and again. I think it’s fair enough for you to declare at this point, are you engaged in a search for the truth and good policy here, or are you coming from a more interested angle?

  35. David Sanderson

    Benno, think x-ray machines, customs inspections, police and security intelligence. That’s just for starters. And Australia Post is not passive in this but an active partner.

  36. Benno Rice

    @David Sanderson What role does Australia Post play in disrupting the distribution of this material? If it’s an unmarked, unremarkable parcel of paper-based material, how do they know what’s inside?

  37. skipjack

    The assertion that ‘the underlying agenda – is the promotion of the belief that the internet has a unique status as a media source that ought to be free of censorship’ is a ‘straw man’.

    Opponents of internet censorship do not simultaneously state a position which supports censorship of other forms of media. The ‘unique status’ assertion is a critique based on attacking a statement never made by the majority of the opposition to internet censorship – it is interesting to see a certain contributor to this forum successfully sidetrack the debate using this tactic.

    But that is another issue.

    On the issue of internet censorship, an important point is that the ease at which current filters can be circumvented is a cause for concern. To make the censorship work, such circumventions would need to be disrupted, leading to further censorship, banning of IP addresses, and even more intrusive filtration mechanisms (such as packet inspection). In the end, it is likely that it would not be the drive to ban RC content that would lead to intrusive political censorship (should the government wish to make the law work )- rather it would be the blocking of circumvention mechanisms, and the restriction of information about them that would lead to even more intrusive and encompassing bans. Once on that slope, it is easy to see how censorship could quickly broaden to include areas not even thought of before implementation.

  38. James McDonald

    David Sanderson, it seems you are only targetting Stilgherrian and ignoring others in this blog who have addressed your points in many different ways. I accuse you of narrow ad hominem attack. It is you who have turned a blind eye to that which you would rather not debate.

    Existing forms of censorship are transparent, accountable, and subject to challenge. In contrast, internet filtering, as applied voluntarily in workplaces today, is none of those things. The lists of banned keywords and URLs are too long for transparency, and they are updated daily by external consultancies. In some cases inclusion of a URL on the list is based on legitimate complaints, trackback of malware, or content inspection, but this only accounts for a small portion. Most of the list is heuristic based.

    If one agency has a monopoly on filtering, then this sheer volume of frequent updates to the filter patterns, will make it easy for a rogue like Godwin Gretch to unilaterally do some politically motivated filtering. And they will do it.

    Then there’s legalized scope creep further down the track. This will not be carried out by a hostile Stalin-like government at gunpoint; it will be done democratically, at an opportune moment, following Daily Telegraph scare campaigns on terrorists, motorcycle gangs, euthenasia drugs, racial hate, anti-sem1tism, or whatever is the demon of the day that someone offers to save us from. At a hysterical moment, we will give it away, forgetting as most people so easily do, that freedom is easy to hand over to someone you trust and much harder to win back when passions have cooled and another government with a different religious outlook inherits that power – that uniquely opaque and unaccountable censorship tool.

    Families, workplaces, education institutions, libraries – these can all subscribe to filtering services on their internet account. But they must be able choose their filtering service from an open market, and switch to another service, or switch it off altogether, whenever they suspect their filter is not serving them well or someone else seems to be getting a better service. Internet filtering must be free-market based to keep it honest.

  39. David Sanderson

    My focus was on the underlying agenda – the promotion of the belief that the internet has a unique status as a media source that ought to be free of censorship. And, of course, the scaremongering.

    I wanted to see that status justified and that never happened. Stilgherrian’s termination at this point is convenient for him as it allows him to leave many points unaddressed. For example, Stilgherrian has been promoting the post as a model of a simple unimpeding transmitter ignoring the fact that Australia Post does play an active role role in disrupting the transmission of banned material, a role that is reasonably analogous, given the different technological and practical constraints, to the role the ISPs will be required to play.

    His little barb about “emotive tricks” was amusing given the emotive scaremongering tricks in his article from the headline onwards. However, I accept that he has learnt from this experience and will put a little more care into constructing his arguments in future articles.

    We shall see.

  40. Stilgherrian

    I do actually appreciate my stuff being cross-examined, whether with forensic logic or emotive tricks, because it helps me refine what I say for next time.

    Since I’m naturally a morning person, I doubt that I’ll be here again today, and given that it’s Friday I’m unlikely to return until Monday.

  41. James McDonald

    So David, let’s agree that conventional law enforcement will not affect access to child p0rnography originating outside Australia, countries in the Cybercrime Convention, the 188 countries participating in Interpol, and other countries involved in internationally coordinated enforcement programs.

    In relation to material originating outside these enforcement regimes, what do you think filtering can actually achieve?

  42. Michael

    Scope creep is already evident. Every survey tells us that a majority are against the filter. The first people consulted on the results of filter trial weren’t the general public, but the Australian Christian Lobby. Already, the favoured stakeholder in the trial has announced they’ll be after further restrictions within five years. That’s your (scope) creep right there

    According to David Sanderson ‘Australian history’ (when, David?) tells us that scope creep is nothing to worry about. The past 15 years of government tells us otherwise.

  43. Stilgherrian

    You mean the second-last “not”, I think, David.

    Look, here’s the thing. I’d rather come back to the focus of this article, which was about the potential risk of scope creep. Yes, this is a vastly complex topic, and I’ve written lots about it, as have you, and all the rest of the issues are worthy of discussion. But, to focus on this issue for now… and if I may attempt to summarise where we’re up to…

    I think what I’m saying is that there is a risk of scope creep, because politicians inevitably succumb to the temptation. I have given examples of how the RC category has already been extended without consultation.

