Government Digital Economy Blog Launch

Lindsay Tanner gives a well-crafted introduction to the new Government Digital Economy blog, which is to be open for a whole 18 days.

The Oz government is offering to receive online policy suggestions which contribute to their Future Directions paper to be released early next year.

Some of the themes to be explored include:

  • What does the digital economy encompass?
  • How do we maintain the same ‘civil society’ we enjoy offline in an online world? (this is the post that touches on the issue of filtering and we welcome your feedback about the issue in response to this post)
  • Is there a benefit for the digital economy from open access to public sector information?
  • Does Australia’s regulatory framework need tweaking to enable a vibrant digital economy in Australia
  • How can the digital economy respond to environmental concerns?
  • What should Australia do to ensure that our businesses and citizens have the necessary skills to participate fully in the digital economy?
  • How can we measure the success of Australia’s digital economy?

Perhaps tellingly, the associated Conroy media release doesn’t include the bracketed explanation re web filtering.

As ever, the Fringe is cynical. Yet hopefully, this blog consultation initiative won’t serve merely as online placation to the overwhelming groundswell of valid dissension against and criticism of Conroy’s ill-considered web censorship plans. In other words, scream as loud as you like, people, we hear you – look, we published all your comments, but nanny knows best.

That the government apparently wishes to make online society like our ‘civil’ society indicates little has been learned on their part hitherto in this debate about the nature of the internet itself. The ever-present hunger for control is self-evident.

The new list of Filter Fallacies invoked by defenders of net censorship is an excellent starting point for people wishing to challenge the Conroy Doctrine.

For example,

The Conroy Fallacy: That if you are against the filter, you are for child pornography.

or

The Hamilton Fallacy: That censoring the Internet is just like censoring other media

UPDATE

Law enforcement agencies have been disempowered with the ‘Labor Government’s recent removal of $2.8m from the increased funding for OCSET (The Australian Federal Police’s Online Child Sexual Exploitation Team)’, the implausible implication being that web filters will be relied upon by government to take up the slack.

The Labor plan to censor the internet is in shreds with Telstra and Internode refusing participation in Conroy’s flawed closed prototype trials.

Senator Conroy’s office could not explain why it was telling people that the trials would not involve actual customers, which would give little indication of the real-world impact of the filtering plan.

Senator Conroy himself has consistently dodged questions about his policy in Parliament.

“How on earth could you conduct a ‘live’ trial if there are no customers to assess?” Opposition communications spokesman Nick Minchin said.

“The minister also continues to be deliberately vague and cryptic about the definition of unwanted content and now he is unable to clarify how this so-called live trial will be conducted, even though he wants it to start before December 24.”

The Greens today called on the Government to abandon its internet filtering trial, saying it was flawed and doomed to failure.

Senator Ludlam said in a phone interview he believed Labor would drop the mandatory filtering policy in the new year once the now scaled-back trials were completed.

He said the Government could not abandon it now “without losing significant political face”.

APC critiques Conroy’s new blog

UPDATE Dec 10

Conroy has not revealed why the trials will not involve actual customers.

Mind maps of Conroy’s flawed net censorship policy and fallout if it’s implemented.

OCAU Internet filtering WIKI – a vast compendium of links on a timeline.

Conroy gets a blog bashing over his net censorwall.

The Australian Information Industry Association (AIIA) has raised concerns about the effectiveness of a new Federal Government digital economy blog in policy development.

If you have submitted a legitimate comment to the new DCBDE Blog and it hasn’t been published, go to Filtering Fallacies and voice your concern.

Three terrific articles on Spiked discussing the censorwall saga – Danu Poyner’s ‘Digital Natives’ take on censorious Kevin, with a history of the current netviral protest against Rudd’s paternalistic ambitions to nobble the big WWW, Kerry Miller’s Liberal tyranny on the World Wide Web which examines the extent to which Clive and the Hairshirts in tandem with the reactionary Catholic Labor Party right wing have hijacked the agenda, and Guy Rundle’s Tear down Australia’s Great Firewall Reef. Guy summons thoughts of Bertrand Russell and Voltaire, when he says “freedom of speech has to be defended against the equation of its use with the small amount of criminal behaviour conducted within it, and against the moralising notion that consensual adult images and activities should not be freely accessible lest they cause ‘harm’.”

It comes down to numbers now. Kevvie will lose face if he drops the silly policy, not just here but worldwide – perhaps most importantly in Asia, where they take things like that very seriously. At present he’s riding high in the polls. Should the issue reach the house, there’s no guarantee some of the moralistic wankers and technological retards in the Liberal Party may not cross the floor. Turnbull has been very very quiet on the issue, though of course, in politics, timing is everything.

