Conroy screwed as Xenophon sees the light

In the SMH, Asher Moses reports that Opposition Senator Minchin has obtained legal advice that the conservative Labor government will almost certainly have to pass legislation to enable net censorship filters to be installed at ISP level.

With Senator Xenophon changing sides on the issue, net censorship legislation would be comfortably blocked in the Senate.

Senator Nick Xenophon previously indicated he may support a filter that blocks online gambling websites but in a phone interview today he withdrew all support, saying “the more evidence that’s come out, the more questions there are on this”.

Xenophon said instead of implementing a blanket mandatory censorship regime the Government should instead put the money towards educating parents on how to supervise their kids online and tackling “pedophiles through cracking open those peer-to-peer groups”.

Technical experts have said the filters proposed by the Government would do nothing to block child porn being transferred on encrypted peer-to-peer networks.

“I’m very skeptical that the Government is going down the best path on this,” said Xenophon.

“I commend their intentions but I think the implementation of this could almost be counter-productive and I think the money could be better spent.”

Of course, Rudd, Conroy and Co. might produce some juicy carrot to entice Xenophon back into the faith-based net totalitarian camp. Yet with recent polls showing immense public disagreement with the government’s censorship proposals along with overwhelming criticism from technical experts, the prudish Pixie mob will face an uphill battle to implement their ludicrous, unworkable filters.

This week, a national telephone poll of 1100 people, conducted by Galaxy and commissioned by online activist group GetUp, found that only 5 per cent of Australians want ISPs to be responsible for protecting children online and only 4 per cent want Government to have this responsibility.

A recent survey by Netspace of 10,000 of the ISP’s customers found 61 per cent strongly opposed mandatory internet filtering with only 6.3 per cent strongly agreeing with the policy.

Conroy’s Stupid Filter Trials – You Gotta Laugh

Once a jolly swagman plugged into the internets,
Under the shade of a coolibah tree,
And he sang as he watched and waited as he torrented
“Don’t go deploying your filters on me”.

“Deploying your filters, deploying your filters
Don’t go deploying your filters on me”
And he sang as he watched and waited as he torrented,
“Don’t go deploying your filters on me”.

Down came the content speeding through the internets,
Up jumped the swagman and viewed it with glee,
And he sang as he shoved that content on his backup disk,
“You’ll be a-wasting your filters on me”.

“Wasting your filters, wasting your filters
Don’t go a-wasting your filters on me”
And he sang as he shoved that content on his backup disk,
“Don’t go a-wasting your filters on me”.

Up rode the Conroy, mounted on his ISP,
Down came the troopers, one, two, three,
“Where’s that jolly content you downloaded so illicitly?
You’ve been evading the filters from me.”

“Evading the filters, evading the filters
You’ve been evading the filters from me.”
“Where’s that jolly content you downloaded so illicitly?
You’ve been evading the filters from me.”

Up jumped the swagman and handed them his backup disk,
“You’ll never crack my encryption”, said he,
And his packets are tunneled and proxied through the internets,
“You’ll never get your bloody filters on me”.

“Your bloody filters, your bloody filters
You’ll never get your bloody filters on me”.
And his packets are tunneled and proxied through the internets,
“You’ll never get your bloody filters on me”.

from mudshark on Slashdot.

The Financial Cost of Internet Censorship

The positive economic benefits of next generation broadband could be as high as $90b. However, the conservative Labor Party proposed filters could sabotage these gains significantly.

Duncan Riley provides an excellent appraisal of what the costs might be if Conroy’s net censorship schemes are implemented.

The first test paper released by the Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA) found that under trial conditions (so not a full black list), filtering reduced speeds between 2% and “in excess of” 75%, with three of the 6 products tested coming in at between 20-30%. Since that report it has been suggested that the filters with the lowest success rate are the quickest, so a proper implementation of a censorship regime would likely, at best cause a 20% drop in internet speeds, but likely significantly higher again.

Direct cost

Australian ISP’s have already stated that they are likely to pass on the cost of filtering data directly to users (ref). Further, a broad scale filter proposed by the Government may also drive up related costs, such as data center staff needed to deal with an increase in customer complaints when they can’t access sites.(ref).

No hard figure has been proposed by the industry, but even a small increase in internet charges would create a negative impact on the Australian economy.

At the end of June 2008, there were 7.23 million internet subscribers in Australia (ABS). An increase in costs of only $10 per month would immediately cost Australian internet users $867.6 million a year in additional direct costs. A $25 increase in internet access would result in an additional $2.169 billion in direct costs.