    I think what you’re saying is that while scope creep might happen, it would never get to an extreme case because Australia has strong democratic traditions which would prevent this.

    My counter-argument is that I’m not reassured by that.

    Is that a fair summary of the discussion, as it relates to the specific focus of this article?

  44. Michael

    I’ve come across these claims before and they are quite specious and narrowly pedantic. Academics, commentators and millions of ordinary people around the world talk about new media. When they talk about new media they are mostly talking about what is on the internet, or to be more pedantically accurate, the world wide web. So whether you talk about the internet or the world wide web (the terms are interchangeable in everyday use) you are also talking about the new media which is obviously an integral part of it all.

    The narrow pedants above are using their own, supposedly purified, definition of the term (you know, cables and switches and stuff) but in real life their pedantry has no application. If you prefer to use the term “new media on the web/internet” then you are welcome to do so. Most will continue to use the everyday shorthand.

    Well done. You’ve illustrated how little you know. Amusing that accuse others of saying nothing.

  45. David Sanderson

    Delete the last “not”.

  46. David Sanderson

    The sophistry in Stilgherrian’s response is disappointing. He knows that the bulk of the banned material is beyond Australia’s jurisdiction or reach and therefore his is effectively a nil censorship policy.

    Censorship regimes have always tried to disrupt the transmission of banned material but he claims, without justification, that the internet should be immune from such disruptive enforcement. Prosecuting Australia Post is a non-sequitur as the proposal does not require ISPs to be prosecuted. However Australia Post is involved in the disruption of the transmission of banned items and Conroy’s proposal is that ISPs should have a similar disruptive role, suitably adapted for the different technologies involved.

    The “bad faith” accusation is an indication that things are not going very well for you in this discussion and that you are seeking a way out by not claiming that I am not playing fair. Again, disappointing.

  47. James McDonald

    Here’s an opinion from a recognised anti-child-p0rn0graphy campaigner, Andrew Vachss, New York lawyer, author, and one of the most effective and ferocious anti p@edophile crusaders this side of the law. Vachss was one those who brought the famous US “Megan’s Law” into being, which requires names and addresses of released pa-dophiles be listed publicly. Our 1997 Wood Royal Commission even sought him out for advice (he didn’t come to them, they went to NY to visit him). His perspective of the world is a grim, Hobbesian one.

    Andrew Vachss is opposed to internet filtering which he believes offers no improvement to child safety. But in that link you can read his speech to a 1998 US national commission on library internet access for children, where he proposed removing children’s access to internet chat rooms in public libraries, because they are stalked by s3xual predators.

  48. Stilgherrian

    Actually, I’ve already addressed the entire issue of what I think should be done in a comment before I’d even had my second coffee of the morning. That David Sanderson just glosses over that and attributes to me beliefs which I have never expressed and, indeed, which I’ve explicitly denied is just a demonstration that he’s discussing this issue in bad faith.

    Nevertheless, if I can sum up my position briefly, it is this…

    If there is some category of content K which we have decided is illegal to produce and distribute, then we should go to the people who are producing and distributing that material, arrest them and prosecute them. And this should happen completely independently of the medium through which they distribute their material.

    So, in the same way that if they’re illegal category-K material was printed and mailed to people, then we would prosecute the producer and perhaps the printer and perhaps the person who took the packages to the post office. And, should it be illegal to sell or posses such material, then we focus on those people. But we would not prosecute the common carrier, to use the correct legal term, of Australia Post.

    Similarly, if the material is a digital file, say a video, then we should prosecute the producer and director and editor and encoder and everyone else involved in the production. And if someone is explicitly and deliberately downloading and possessing this material they become a target too. But again, the ISP as common carrier should not be part of this process.

    I’m honestly not sure how I can be more clear.

  49. Michael Cordover

    @David Sanderson said:

    I note that you are not continuing to challenge the claim that you are a supporter of nil censorship of the internet. As I said earlier I am looking forward to your justification of this position and why the internet, uniquely among all media forms, should have that status.

    While not wishing to speak for Stilgherrian (or indeed anyone aside from myself), I did specifically address this point above.

  50. Stilgherrian

    Sorry, it was at 10.04am, not 10.14am. One must be accurate about such things.

  51. Stilgherrian

    Dear Mr David Sanderson,

    I note that you are not continuing to challenge the claim that you are a supporter of nil censorship of the internet.

    That’s because once I’ve denied holding this position, I don’t feel the need to keep repeating the point. I said at 10.14am:

    I will say, though, that this claim that opponents of the filter think the internet should be “different” or have no censorship is a misrepresentation. If you can find others saying this, all well and good and I encourage you to link to the relevant statements. But I have never said this.

    I do not hold the position of “nil censorship” nor support it so I am, quite frankly, baffled by your request.

  52. Michael Rogers

    David Sanderson states.

    “Any change which does occur will be within Australia’s political, judicial, and cultural framework and be subject to challenge within that framework. If a tightening or loosening is not generally wanted then it is very unlikely to last. The idea that scope creep will occur within a vacuum free of debate or scrutiny is a favourite idea of the alarmists but is nor borne out, as a whole, by Australia’s history.”

    Anyone who has a knowledge of or first hand experience of Australian Aboriginal history might beg to differ.

  53. James McDonald

    David, classifications of books or films by public censors must be justified and can be challenged. with internet filtering we won’t know what is being hidden from us, and in most cases neither will the censors, as the volume of sites to be blocked will by provided on a daily basis by consultancies (the same as corporate filtering used in many workplaces today). This makes it easy for a Godwin Gretch rogue to slip in his own political filtering without accountability.

