Get Thee to a Library & Learn!

An eclectic overview of the current state of play on prospective Australian net censorship is presented by Warwick Rendell – suggesting the leaking of the possible / partial ACMA list plays into pro-filter hands, and that filter opponents need to focus on the development of workable alternatives.

Activities which violate human rights – child pron, rape, war, murder, torture, economic servitude, domestic violence, racism and so on are worldwide problems both on and off the internet. Those who prosecute human rights violators are to be applauded. Yet it is desirable that success in identifying and dealing with human rights violators should be achieved without compromise of others’ fundamental human freedoms. For example, consider the logical extreme – of an hypothetical nation banning computers and electronic data transmission completely as a last resort to protect a vulnerable group from ‘undesirable’ material.

At this point it’s been definitively revealed what won’t work to address these violations and the violators productively – blacklists which interminably and inevitably end up on Wikileaks, increasing ease of access for voyeurs of abuse.

Firstly if a blacklist must exist, a right of appeal and review is essential in order to protect freedom of speech and allow redress for those whose sites have been wrongfully banned or filtered. Political free speech, the only free speech afforded some protection in our Australian constitution is at stake – and sex too can be regarded as a form of political communication, an act of freedom, of free individual expression. Likewise sites which discuss euthanasia, abortion and so on also have political dimensions and opinions thereon have a right to be heard and debated no matter how uncomfortable some may find the subject and extent of the argument. One *does* have a choice not to read sites thrown up in one’s search results. Will we as parents and adults serve our children well if these freedoms, which many of us have taken for granted since the advent of the internet, are not preserved for them?

Consideration of the above adult subject matter (as opposed to prurient voyeurism of exploitative abuse), is part of normal, healthy human activity – we all die, most of us desire sex and many of us are faced with reproductive choices. Would stigmatisation and repression of adult material as a consequence of mandatory and/or opt-out censorship assist us to maintain a healthy, guilt-free society? is there a possibility that suppression of adult net content may even contribute to civil unrest, or uninformed, neutered political apathy and personal disempowerment? are we there already?

The main thrust of the pro-filter argument is that children must be protected from unsuitable material upon which they might stumble inadvertently or through curiosity.

However, as has been pointed out by anti-government filter proponents (in addition to a plethora of technical problems), parents have primary responsibility for their children, not government – and functional parents employ self-chosen, caring, one-on-one methods of parenting to address the individual needs of their unique offspring. The internet is an online library in some ways analogous to a physical library. Books and magazines not suitable for children may be housed on the top shelf, away from young eyes, or hidden in drawers, should that be the parental proclivity. Are not parents in the best position to judge when their child’s reading age has progressed to be able to handle more ‘adult’ material? Why do pro-filter lobbyists demean Australian parents by assuming they are incapable of choosing to supervise their childrens’ net activities, subscribing to a ‘child-friendly’ ISP or installing PC based filtering software? why treat Australian parents as if they were children themselves and assume without real evidence that (a) children have been harmed by accessing an unfiltered internet for the past 30 years and (b) that the vast majority of Australian parents want the government to censor their internet?

The issue of consistency across the media spectrum logically arises as a flow-on from the filter debate – whilst parents may collect a vast array of adult reading material for their own physical libraries, will the government, under further pressure to act on behalf of ‘inadequate’ parents then intervene again to ensure parents do not make their salacious or otherwise provocative material available to their children? will the government next institute brigades of inspectors to do spot checks on shelves of books and magazines kept in the familial home, just in case the children inadvertently open the wrong drawer, or find a ladder to climb to the top shelf? Further along, will ALL adult material be banned, for fear parents may fail to conceal it from their children. The slippery slope to a virulently sanitised toyland is not at all inviting.