Indirect costs

Australia already has some of the slowest internet speeds in the developed world. A 2008 study (link) found that average internet speeds in Australia was 1.7 mbps, up from 1 mpbs in 2006, when Australia was ranked 26th out of 27 developed countries (ref).

The amount of the indirect cost will depend very much on the amount speeds drop. A 75% cut would bring the average speed down to 425kbps, where as a 25% cut to 1.275mpbs.

The cuts in speed would punish small businesses and the less well off more deeply than large businesses and those who can already afford high speed access. The June 2008 figures from the ABS found that only 43% of Australians have speeds higher that 1.5mpbs, and 21.7% of “broadband” subscribers only have speeds between 256kbps and 512kbps. A 75% cut on a 256kbps account would result in a 64kbps connection, basically dialup.

Remarkably, some 2 million Australians are still using dialup, with a maximum speed of 56kbps.

Slower speeds mean quite simply that it takes longer to do business, and that has a negative effect on productivity.

South Australian Liberal Senator, Cory Bernardi, adds more weight to the argument against internet filtering.

I identify myself as a social and fiscal conservative and most people who know me would agree with that assessment. As such, one could reasonably expect me to support ISP filtering as a means of ensuring inappropriate content remains unavailable via the internet.

Yet I have grave reservations about the Labor Party proposal on mandatory ISP filtering which is described as a ‘clean feed’ – words that just sugar-coat compulsory censorship of whatever the government deems you are not allowed to see.

While I strongly believe that anything we can do to prevent access to illegal material is a lawful and moral obligation, there is a world of difference between illegal and inappropriate. The latter being a personal assessment in which I also recognise that my own standards and beliefs are not shared by all in our community.

Further, the nature of the internet means that we can’t really classify content for availability only at a certain time or for certain ages like we can with television, movies or some printed content. This is a concern where young people may be exposed to inappropriate content inadvertently.

There are also broader philosophical reservations about allowing government to be the ultimate judge of what people should and should not have access to. I believe in small government – not big brother where personal responsibility is subservient to the State.

There are already many PC-based filters available that will prevent access to ‘blacklisted’ sites and allow PC end users to tailor the filters to meet the particular requirements of their households. Critics of these filters claim that they are easily disabled, but as I wrote earlier, prohibited material will always be available to those willing to break the rules.

Among the many advocates for ISP filtering that I have spoken with, including Minister Stephen Conroy, no one has been able to explain to me exactly how it will work and what content will (or should be) filtered.

In some cases, advocates believe content bans should be extended to all nudity and even stories featuring consensual relations between adults. (I had to describe it like that because the word ‘sex’ might prevent you from being able to access this page!)

It has been suggested that there should be a rating system for internet content similar to how ACMA rates media content.

When I have asked how this could work, no one that I have spoken to has any clear idea, yet they all maintain that ‘it needs to be done’.

That may be so, but at what cost?

There is no stronger supporter of families than myself. My political life is a commitment to strengthening families and changing our nation through the development of our children. However, I also believe that in most circumstances, families know better than government what is best for their children.

Parental responsibility cannot and should not be abrogated to government – if it is, our society will only become weaker.

Yes, illegal content should be banned from the web. It is illegal after all, but it is wrong to give the government a blank cheque to determine what is appropriate for us to view on the internet. That is a job for families, working with government.

Australian Net Censorship Catchup

No improvement to be seen, no word on when Conroy’s useless net censorship trials are to commence – and ratbag Christian fundamentalist wowsers are still prancing their absurdities, flopping their limp wobbly bits for all to see.

Refresh yourself with current ultra-conservative blither and far more intelligent anti-filter rejoinders:

Summary: Mark Newton Vs Jim Wallace on ABC Radio National net censorship debate

Unfortunately, Mr Wallace either doesn’t understand what ‘prohibited content‘ consists of or he has outright lied on air as the ACL’s pro filter website states ‘Despite fear-mongering about censorship, adults will be able to opt in to view some forms of legal porn.’ Just some forms of legal porn Jim?

Life Matters Mandatory Internet Filtering Transcript

Syd Walker comments on the Life Matters program followup forum

Stilgherrian at Crikey writes Who supports compulsory Internet filtering, exactly?

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?