    Also I disagree with your view that “thin end of the wedge” arguments are unjustified paranoia. Western Europe is currently in a process of right-wing deliberalization and possibly a popular purge against Islamic minorities. I suspect this follows on from years of benevolent intrusions into private lives by national laws, which got people used to the idea that arbitrary legislative power is the best protector of people’s freedom.

  54. David Sanderson

    As for Mark Newton there is not a single idea there to respond to.

    The only thing to be gleaned from it is that he leaves Nostrodamus for dead and he would like everyone to know about it.

  55. David Sanderson

    Let’s go back to what you said:

    “what supports your view that the scope creep won’t happen?”

    I never said anything of the kind and I wouldn’t because it is foolish to attempt to definitively predict that something won’t occur at some point in the future. And, yes, a request that I make definitive statement that something won’t occur in future is ridiculous. What I would say is that scope creep, shrinkage or stasis all may occur, as they have have done in the past. But, as in the past, any of these outcomes are very unlikely to have the dire results forecast in your scaremongering. As in the past, either an’up’ or ‘down’ outcome will have some ramifications – small, not insignificant, but certainly not leading to a Burmese-style dictatorship, police state or whatever else the current scare campaign is dreaming up.

    That is why I have so forcefully attacked the lack of any historical perspective in your campaign. The lack of any knowledge about Australia’s culture, institutions and political history being brought to bear. In particular a knowledge of Australia’s censorship history would have helped to at least moderate your more sensational suggestions.

    Any change which does occur will be within Australia’s political, judicial, and cultural framework and be subject to challenge within that framework. If a tightening or loosening is not generally wanted then it is very unlikely to last. The idea that scope creep will occur within a vacuum free of debate or scrutiny is a favourite idea of the alarmists but is nor borne out, as a whole, by Australia’s history.

    I note that you are not continuing to challenge the claim that you are a supporter of nil censorship of the internet. As I said earlier I am looking forward to your justification of this position and why the internet, uniquely among all media forms, should have that status.

  56. James McDonald

    DAVID SANDERSON,

    Please take another look at MICHAEL CORDOVER’s post, at 1:47 pm today:

    “Let’s look at this argument that the internet should be subject to restrictions, just like other media. I totally agree. And it already is. ACMA has jurisdiction to issue take-down notices on prohibited content. The Australian Federal Police cooperate with international agencies to take down prohibited content in other jurisdictions.”

    A more specific example: last year a big AFP sting operation tracking IP address hits to a p-orn website resulted in a large number of arrests. (Actually many of those arrested were viewing teenage material rather than genuine pa-dophile material, but anyway …)

    Address filtering will push the sharing of kiddie p-rn further underground and actually make it harder to track, investigate and enforce. It will reduce random and half-hearted access to vile material, but will hide the hard core stuff not only from kids but also from law enforcement. Is that what you want?

  57. Stilgherrian

    Predicting the future is precisely what we’re all trying to do here. We’re looking at a proposed course of action, looking at historical precedents, looking at comparable situations elsewhere, using a bit of logic and doing a bit of risk assessment.

    David, a request to support your point of view isn’t “ridiculous”, it’s the most reasonable thing imaginable. And I’m not asking you the “prove” something won’t happen — please don’t distort what I say, whether intentional or not — but merely to mention whatever facts, evidence or reasoning you have which reckons we’re not facing a risk here.

    And please, lose the snide comments about “anyone with a modicum of knowledge” and the need to educate me. I’ve given you the courtesy of playing the ball and not the man, and I expect the same in return.

  58. Mark Newton

    The tactics used here are so, well, unfortunate shall we say. I am being asked to foretell the future and prove something won’t happen.

    David, there’s nothing wrong with being asked to foretell the future. I’d suggest that if we don’t make the attempt we’re probably going to totally ruin it for ourselves by failing to plan.

    I’ve been fortelling the future about this issue for a while now, and I think I’ve done pretty well at it.

    I said that there’s no widespread problem to solve with access to child pornography online because it’s so vanishingly rare; And Stephen Conroy’s ACMA, Harvard’s law department, and Richard Clayton from Cambridge University have released research confirming my contentions;

    I said that even if there was a widespread problem, there’s been no legitimate call for the Government to solve it — And then Save the Children, the National Child and Youth Law Service, the Australian Federal Police, the Internet industry, GetUp!, and god knows how many others confirmed that view…

    I said that even if there was belief that the Government should solve it, the proposed solution from Senator Conroy won’t work — And Conroy’s own Enex Testlab report proves that conclusively.

    I said that even if it worked it’d be expensive and unreliable (Enex report again, showing significant levels of overblocking that are in some cases WORSE than the overblocking they measured in their lab trials a year and a half ago).

    I said that even if it was perfect it’d be administed by ham-fisted incompetent public servants, then ACMA went and proved it by hilariously declaring that “V for Vendetta” happens to be “prohibited content” on the Internet in Australia, but only if it’s given away on iTunes as a gift (??!)

    I said that even if the public servants administering it were just brilliant, the blacklist will leak — and then it did, three times, in March 2009, accompanying similar leaks from Finland, Norway, Denmark, China, Singapore and Italy which indicate that blacklist publication is an entirely normal and expected part of running these kinds of systems.

    Oh, and I said that every time Conroy opened his mouth about this issue he’d make a fool of himself. Even you would agree with that.