When forbidden, that which is ultimately attractive to curious humans – information and stimuli enabling exploration of their own functions, feelings and purpose – may become all the more tantalising. I developed a fascination with Ian Fleming’s novels at a young age, precisely because my father valiantly attempted to hide them from me. To no avail. Portnoy’s Complaint and Lady Chatterley’s Lover (the history of the banning in Australia of both these books should serve as a potent reminder of our antipodean propensity for wowserish, parochial overreaction ) were successfully purloined from my mother’s secret library. One wonders whether I would have been interested in these works at all, had not they been concealed. (I strongly suspect that I would be the first kid on the block to find a way around a net filter as well, simply because it was there).

On reflection now, I know that these books irrevocably enriched my life. It is worth remembering too that those who abuse more often than not learn it from modelling the real life culture which surrounds them. Footballers who participate in pack rapes don’t learn their behaviour from books or the net, they model the established real life behaviours of their ‘tribe’.

We do not ban sugar because diabetics cannot tolerate it; we do not ban football because some footballers pack rape. Should we emasculate the net because pro-filter advocates assume an unmeasured minority of parents may presently lack the skills to teach themselves and their children well?

Treating the entire population as incompetents, criminals or potential criminals by instituting mandatory, unaccountable and optout filtering of their internet feed including non-illegal adult net material to boot for ‘the sake of the children’ is unacceptably patronising and fascistic.

In Queensland at least, some libraries provide free internet training. Parents who lack computer skills, who wish learn to supervise their offsprings’ browsing habits, discuss PC based filtering and existing choices of filtered ISPs might do well to avail themselves of these courses. The extravagant waste of our taxpayer funds on filtering proposed by Conroy and his acolytes would be far better spent as a worthy investment in those wondrous institutions shining at the pinnacle of human civilisation – our libraries.

“You think it’s just a movie on a silver screen
And they’re all actors and fake each scene
Maybe you dont care whose gonna lose or win
Listen to this and I’ll tell you somethin’

It’s a horror movie right there on my TV
Horror movie right there on my TV
Horror movie and there’s known abuse
Horror movie, it’s the six-thirty news
Horror movie, it’s the six-thirty news

The public’s waitin’ for the killin’ and the hatin’
Switch on the station, oh yeah
They do a lot a-sellin’ ‘tween the firin’ and the yellin’-a”

– Skyhooks

“Censorship cannot eliminate evil. It can only kill freedom.”

– Excerpt from a letter to 28 newspapers, signed by Ed Morrow, president, American Booksellers Assn. and Harry Hoffman, president, Walden Book Co., Inc. (1990).

Portnoy’s Complaint

– Time included this novel in its TIME 100 Best English-language Novels from 1923 to 2005.[1]

– In 1969 the book was declared a “prohibited import” in Australia, though the Australian publisher, Penguin Books, resisted and had copies printed up in secret and stored in fleets of moving trucks. Several attempts to prosecute Penguin and any bookseller carrying the book failed.[3]

Lady Chatterley’s Lover

– Not only was the book banned in Australia, but a book describing the British trial, The Trial of Lady Chatterley, was also banned. A copy was smuggled into the country and then published widely. The fallout from this event eventually led to the easing of censorship of books in the country. However, the country still retains the Office of Film and Literature Classification. When the office considers material to be too offensive or obscene, it will refuse to classify the material. Material that fails to receive a classification cannot be distributed. Its officers are called “classifiers” not “censors”.[7]


Wikileaks to Conroy: Go after our source and we will go after you

Thu Mar 19 23:07:20 EDT 2009

The Stockholm based publisher of Wikileaks today issued a warning to the Australian Minister for Broadband, Communications and the Digital Economy, Senator Steven Conroy, who is responsible for Australian internet censorship.

Senator Conroy, in an official media release yesterday, claimed, in response to the release of the Australian internet censorship list by Wikileaks, that his department, “is investigating this matter and is considering a range of possible actions it may take including referral to the Australian Federal Police. Any Australian involved in making this content publicly available would be at serious risk of criminal prosecution.”

Sunshine Press Legal Adviser Jay Lim stated:

“Under the Swedish Constitution’s Press Freedom Act, the right of a confidential press source to anonymity is protected, and criminal penalties apply to anyone acting to breach that right.

