Stephen Conroy, Minister for Digital Obstruction

Conroy FiltersCongratulations to the AFP who have busted another clutch of child proners. The ring used a private peer to peer network to traffic their sordid cargo, as distinct from the web http protocol which Conroy’s vaunted ISP filters will throttle.

“We have offenders here who range from unemployed through to Queen’s Counsel, through to childcare workers, police officers,” Deputy Commissioner Colvin said.

Basking in the reflected glory of the police sting, the saturnine Stephen Conroy muddied the waters by concatenating other reasonable strategies with his proposed web censorship filters.

“The internet offers a wide range of opportunities for all Australians, but for the nation to truly benefit we need to ensure a safe online environment,” Senator Conroy said.

“The Rudd Government recognises that there is no silver bullet solution to cyber-safety and is investing $125.8 million in a comprehensive range of measures, including law enforcement, education, content filtering, research, international cooperation and a youth advisory group.”

Conroy still hasn’t let the public know precisely which ISPs will be participating in the next set of closed loop web filter trials, though iiNet says it is participating to show how useless they are and Optus says they’re in. Nor has the public been informed if the results of the forthcoming dummy trials will be available for independent scrutiny.

From the whirlwind of complaints on the Conroy / Tanner blog, (if one can call such a poor effort at net communication a blog at all given there is no interaction forthcoming from the high and mighty, no threading of the back to front comments, no archive and no continuity of posts, let alone an RSS feed), it’s clear the public are well-informed about web censorship and are very angry. Most comments call for an abandonment of the policy and many demand Conroy’s removal.

The Fringe cynically suspects the exercise is ‘consultation’ in the usual patronising governmental style – just for show, to help the punters feel ‘involved’. The real decision has already been made by the Hollow Men, and will be executed regardless of criticism and advice from experts and the public. Has the upper echelon of Labor been overrun completely by puritanical Old Guard dinosaurs, is Conroy after Hogg’s job or is courting the wowser votes of Fielding and Xenophon so imperative Labor is willing to run the gauntlet of millions of angry Oz internet users at the next election?

Around the traps, Broadbanned Revolution provides a scoop from the UK, revealing the rationales used by ISPs there who do not censor their feeds.

Abroad, Conroy’s ISP filters are highlighted in the New York Times. However the article fails to mention that both filters proposed by Conroy would be mandatory for ISPs to implement, with an opt out choice only available on the second.

Internet pothole, Clive Hamilton, is quoted with another of his ubiquitous false analogies:

“The laws that mandate upper speed limits do not stop people from speeding, does that mean that we should not have those laws?” he said. “We live in a society, and societies have always imposed limits on activities that it deems are damaging.” he said. “There is nothing sacrosanct about the Internet.”

Ah, Clive, speeding limits don’t damage one’s car engine or the roads on which one drives, in fact quite the reverse.

As Web 2.0 startup business expert Duncan Riley says:

“The whole [online blog consultation] thing is a joke considering Conroy’s Great Firewall will kill internet speeds and drive up internet connection costs in Australia, potentially crippling online businesses.”

7 Replies to “Stephen Conroy, Minister for Digital Obstruction”

  1. Observer is proving to be a hit and run commenter – after proliferating misinformation and wild accusations, he fails to return to address legitimate criticism. Cowardy custard or grandstander or?

  2. Observer seems to be attacking bloggers who are expressing concern about Senator Conroy’s Internet censorship scheme. He accuses the blogger of being mis-informed and under-researched and then goes on to spout a whole lot of mis-informed and under-researched arguments for the scheme. After leaving negative comments on my blog he e-mailed me to inform me that he has started his own blog to keep a record of all of his mis-informed and under-researched comments.

    Now calling himself ‘Mike the Participant’

    For an interesting read, check out the comments policy on his site. Clearly this man is an advocate for ‘Protection of Privacy’ and ‘Free Speech’.

  3. Dear Observer,

    Firstly, comparing censorship of mainstream media and filtering the internet shows that you lack a thorough understanding of the nature of the internet. Even keeping the fact that mainstream media lacks the same level of user control, mainstream media is rearkably less technologically complex and censorship does not induce system crippling overheads.

    Australians accept that illegal content cannot be stored here in Australia. We also accept that we are bound by the laws of the land and if we break them we are responsible. What we do not accept is that our use of a legitimate medium be controlled and hindered becuase it ‘might’ be used for those illegal activities.

    Your position that a black list is impervious to false positives is both moronic and irresponsible. The first reason is that there are many ways to implement a blacklist and, as in the case of the UK wikipedia article, they are open and prone to failure of a fairly severe nature. Secondly, to think that a blacklist will solve the problem of child porn is naively irresponsible. A dynamic filtering system is inevitable when the blacklist develops leaks. If they don’t implement a dynamic system, they’re not serious about filtering. (I should know after 3 months of testing the damned things).

    Having to use a foreigner to check a page that we’ve been blocked from seeing to check if we agree that it should have been blocked is a hilarious idea. Sounds like fun.

    In terms of the government blocking things they don’t like as opposed to just what is illegal, well, that’s what the whole issue about Conroy remaining unspecific about the definition of ‘unwanted content’. Read Hansard more.

    Complaining to the Censorship board about blocked sights is completely unacceptable. The turn-around time on any beaurucratic movement is measured in weeks. If a false positive hits a legitimate commercial site then the amount of lost business, not to mention the loss of goodwill, would be staggering for that business.

    I agree that the ISPs won’t be the censors, few bloggers are actually saying this. Funny how most of the more active bloggers have been backing the major ISPs against the government and the major ISPs agree with the key points made in the blogosphere. There’s no war there, I have no idea where you got that idea from.