    So I figure I’ve had a pretty good track record at making predictions. All my writings on this subject are public and accessible in Google, have I made any yet which have been contradicted by real world events? I don’t think so, but have at it if you think I’m mistaken.

    If I can make these predictions, I can’t see why you can’t attempt to foretell the future too.

    So answer Stil’s question: “What supports your view that scope creep won’t happen?”

    Given that it only took the ACL about two hours to call for expansion of the yet-to-be-legislated blacklist to include R18+ and X18+, I reckon scope creep is absolutely 100% inevitable.

    And if this goes ahead, I’m pretty sure that’s another confirmed prediction I’ll be able to add to the list above.

  59. David Sanderson

    “Back to you, Sir. I ask again, what supports your view that the scope creep won’t happen? This is, I believe, the third time of asking.”

    The tactics used here are so, well, unfortunate shall we say. I am being asked to foretell the future and prove something won’t happen. And if I can’t prove that it won’t happen then that is proof enough that we may be on our way to becoming a nasty third world military dictatorship.

    I will ignore that ridiculous request and simply point out that we have always lived with censorship of other media, which was obviously heavier in the past (ie plenty of bracket shrinkage since then), and yet we have somehow miraculously avoided a military dictatorship or even just heading on that dreaded path to a military dictatorship.

    The reasons for that would be readily available to anyone with a modicum of knowledge about Australia’s history, culture, institutions and politics but there is not enough time and space to educate you about that now.

  60. Stilgherrian

    David, I’ve already explained my opinion regarding the whole “path to Burma” thing. I’m not sure how I can be any clearer. Yes, I think this is a dangerous first step to take. And I take complete responsibility for saying that because well, my name’s on it.

    You may indeed ask “Is Stilgherrian deceptive, dissembling and unworthy of being trusted?” — but then your next step must be to explore the question, marshalling your evidence supporting the proposition.

    You are asserting, again, that The Burma Proposition, if I may dub it that, is “absurd scaremongering” yet you provide no evidence. I have, however, provided at least the start of the evidence for my side. Back to you, Sir. I ask again, what supports your view that the scope creep won’t happen? This is, I believe, the third time of asking.

  61. Benno Rice

    @David Sanderson I think you’re misunderstanding my point. You’re conflating the Internet with the material that is provided via the Internet and thus conflating ISPs with media providers. I state again that this is false.

    If we take your premise that Big Pond (for example) is a media provider, what is (again, for example) News Corporation’s role?
    Does Big Pond provide http://news.com.au/ or does News Corp?
    If there were a piece of pornographic material involving a child under 18 posted on news.com.au, do we lay charges against Big Pond or do we charge News Corp?
    If we’re laying charges against Big Pond, do we then have to lay charges against every other ISP in our jurisdiction?

    Flipping it around again, if News Corporation posted me a pornographic magazine involving children under 18, do we lay charges against News Corp or Australia Post?

    It is generally accepted in our society that the providers of communications media are discouraged and in some cases even prevented from exercising editorial control over the communications mechanism they provide. Providers of content on the other hand are held responsible for the content they provide. This policy flies in the face of that and forces a communications provider to take an active hand in restricting the medium they’re providing.

  62. David Sanderson

    So, Stilgherrian if I ask this question:

    Is Stilgherrian deceptive, dissembling and unworthy of being trusted?”

    then according to you there is no inherent claim within this question that you might be any or all of those things?

    Question marks do not absolve you of responsibility for the statement that lies within the question. When the statement within the question is absurd scaremongering the you need to take responsibility for it. McCarthyites favourite tactic was to ask questions that damaged and smeared and, like you, they took no responsibility for it because “it was just a question”.

  63. Simon

    I don’t think he’s nil censorship, David. But you refuse to accept as appropriate any kind of self-imposed parenting filter activities. As far as i’m aware, we’re dealing with either ISP level or home level filtering. There are no other appropriate solutions (I can think of some national level ones which are even more ridiculous than what is being proposed though), and there are no half measures (a little bit of censorship? you must be joking). By precluding home filtering as a reasonable response (and therefore you’re excluding ISP filtering that households could choose as optional), you’re not really leaving anything.

    The ISP filter thing might even work if it wasn’t for the fact that the internet isn’t just for providing content and there’s millions of ways to access it. Stick a filter on and just watch how many users disappear into freenet territory which is pretty much impossible to regulate or control in any way shape or form. And the ironic thing is that that is the darklands of the internet that the government is trying to protect us from!

    To jump onto the regulation side for the moment, any sort of censorship or regulation is going to appear harsh – mainly because it is unprecedented. This alone can’t make Australia into a Burma or an Iran. It just indicates that they’re willing to tackle an issue which other countries to date haven’t approached. But I don’t really like this side of the debate – you can’t technically make ISP level filtering work in the way required to satisfy the policy objectives. And the more steps taken to do so … well it’s a “road” to Burma… only because New Zealand doesn’t have it. Otherwise, it would be a road to New Zealand.

  64. Michael Cordover

    Let’s look at this argument that the internet should be subject to restrictions, just like other media. I totally agree. And it already is. ACMA has jurisdiction to issue take-down notices on prohibited content. The Australian Federal Police cooperate with international agencies to take down prohibited content in other jurisdictions.

    The example I like to give is the humble printing press. There are things you are not allowed to print. There are things that once printed you are not allowed to distribute. But we don’t have a system where every printer sold must fail to print particular material. Internet filtering is roughly equivalent, both in terms of technical difficulty and policy abstraction. What we do is we confiscate materials when they’re in our jurisdiction (take down notices), prosecute people who disseminate the information within our jurisdiction and prosecute those in knowing possession of that information.