Source documents are received in Sweden and published from Sweden so as to derive maximum benefit from this legal protection. Should the Senator or anyone else attempt to discover our source we will refer the matter to the Constitutional Police for prosecution, and if necessary, ask that the Senator and anyone else involved be extradited to face justice for breaching fundamental rights.”

Senator Conroy may wish to consider the position of the South African Competition Commission, which decided to cancel its own high profile leak investigation in January after being advised of the legal ramifications of interfering with Sunshine Press sources.


* Australian government secret ACMA internet censorship blacklist, 6 Aug 2008
* There is no bigger issue than net censorship
* Bank Fees: Banking on silence
* In depth background detail on Australia’s proposed internet censorship system
* Sydney Morning Herald: Leaked Australian blacklist reveals banned sites
* Sydney Morning Herald: Dentist’s website on leaked blacklist
* 278+ other press references


Over to you, Senator Conroy!

10 Replies to “Get Thee to a Library & Learn!”

  1. So Fringe, you agree that idealism needs moderation? 🙂

    History has taught that even the most inspiring ideas can be corrupted and the internet is only the latest. Certainly I am inclined to the same idealism admired by many of your correspondents, but I am not so impractical as to think it is achievable.

    Freedom of religion and freedom of the internet are uncomfortable bed-fellows. The first has found it necessary to lay down its laws and principles in books, because faith has no objectivity. Your free internet supporters also have no objectivity. Their principal is one of unrestricted freedom, something that has been shown to be an ill-conceived and futile goal. Lopping off a hand or a good old fashioned burning at the stake will deter those who may be given to evil acts on the internet. But in the interests of moderation we may choose to settle for something more civilized, what-ever that means.

    1. A relatively unrestricted internet in Australia has worked perfectly well for the past 30 years – has our society broken down irretrievably as a consequence? what negative effects from the free flow of information on the net have you perceived? Illegal material has always been prosecutable.

      Citizens are considering whether they are willing to surrender their ability to judge the remainder of internet material for themselves and their children to government – certainly childish or apprehensive people who have unrealistic ‘faith’ in government may be comfortable with that, particularly if they have not taken the trouble to enlighten themselves about filtering options available to protect them from whatever it is that scares or offends them. To insinuate, as our government has, that adults are unable to make their own judgments about whether or not they want to click a link and should be protected from such decisions smells of a nanny state. Does ‘idealism’ come into this? Democracy is a living, growing organism which occasionally, perhaps, needs fertilisation with the metaphorical blood of politicians who seek to destroy its ideals.

  2. With reference to the Whirlpool “blog,” how ironic that users and moderators in general fall over themselves about the freedom of the internet and how dreadful is Senator Conroy for wanting to moderate access to it, while they simultaneously restrict what is allowed in their own public environment.

    Users who do not conform are chastised by the moderators while their sad lackeys simper along in their wake. No doubt Senator Conroy would find a lot of supporters in certain restricted areas of Whirlpool.

    1. I don’t frequent Whirlpool so can’t comment – however, many online forums, including this blog, have terms of use – if people don’t like these terms, they are free to start their own forums with their own rules 🙂

  3. Thanks for pointing me to Warwick Rendell’s article, which I hadn’t seen before.

    I horoughjly disagree with his core argument, and left a comment on his blog saying why. Here it is:

    >>> So the government has decided that we need to be stopped from seeing the illegal stuff. And that’s one of the things we elected them to do. No, really.

    Huh? We elected the ghovernment to govern well and wisely. At least, that’s what they said they do.

    The Rudd Government has no mandate for its proposed Internet censorship scheme. It slipped in under the radar. There was effectively no debate about this in the lead up to the last election.

    I agree with other folk who’ve commented that in order to devise a ’solution’, the ‘problem’ must be clearly defined. What is ‘the problem’? It’s not clear to me that if you get any two proponents of censorship together they’d agree about that.

    That’s a problem… with censorship.

    Mr Bolt seems to want ‘jihadi sites banned’. Conroy says he only wants ‘the worst of the worst’ child porn banned. ACMA applies God knows what criteria – and whatever they are, does so incompetently. Jim Wallace would doubtless have another hit list. So would Hamilton.