    Don’t be such a martyr about China, I used to live there and experienced the full effect of the Shield. Of course there are no blogs crying about the government, they’re all blocked, tacken down or the writers are arrested. Don’t insult the work of Chinese free speech advocates by being so ungrateful for the freedom you have here. Protect it or you dishonour their efforts.

    Sorry for being so beligerent in my response and I have to admit that your concerns have occured to me as well. I was so intrigued by these thoughts that I kept thinking about them and I realised that they are merely there to polish the position we’re taking against the filter.

    Hell, I filter my internet at home so I musn’t be all that worried about my ability to download child-porn, I can’t even download images of women in underwear anymore.

  4. Thanks for your post. Perhaps you would like to be more specific about which ‘misquotes’ and ‘inaccurate statements’ you are referring to?

    As for your statement: “The scope of the filtering is an excellent example. Many people are outraged that there **would** be “”mandatory filtering”” of anything the gov deems inappropriate. What a load of bull, this has never been proposed.”, Conroy himself said in parliament on the 11th November:

    “The pilot will test filtering specifically against the ACMA blacklist of prohibited internet content,
    which is mostly child pornography, as well as filtering of other unwanted content.”

    Are you happy to trust the government to decide on your behalf what constitutes ‘unwanted content’ which Conroy, despite repeated questioning in *our* Parliament, has failed to clarify?

    Are you aware that the mandatory ISP filters proposed by Conroy are two tiered – one which contains an expanded ACMA blacklist, and the other (on an opt-out basis) to filter said unspecified ‘unwanted content’ above?

    Bear in mind the ACMA blacklist will not be subject to public scrutiny and will not be available for challenge, unlike with unclassified film, television and other material which it currently bans. Unaccountable government decisions are contrary to democratic principles, and I notice you have no concerns about this.

    To educate yourself about the range of filtering options which the government is seeking to test and which are not just based on the ACMA blacklist, please refer to the DBCDE tender documents. You might also wish to refer to the results of the last closed trials to examine for yourself the clear evidence that these filters are ineffective, creating false positives and missing potentially illegal sites as well as degrading browser speeds.

    Nor will the proposed ISPs filters address other net protocols which are more commonly used by cp abusers – peer to peer networks, VPNs, usenet and so on. It is further of concern that Conroy’s filters will be easily evaded by anyone with even a basic understanding of proxies.

    I urge you to review the material above, and consider we are supposed to live in an open, accountable democracy. Whilst you are correct that we do not suffer from the level of repression (yet) that citizens of China experience, is there any good reason to take steps which lead us in that direction, and which furthermore are ineffective in addressing the cp problem?

  5. Sorry mate, but many of the blog entries clearly show that a majority of the public are actually mis-informed on these filtering initiatives. I have seldom seen so many mis-quotes and inaccurate statements passed on and reprinted en masse, then appears a day later reprinted in scores of blogs as fact.
    And that is the danger with blogs. No evidence, no references, no accurate quotes, and often a mish-mash of what was actually said and was proposed.
    The scope of the filtering is an excellent example. Many people are outraged that there **would** be “”mandatory filtering”” of anything the gov deems inappropriate. What a load of bull, this has never been proposed.
    Many bloggers are outraged that we now have censorship piled upon us. Fact? Australia has had censorship for over a 100 years for other mediums and media formats, this is now being applied to the Internet as a communications medium as well.
    Many statements claiming the gov will be able to blacklist and control the content of the Internet. What a load of rubbish. The Censorship Board does this as with all other media formats, inc films, mags, books, TV etc. Give me a break.
    Many claim the gov can secretly deny us access to content they do not approve of. Another load of old rubbish. You could only claim that if you have no idea how the Internet works… I can cross-check the contents of a blocked page within minutes, without accessing it, and these facilities are available to all Australians, and will be more available in the future. (Just get someone outside of Oz to check the page – hohumm how easy…)
    Myriad claims of probable false positives on the mandatory filters: Again a load of rubbish and again if the *experts* actually know anything about the Internet and content filtering, then they know that you cannot have false positives on a blacklist entry…. You can only have false positives on automated categorisation systems, that can incorrectly analyse the page. Complaints based entries into a blacklist, via review from the censorship board, are a manual and legally required process preceding blacklist entry for the madatory filtering. If you have a problem with a blocked page, complain to the Censorship Board, not the messengers…
    Another falacy? ISPs become the “Censors” and must decide on content. What drivel. Again, and for those not listening, the Censorship Board makes the DECISIONS on what is refused classification and thus illegal. No decisions by the ISP. The ISP is the gateway to the public and business sectors, and it is in their distribution networks that the technology needs to be applied. Nothing else. They carry no censorship responsibilities, but will be required to have the ability to implement the devices and software that can execute on the gov policy. Simple legal requirement, just like customs agents on the wharves and at airports…
    The ISP would be breaking the law if he interferes and makes censorship decisions. Anything clearer than that??
    FRallacy again folks? “We will have censorship like China” : More drivel. What an incredible insult to the Chinese who truly suffer under a repressive dictatorship and endure circumstances of deprivation, while we bask in sunshine, vote out governments we do not like, can openly protest, can insult the Minister every 5 minutes online in hundreds of blogs and can burn his effigy if we want.
    What a mob of whingers… China does not have blogs like this, no open protests, no insulting Ministers, no Electronic Frontiers. But they have censorship way beyond anything proposed here. Get off your high horses folks and stick to reality, and stop insulting my associates in China who risk jail by just communicating across the Internet with the West.
    I think too many of you have been watching too many Jason Bourne movies…
    BTW: Thanks for running the blog. I actually do appreciate being able to let off some of my own steam, and although it may look otherwise, it is not directed personally at any person… I want all the freedom I can on the Internet, but to be able to walk the streets in freedom the police must keep the crap off them as well…

Comments are closed.