    (We also prevent the importation of books but that’s not by opening every box in every container, it’s by prosecuting importers and investigating suspicious people — and it’s around about here that the analogy kind of breaks down)

  65. Stilgherrian

    Just very briefly, David Sanderson, the headline does not “make a claim”, it asks a question. As I said in a previous comment, it’s an accurate reference to Justice Kirby’s statement, and I pose the question — with the question mark at the end — that invites us to consider that question.

    Now, for my part, I think it’s a fair question. As the article says, “ the system [is] just the same. A bureaucrat adds particular content to a secret blacklist, and that content is automatically blocked by ISPs using exactly the same technology. All that’s different is the type of content selected.”

    By all means consider that question. Where is the mechanism which prevents the scope creep that some people fear?

  66. David Sanderson

    I’ve come across these claims before and they are quite specious and narrowly pedantic. Academics, commentators and millions of ordinary people around the world talk about new media. When they talk about new media they are mostly talking about what is on the internet, or to be more pedantically accurate, the world wide web. So whether you talk about the internet or the world wide web (the terms are interchangeable in everyday use) you are also talking about the new media which is obviously an integral part of it all.

    The narrow pedants above are using their own, supposedly purified, definition of the term (you know, cables and switches and stuff) but in real life their pedantry has no application. If you prefer to use the term “new media on the web/internet” then you are welcome to do so. Most will continue to use the everyday shorthand.

  67. Benno Rice

    Erm. Let’s try that again.

    @Michael Interesting point there. I wonder whether the Telecommunications Act would need amendment in order to make the kind of filters the ISPs would be using legal. It’s quite possible that they could be considered an illegal communcations intercept.

  68. Benno Rice

    @Michael Interesting point there. I wonder whether the Telecommunications Act would need amendment in order to make the kind of filters the ISPs something other than an illegal communcations intercept..

  69. Joal

    Speaking of yes minister, David’s entire line of argument here appears to depend heavily on a classic politician’s syllogism: something must be done; this is something; therefore we must do it.

    It’s all very well to argue for censorship, but whether this is the right way to go about it (or whether it is really feasible) is something David seems to be avoiding.

  70. Michael

    Seems quite obvious Mr Sanderson doesn’t understand how the internet works. It’s machines talking to machines via protocols. No single machine is the centre. There is no broadcaster. It is like people talking to people.

    An internet filter (that checks everything machines says to one another) is no different to a wiretap on everyone’s phone.

  71. RaymondChurch

    bookbuster and Benno Rice, excellent summation.

  72. Benno Rice

    @David Sanderson I’ve noticed in this thread and in another that you tend to perceive the Internet as a media provider rather than a communications medium. This is not the case.

    The Internet is the communications medium, a la Australia Post or the phone network. The stuff we want to censor is provided by people/organisations via the Internet. Surely what we should be doing is going after the media providers rather than the people providing the communications medium.

    Just to hammer the point home, Big Pond does not provide child pornography. Some seedy bastard provides child pornography. Aforementioned seedy bastard could also be providing the same material via Australia Post or by fax. We do not force Australia Post or Telstra to stop him doing the latter.

  73. bookbuster

    David, you make the mistake of thinking that the internet is broadcast media. It’s not. The internet is a carriage service that can be used by others to create and deliver media. ISPs, well, they provide access to that service. It’s far more akin to the postal service than Channel 1o or Valve Software, JJJ radio or Penguin Books, or whomever it is that publishes Hustler. In fact, the postal service is perhaps the best analogy to use here.

    It’s well know that Australia Post sometimes carries and delivers criminal material, and material that would be offensive to many. Drugs, porn of all stripes, banned video games, unrated films… It’s all in there, along with the letters from your gran, my bank statements and Tiger Woods’ letters to this week’s mistress of choice. The service is used by the majority of the Australia population and, as a result, the volume of harmless – and legal but potentially offensive – material far outweighs the volume of the nasty stuff. Sometimes the wrong stuff gets delivered to the wrong address. Sometimes the mail people get is not what they’re expecting, or have paid for.

    Requiring ISPs to censor the internet is akin to requiring Australia Post to open and examine every single piece of mail that passes through their hands to make sure that there’s nothing illegal, or offensive, in it, and then fining the postie for every bit of said material that they miss and inadvertently deliver. And doing this after we’ve already given the police the power, after following legally defined procedures, to open the mail of those believed to be committing a crime and arrest them if their suspicion is proven.

  74. David Sanderson

    Last thing first. Your headline made the claim that as a result of Conroy’s plan Australia may be on the path to (being like) Burma. So, according to you Australia, one of the most free nations in the world with very strong democratic, judicial and other institutions may be on the way to resembling one of the world’s most vicious military dictatorships. If you thank that is an “obvious risk” and not a scare tactic then there is every reason to doubt your judgement.

    At no point have you indicated that you believe that some internet censorship would be a good thing. It is reasonable to assume that nil censorship is your position and that has been the tenor of everything I have seen written by you. You claim to be misrepresented on that score but provide no information or statements that would show the assumption to be incorrect.

    Your comparison of a car being searched and some limits to what can be accessed online is indicative of the fanciful nature of your argument. The appropriate comparison is to other media and not to cars. Censorship limits what you can obtain from all other media. What is the (special pleading?) case for the internet to not have controls which, despite your scare claims to the contrary, are less than those which apply to all other media? Making this case is fundamental to the argument and should have been your starting point, not an afterthought.