    To say “we must solve the problem” is like saying, at the time of the Salem witch trials, that if you don’t like putting witches on trial, come up with another ’solution’.

    As we now know, with the benefit of hindsight, the solution was to stop inventing witches.

    1. Good one, Syd -your comment about his obvious flawed argument is spot on – the filter regime proposed by Conroy bears little resemblance to ALP policy prior to their election to government. I’m beginning to despise that word ‘mandate’ – it is increasingly being used by politicians to punch up minorities (and in this case a large majority) in Australia. I’ve been tweeting your posts … haven’t had much time to write here as you can see. I have however been brooding while Conroy pusillaminously prances around the questions, and those I would like put as obvious followups are missed – have journos lost their killer instincts in desperate efforts to remain employed? Jennie Brockie on SBS Insight did a much better job than Tony Jones on Q and A – both sites have vids and transcripts.

      Conroy was nauseatingly obtuse on Q and A and wasn’t much better on Insight – he brushed nonchalantly over pertinent workability issues, blurted about his blacklist conundrum and those daring russian mafia and refused to elucidate his actual plans, let alone the desirability of having incompetent government pervs projecting their incompetence upon us as to what is and is not good for us ‘for the sake of the children’.

      Asher Moses catches some of the gaffes – I had to chortle when Conroy simpered horribly when latex was mentioned. He does that thing with his mouth that reminds one, as some evul person has said, of a cat’s b-m. Stilgherrian has a good dig at his question dodging as well. I noticed during Insight that Conroy started waffling about parents who will ‘have more choices if they want to filter more things’ – not sure if he is signalling a partial backdown from the optout filter – to have an optin one instead? or perhaps a secondary blacklist as well as an optout? I had the distinct feeling he meant the former – perhaps he’s working out a fallback policy in the face of such massive, angry criticism from the Australian public. We’ll see. David Marr touches on relevant Australian post convict mentality fallout in his article in the SMH today. Also good reading is Jack Marx’s article from 2006. Far too much of our country is sickeningly ignorant, passive/aggressive when it comes to making choices to do with free speech and individual liberties – no wonder we still have such a brain drain – we still live, many of us, in mental chains.

  4. childrens rights what about them … what say do children have when they are taken from safe protective loving nuturing and caring homes what for ?? for the opinion of a couple of 20 something year olds just out of university with no life experience and what more no children of there own to even know what a child needs or wants. there are parents out there who deserve not to be parents yes but what of those wrongly judged or just plain used by the system where are the rights of children when they dont understand, and further more you have these high and mighty young woman in a job that they can abuse there power when they dont like there authority questioned or they fail to listen to the truth and the whole truth they just hear and see what they want too so please tell me where are the rights of ordinary hard working loving families

    sherie blackwell

    1. Hi Sherie

      I’m not quite sure what direction your comment is aimed at? Are you supporting the view that governments, not parents, should be responsible for the upbringing of children?

      1. From the SMH:

        Is Conroy paranoid? what is the meaning of this?

        The Federal Government will begin trawling blog sites as part of a new media monitoring strategy, with official documents singling out a website critical of the Communications Minister, Stephen Conroy.

        Tender documents issued by the Department of Broadband Communications and the Digital Economy reveal it is looking for a “monitoring service for print and electronic media”. The department later attached a clarification confirming this included “blogs such as Whirlpool”.

        Whirlpool has strongly criticised Senator Conroy’s plan to filter internet content and his handling of the Government’s $15 billion national broadband network. It is a community-run forum devoted to discussing broadband internet access.

        Senator Conroy’s spokesman said: “Whirlpool … covers a wide range of topics across the telecommunications sector. It and other web sites provide valuable insight into the industries in which we work.”

        Opposition communications spokesman Nick Minchin claimed it was “extreme” to expand media monitoring activities to blogs.

        “Blogs such as Whirlpool provide an open forum … and do play an important role in our democracy. Moves to monitor this space seem an unacceptable use of taxpayers’ money,” he said.

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