Stilgherrian again – Jim Wallace’s pro-censorship lies and distortions

Since Wallace promotes himself as a representative of good Christian values, I’ll allow that he may just be ignorant rather than a deliberate liar. Ignorance is no sin: it can be cured with knowledge. But he does use the familiar fraudulent propaganda techniques: misrepresenting his opponents; cherry-picking numbers; failing to explore the implications of those numbers; citing the same suspect Australia Institute report; and wrapping it up in the same old “protect the children” cant.

Websinthe contributes a Response to Jim Wallace’s puddle of misinformation

Time and time again, the assertion that ‘this system is not going to stop any adult from viewing anything that is legal’ has been debunked by close analysis of the relevant legislation. The ACMA black-list bans content that, while illegal to broadcast, is perfectly legal for an adult to view. For instance, where the ACMA receives a complaint about foreign internet content. The content isn’t even forwarded to the classification board; if the ACMA ‘thinks’ it might be prohibited, it is classified as ‘potentially prohibited’ and thrown on the ACMA black-list. It is not illegal until it has been classified as such. Only Australian hosted content is forwarded to the classification board.

A clear example of this occurred only a few days ago. An anti-abortion web site was added to the ACMA black-list despite two things. Firstly, there was no pornographic or child exploitation material on the website, and secondly, the DBCDE had previously claimed that political content would not be blocked.

In The Contents of the ACMA blacklist, Websinthe further reveals the nature of the beast:

The Contents of the ACMA blacklist …are not publicly available. You can, however, determine if a site is ON the list.

Vendors of PC based filters that were offered by the Government can be used to determine whether a site is on the ACMA blacklist by the message given when the site is blocked.

I post this mainly to defer questions about whether or not I have a copy of the ACMA blacklist. I don’t, it is not publicly available. The only way I have been able to tell that the above is possible is because I use Integard on my own PC and it blocked a google result whilst searching for the origins of a meme mentioned on Twitter.

Anyone familiar with Memes knows the particular wiki site to which I refer, but I refuse to link it here as I fear it may be illegal to do so despite the site’s frequent mentioning on perfectly legal websites.

When an ACMA blacklisted site is blocked by a Net Alert filter there is no option for a system administrator to unblock the site and the user is informed that the site is permanently blocked.

Given the nature of this site, it is confirmation that the ACMA does not just filter the illicit parts of sites, but the entire site.

Over at Public Polity, Websinthe strikes again with How legal content will be blocked by the ISP filter

In simpler terms, anything that, if it were a print publication, would be classified as RC, X18+, R18+ or MA15+ will be added to the list of prohibited content if it were hosted outside Australia. There are two interesting provisos here as well.

The MA15+ content would only be blocked if it were a video that wasn’t hosted on a news site. Regardless of who’s hosting it, it is prohibited if transmitted for money over a mobile phone network.

Either way, MA15+ and R18+ content is far from illegal in Australia. Just go down to Blockbuster and hire Interview with a Vampire. Even X18+ print publications are legal in some parts of the country.

Currently it is illegal to host anything in the 4 categories above in Australia. Doing so results in a take down notice.

So when Conroy says “the Australian Government has no plans to stop adults from viewing material that is currently legal”, it is entirely deceptive.


No Character Comic (which is ALSO Websinthe), takes the piss out of Conroy superbly

Syd Walker presents Australia’s Holy Man likes a Good War

In satisfyingly satirical pictorial and literary fashion, machinegunkeyboard says

If you think Australians are serious about their beer, as Razer notes, they’re downright bolshie about their porn. Senator Conroy wants to make the internet conform to Australia’s film and literature censorship laws. In the extraordinarily unlikely event that Labor’s mandatory filtering scam is successful, not only will they bolster the business of ‘restricted premises’ to a degree they’ve never before known (does Conroy or other Labor pol own an interest in any porn shops, I wonder?), but will also very likely create a mountainous public backlash that will see both Labor voted out of government after only one term and the dissolution of the OFLC.

Aside from the unproven claims of a few anti-porn extremists, there’s no psychological evidence that use (or creation) of nonviolent pornography by adults as part of a healthy sex life is in any way harmful to anyone. However, as is usually the case with any manner of prohibition, bans force it all ‘underground.’ Everything from pinup cheesecake to violent rape fantasy porn is far away from public scrutiny, thusly making all porn much more available, inclusive of violent and exploitative sorts.

Won’t somebody think of Helen’s sex life?

Have I missed any other recent worthy contributions to the struggle to maintain decent, liberal Australian internet standards? Please let me know.