    Nevertheless I look forward to you making the case and, yes, I think you have been running away from doing so.

  75. tony

    I’ll take a whack at that, David.

    1. How much censorship should apply to the internet? Filter software placed voluntarily by individuals on individual computers is NOT a censorship regime. Saying that it is censorship is like saying that choosing not to enter an adult bookshop is ‘censorship’. It’s a nonsense.

    Since when has the government asked us how much censorship we would like?
    How does a mandatory filter that applies to ALL Australian adults and children work in protecting children without significantly reducing legal adult content. (the 2nd tier ‘opt-in’ filter wont save you there either, only a select few ISPs will get grants for that and there are already ISPs that offer this service. Plus it wouldn’t be censorship if its opt-in)
    Censoring child pornography is extremely irresponsible. Use the international police to take down and arrest people making this stuff. Use the millions of dollars fighting this stuff rather then using slow moving bureaucrats sifting over ‘complaints’ from the public.
    You can censor yourself and your family as much as you’d like. Just leave me out of it.

    2. What is the rationale for the internet to have a very different, or nil, censorship regime compared to other media forms?

    Firstly: I can check to see what content is censored on other mediums, you should look at the classification boards website. Will I have the opportunity to look at a secret blacklist? Your not comparing like-with-like.

    Also the internet is NOTHING like TV or Magazines, its much more equivalent to the telephone service or the post office. There’s huge technical and just plain practical problems with any attempt to censor the internet. Also privacy issues that still haven’t been addressed.

    3. How should the censorship regime which you support be implemented?

    Dunno, perhaps parents do some research on internet filtering in home before they plug the internet up. This current proposal is not going to help them one bit.
    Its also adding to the huge confusion parents and guardians have keeping their children safe online.

    4. Why is it OK to run a scare campaign (road to Burma and all the rest) on this issue? Is it because your cause is so righteous?

    Well, what is there else to really say. Secret blacklists, the broad definition of ‘RC’, Constant in your face lies and contradictions by Conroy has a lot of people frustrated and angry, giving access to bigoted lobby groups that don’t post their members list while ignoring everyone else. No one is being righteous here, that’s reserved only for yourself.

    Please show some evidence internet censorship is wanted/needed and also make a case for how this will be practicably done.

  76. Mark Hurd

    According to Twitter Stilgherrian has another Crikey article soon (today?), but my response to David Sandersons challenge:

    1. I would prefer no technical Internet censorship. By all means prosecute website owners and issue take down notices to Australian and o/s ISPs for material that offends our laws. You can even prosecute me for looking at such pages (preferably only if you can confirm intent though 🙂 ). But don’t apply a technical solution that won’t work.

    2. Actually I think it is fairly similar: I bet most banned books, films and computer games ARE obtainable in Australia. It can still be an offence to view them, see point 1.

    3. Legislation and prosecutional enforcement — same as books, films and computer games. Just don’t try a technological solution that won’t work.

    4. Because the scope creep is inevitable. We may never get to Burma or China, but we WILL be on that path.

  77. Stilgherrian

    I’m on deadline, David, but I’mm happy to respond later and indeed it may be fleshed out into an article.

    I will say, though, that this claim that opponents of the filter think the internet should be “different” or have no censorship is a misrepresentation. If you can find others saying this, all well and good and I encourage you to link to the relevant statements. But I have never said this.

    Again, this is the “extreme libertarian” straw man. Provide links or move to valid points.

    The issue is about implementing the best solution to the “problem” of censorship, and having well-defined problems to begin with. Offline, we don’t stop ever car and open every package to see if it contains pornography, so why should we do that online? I think the challenge is really for you to explain why the internet should be different.

    And “scare campaign”? That’s one of those irregular nouns like in Yes Minister. I am pointing out an obvious risk, you’re running a scare campaign, he’s a paranoid psychotic.

    Pointing out that giving someone a gun might end up with the “wrong” person being shot isn’t a scare campaign. Pointing out that giving a government a censorship system might result in the “wrong” things being censored isn’t a scare campaign either.

    “Courage”? Cheap debating trick.

  78. David Sanderson

    Stilgherrian, the challenge then is:

    1. How much censorship should apply to the internet? Filter software placed voluntarily by individuals on individual computers is NOT a censorship regime. Saying that it is censorship is like saying that choosing not to enter an adult booksop is ‘censorship’. It’s a nonsense.

    2. What is the rationale for the internet to have a very different, or nil, censorship regime compared to other media forms?

    3. How should the censorship regime which you support be implemented?

    4. Why is it OK to run a scare campaign (road to Burma and all the rest) on this issue? Is it because your cause is so righteous?

    It is way overdue that you had the courage to actually deal with the first three questions. If it helps you answer them then I will say it is f***ng overdue.

  79. glengyron

    Stilgherrian, that last comment should be an article. Bravo.

  80. David Sanderson

    Stilgherrian, the challenge then is:

    1. How much censorship should apply to the internet? Filter software placed voluntarily by individuals on individual computers is NOT a censorship regime. Saying that it is censorship is like saying that choosing not to enter an adult booksop is ‘censorship’. It’s a nonsense.

    2. What is the rationale for the internet to have a very different, or nil, censorship regime compared to other media forms?

    3. How should the censorship regime which you support be implemented?

    4. Why is it OK to run a scare campaign (road to Burma and all the rest) on this issue? Is it because your cause is so righteous?

    It is way overdue that you had the courage to actually deal with the first three questions. If it helps you answer them then I will say it is fucking overdue.

