Stephen Conroy's response on the internet filter didn't end the debate -- in fact, he appears to have opened up some new issues, including one with Google.
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I confess to being torn about whether to respond further to Stephen Conroy’s further riposte
on the internet filtering issue. On the one hand, it will start to look like those interminable blog arguments that end up being understood by, and of interest to, only the participants, and which serve to edify neither those involved, who maintain their positions with ever greater vigour, nor any spectators unfortunate enough to be watching.
On the other hand, what the Minister had to say was remarkable enough to warrant further discussion, especially in light of recent events.
The Minister goes to great lengths to refute my point that the “independent” filtering trial achieved its much-lauded (by Conroy) 100% accuracy rate by fiddling with the filters and removing some problematic URLs – by explaining in detail that the trial involved fiddling with filters and removing some problematic URLs.
My original point, lost in the mists of time by now, was that filter accuracy was a significant issue and even the Government’s own heavily-controlled trial provided no comfort in that regard. If the consultants conducting the trial had to wash lists and rewrite filters to get to 100% accuracy for the ACMA list (which as we know will not be the Conroy filter list), then how will accuracy be achieved once filtering extends its clumsy clutches out of the laboratory and into the real-world, outsourced to willing, not-so-willing or downright hostile ISPs?
By the way, as demonstrated by the Prime Minister’s persistent reference to work done by the “independent” Public Service, this Government has a peculiar definition of “independence”, which presumably extends to trials set up and defined by the Government, with participants hand-picked by the Government and conducted by Government-paid consultants. But that’s beside the point. Let's move on.
It was on the YouTube issue where I thought the Minister really did himself no favours. “Keane’s speculation of whether Google will comply with the laws of the Australian Government is interesting, however it should be noted that Google has operated within the Chinese regime for many years.”
While I'm chuffed that anything of mine could ever be considered "interesting", I had to re-read that because I couldn’t believe Conroy said it. This is the Minister who complained of “being accused of being the Great Wall of China”, directly comparing what the Government proposed with China’s internet filtering.
When he responded in Crikey
, the Minister was happy to talk about his discussions with Google about outsourcing filtering to it. He told Greens Senator Scott Ludlam last week at Estimates “we are in discussions with companies such as Google over this issue. They are experts at deep packet filtering, to give you one example. They are currently probably the world’s leading deep packet filterer, which is probably unknown to most people who are using their sites. They also have experience at blocking material in a number of other countries at the behest of governments.”
Even Google’s announcement that it would no longer cooperate with China’s censorship regime didn’t faze the Minister, who said:
"Google were very happy to block China’s material right up until they found out they had hacked their source code and suddenly discovered that censorship was a bad idea—after they had hacked their source code… We are in discussions and they are ongoing."
Conroy might now be wondering whether publicly mocking a major company with whom he was in “ongoing discussions” was such a good idea after Google declared on Thursday it "won't comply voluntarily with the broad scope of all RC content". A Google representative told Fairfax
"YouTube has clear policies about what content is not allowed, for example hate speech and pornography, and we enforce these, but we can't give any assurances that we would voluntarily remove all Refused Classification content from YouTube. The scope of RC is simply too broad and can raise genuine questions about restrictions on access to information. RC includes the grey realms of material instructing in any crime from [painting] graffiti to politically controversial crimes such as euthanasia, and exposing these topics to public debate is vital for democracy."