  81. tony

    http://www.alp.org.au/download/now/labors_plan_for_cyber_safety.pdf

    Some extremely funny stuff in this.

    “Some of the deficiencies in the Howard Government’s approach are: implementation of an $84.8 million PC-filtering program, where the filters are easily bypassed and rendered ineffective, as was demonstrated in August 2007 by a 16 year old school boy”

    As opposed to your genius scheme?

    “wasting $22 million of tax-payers’ money on a public awareness and education campaign, which uses fear tactics to get its message out”

    As opposed to all the rhetoric about children ‘stumbling’ upon child pornography? Please someone cite some evidence that children are stumbling upon CP.
    Wasting 44million dollars and increasing ISP fees?

    “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.”

    Wasn’t even an election commitment. Lies from the very beginning.

    “While the Government has implemented its Protecting Australian Families Online program, it is 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. ”

    The stupid is beginning to hurt.

    No wonder they want the internet censored, any 5minute search can embarrass this Government.

  82. Stilgherrian

    To state it plainly, I do not think and never have said that “the internet, uniquely among all media forms, should be free of any limitations whatsoever”, David Sanderson, nor anything remotely close. That’s the “extreme libertarian” straw-man so beloved of Clive Hamilton and the Australian Christian Lobby’s Jim Wallace and, of course, Senator Conroy.

    I actually challenge supporters of mandatory filtering to name someone who has said it.

    What I do believe is that effort should be expended where it’ll do the most good. And to explain that, I have to unpack the emotive “we must protect the children” rhetoric which is usually deployed as an attempt to stop us thinking rationally about this stuff, and look at specific goals.

    If the aim is to prevent people inadvertently stumbling across child abuse material, well, I first contend that that’s a problem that doesn’t exist. Again, can we find anyone who, genuinely, has “stumbled” across this stuff, rather than gone looking?

    Nevertheless, if this is a real problem — which I doubt — then some half-arsed blacklist-blocking will help “reduce” the risk, as Conroy puts it. But is that worth $44 million of taxpayers’ money?

    If the aim is to assist parents to ensure their children only see age-appropriate material, then I believe that should happen in the home, not in the core of the ISP. Every family’s needs will be different.

    There are already parental controls available in pretty much every modern operating system, every desktop security software package and most broadband routers. There is already the Internet Industry Association’s “Family Friendly ISP” programme with its cute ladybird logo, where filters can be obtained at nominal cost. There is already the ISP Webshield which provides a filtered feed commercially. There is already the Howard government’s NetAlert program of free home filters — at least there was until Conroy shut it down.

    My response to parents who, with all these options available at minimal cost, still haven’t taken advantage of them, is blunt. “Get off your arses and make an effort to take care of your own children. The government is not your babysitter.”

    And finally, if the aim is to stop child abuse material being distributed, then you tackle it at the source rather than engaging in an arms race with encrypted P2P networks which can never be won.

    Give the money to the police, who I daresay would be happy to receive it, and let them go and catch a few more of these lowlifes. They already have plenty of suspects who they can’t investigate further through lack of resources, and that is obscene.

    What deeply concerns me is that we’re committing to deploying the mechanisms for pervasive censorship of the open web before we’ve even had the discussion on how we can do that with appropriate checks and balances, and taking it on trust that there will be no scope creep, when pretty much every other example in history shows that scope creep happens.

    I do not wish to give the government this powerful weapon on trust.

    Bundling the debate into a mish-mash of a rant about how we must stop the horror of child abuse — which indeed we must! — without a parallel discussion of how a thousand URLs on some secret blacklist will do SFA about that is, quite frankly, obscene.

    Passionate about this? Too fucking right.

  83. Bogdanovist

    @David Sanderson (and others?). Aside from any issues surrounding censorship, this is simply bad policy.

    Does it protect children from pornography? No, because only a tiny tiny fraction of available pornography can be filtered in this way, and the filter is trivial to get around (once it comes live googling “get around net filter Australia” will tell you how). I’m getting my information from the Government report. There is your source, you can have a look at it yourself if you like.

    Will it slow the Internet? Yes, not by much in normal circumstances, but will cause more signifcant delays if a high traffic site gets on the blacklist (again, my source is the Governments own report)

    Will it block harmless content? Yes, roughly at a false positive rate of around 3%. This is considered ‘low’ by Conroy, but would you like your website to be in that 3% (again same source).

    Will it cost a lot of money? Yes, tens of millions of dollars. Money that could be much better spent funding the AFP to combat child pornography producers and distributors. This has worked in the past, so that’s not a fairy tale.

    So, the filter is expensive, in the best case scenario blocks a tiny fraction of inappropriate content and can be easily circumvented anyway. It will have no effect on the problem it is trying to solve. Software that you can easily purchase, or in many cases can get for free, will be much more effective in guarding your children against the dangers that can be found on the net. These are available now, don’t slow everyone else’s connection and don’t cost millions to the taxpayer.

    This is bad policy because it doesn’t work, so anyone concerned about children and pornography should be demanding the Government take steps that will actually address the problem.

    That’s without considering any issues around censorship.

  84. Michael Rogers

    I’ve written to my local member (National Party) whose reply while having a hint of opposition showed a profound ignorance of the issues. I’ve written to all the senators in my state promising to vote ‘below the line’ and put them at the bottom of my ballot paper if they vote for Conroy’s bill. No response from these, but one can only hope that the staffers, before they binned my correspondence, at least put a tick in the ‘political oblivion’ side of their boss’s political ledger.

    Does anyone remember when videos classified ‘X’ became illegal to be sold in the states because an ALP attorney general either from dullness of mind or being in the thrall of some medieval cult, thought that ‘X’ meant depictions of actual sexual violence?

    It is most likely that Conroy’s position is informed by dullness of mind and the religious right. The ruling class in general will be supportive too as they have been of the gradual establishment of a police state which they believe will be necessary to maintain their privileges and lion’s share of scarce resources as the oil economy collapses, the world economic focus shifts to China and the effects of global warming become apparent. Internet censorship is just another component.

    Unfortunately I believe more ground will be lost before it can be regained.

  85. EngineeringReality

    From the Australian Greens website:

    “Principles
    The Australian Greens believe that:

    1. freedom of the press and effective, affordable and accessible media and communications systems are integral to the functioning of a successful democratic society.
    2. all Australians should be able to access a variety of affordable telecommunications.
    3. media diversity in content and format is a right of all Australians.
    4. strong, independent public and community media are an essential part of Australia’s media sector.
    5. Australian content should be strongly supported and well funded.
    6. Australia must have an independent regulatory framework for media, communications and advertising.
    7. public ownership of essential communications infrastructure is in the best interests of society.
    8. network neutrality is important for an open internet.
    9. access to public documents should not require the purchase of additional software.
    10. the government should lead by example and embrace open source and open standards.”

    Now I have nothing to do with the Greens – apart from voting for them.

  86. Malcolm Street

    RaymondChurch – I’d like to think the Greens would oppose it, but Clive Hamilton is as much a control freak as Rudd.

  87. SusieQ

    David Sanderson, I think you are a little inaccurate here – the internet is not totally free and open – we all know if any of us venture into any illegal websites with horrible things on them, we’ll be found out eventually. None of us wants to be exposed to this stuff, but this proposal seems to go that bit further with a blacklist that extends beyond the original proposal to protect children. The original blacklist that was leaked a few months back concerned me quite a bit because there seemed to be many innocent websites on it. Apart from anything else, my cynical brain says this whole proposal is being driven by the likes of Jim Wallace and his mates at the ACL – very tiresome bunch they are!!!
    Anyway, this sort of stuff existed before the internet, so its not like its going to go away is it?

  88. David Sanderson

    Glengyron, I am very much a private citizen who has a strong dislike of special pleading and scaremongering. It is special pleading to say that the internet, uniquely among all media forms, should be free of any limitations whatsoever. Stilgherrian, and his supporters on these comment threads appear to believe that but have presented no case. That is both weak and arrogant.

    It is scaremongering, and utterly nonsensical, to suggest that we may be “on the path to Burma” (whatever that means). I respect Michael Kirby but it was a far-fetched and unwise comparison to make (to be fair he said “get into the situation” which has a slightly different meaning to “on the path”). Given the totally different histories, cultures, institutions and politics of the two countries it is a worthless comparison

  89. glengyron

    Good to see at least one devil’s advocate on Crickey with David Sanderson.

    I do have to ask, seeing how much effort you put into posting: are you connected with this policy or working on behalf of any group?

    If you’re a private citizen, then great.

  90. peach1

    I am not concerned if the govt is filtering porno but while they are at it they should block politicians drivel at the same time. Now that would be an improvement to net content

  91. orpheus

    So we have moved from optional client side buy in to mandatory filtering. Coming in the same week that Kevin Rudd attempted to persuade Tuvalu that a 3 degree mean temperature increase was in Tuvalu’s interests (they are unlikely to survive even a 2 degree increase), do we need any further evidence that Labor has become lost in the public policy wilderness?

  92. RaymondChurch

    I will take the opinion of Justice Michael Kirby over that idiot Conroy any time. It is scary that being the control type Rudd is, he obviously endorses everything Conroy has done. That is disturbing when Rudd gives the impression he has some knowledge of the Internet plus has a high level of intelligence. If he keeps this approach going he will start pooing in his own nest. That old saying ‘we voted them in and we can vote them out’still has a ring of truth about it. One would imagine the Greens will be opposing this completely.

  93. mtats

    Don’t try and trick us Stilgherrian with your fancy ‘punctuation’ and your ‘accurate quotes’. We don’t take kindly to you folk around here.

    Seriously though, it is rare that an issue unites so many people. This is one of them.

    And as much as i hate playing the man, you really aren’t paying attention if you support such a thing.

    Theoretically, if the filters actually worked, there’d be a argument to be had.

    But they don’t, and the money could be better spent elsewhere.

    Then again, it’s more about ticking a political box to please special interest groups, than actually doing anything.

  94. Stilgherrian

    Bah! The headline is a perfectly accurate reflection of what Michael Kirby actually said, and has a question mark at the end inviting one to consider whether that’s true or not.

  95. mtats

    David S is right.

    The headline should refer to ‘Republic of the Union of Myanmar’.

    Fools.

  96. David Sanderson

    The headline “Internet filtering: first step on the path to Burma?” says it all about the scaremongering on this issue.

    Only a total ignorance of history and politics could lead one to make this kind of link.

  97. Mr Pastry

    The issue appears to be child pornography and it is being used to create a mechanism for the centralised control of the internet. Blocking chat rooms may have more impact in dousing paedaphile opportunities but this does not appear to be within scope. Adult Pornography is available in Canberra, so do we ban all children from Canberra – there appears no consistency which leaves a suspicious odour to the proposal. Having said that, some advisor has seen a massive cash cow ” ye,s we can block this type of traffic but there will be a maintenance fee ” pollies are out of their depth when it comes to technology, the holes in their national blocking intentions already sexist.

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