Over the top and out the window

Moral PanicMoral panic has reached new, Orwellian heights in Oz, with a 60 year old Maroochydore man charged over republishing a video link showing a man swinging a baby around by the arms.

The controversial three-minute video had already been published widely across the internet and shown on American TV news shows. The clip can still be found online today.

The baby is laughing and smiling at the end of the clip, but the video has attracted criticism from child-welfare advocates because of how vigorously the man swings the baby by its arms.

Will those downloading and /or republishing pics of the deceased Steve Irwin dangling his baby round the maws of an Australia zoo crocodile or Michael Jackson holding a baby over a balcony experience similar visits from the boys in blue?

Meanwhile, parts of Wikipedia have been blacklisted by a British online child pornography watchdog, [IWF] causing almost every internet user in Britain to be blocked from contributing to the site anonymously. Colin Jacobs illustrates how this is ‘a perfect snapshot of things to come in Australia if the cleanfeed is introduced here’.

The Internet Watch Foundation is an unelected self-regulated body which operates as a charity in the UK.

Conroy has stated that Australia will be filtering the IWF blacklist.

And in NSW, an internet cartoon showing characters modelled on Bart, Lisa and Maggie Simpson engaging in sex acts, is child pornography, a judge has ruled in a landmark case. The judge concluded

a fictional cartoon character is a “person” within the meaning of Commonwealth and NSW laws.

Justice Adams said the legislation’s main purpose was to combat the direct sexual exploitation and abuse of children that occurs where offensive images of real children are made.

But, he said, it was also calculated to deter production of other material, including cartoons, which “can fuel demand for material that does involve the abuse of children”.

If one accepts that the cartoons were of real ‘people’ and there is no valid artistic defence in this case, the judgment appears to be supported by existing Commonwealth legislation which proscribes

(a) material that depicts a person, or a representation of a person, who is, or appears to be, under 18 years of age and who:

(i) is engaged in, or appears to be engaged in, a sexual pose or sexual activity (whether or not in the presence of other persons); or

(ii) is in the presence of a person who is engaged in, or appears to be engaged in, a sexual pose or sexual activity;

and does this in a way that reasonable persons would regard as being, in all the circumstances, offensive;

The Explanatory Memorandum to the Act goes further:

…”depictions”… is intended to cover all visual images, both still and motion, including representations of children, such as cartoons or animation. … “descriptions” … is intended to cover all word-based material, such as written text, spoken words and songs.

In dissension, Greg Barns, a specialist barrister in criminal and human rights law, said

the decision showed that the laws surrounding child pornography were too broad if cartoons could be classified as child pornography.

Tacky ripoff, or child porn? would the cartoon offend a ‘reasonable person’? Haven’t seen it, so we can’t say. Still, prohibiting cartoons which might possibly incite another Thoughtcrime seems a bit over the top.

While all exploitation of children is to be deplored, news stories about the world’s most horrificly obscene and prevalent forms of child abuse – starvation and malnutrition – are given scant exposure. Is this because these travesties tend to happen in Africa and don’t count or because US food and shipping companies and their political minions are exempt from moral opprobrium?

U.S. farm and shipping lobbyists have stifled efforts to simplify aid deliveries, leaving Africans to starve when they might have been saved, said Andrew Natsios, a professor at Georgetown University in Washington who led USAID, the Agency for International Development, from 2001 to 2006.

“No one can take the high moral ground against it, so they hide behind closed doors and kill it,” he said. “It’s all done behind the scenes.”

The number of the world’s hungry will grow from about 967 million this year to 1 billion in 2009, predicts Olivier E. De Schutter, a professor of human rights at the University of Louvain in Belgium and an adviser to the UN on the right to food.

One ingredient in this recipe for famine, U.S. food aid, differs from policies of the European Union and Canada, which buy food near where it is to be used. The U.S. program serves domestic interests more than the world’s needy, said Gawain Kripke, a senior policy adviser at Oxfam America, a Boston-based affiliate of the aid group Oxfam International.

According to UNICEF

Each year malnutrition is implicated in about 40% of the 11 million deaths of children under five in developing countries, and lack of immediate and exclusive breastfeeding in infancy causes an additional 1.5 million of these deaths. However, contrary to popular belief, only a fraction of these children die from starvation in catastrophic circumstances such as famine or war. In the majority of cases, the lethal hand of malnutrition and poor breastfeeding practices is far more subtle: they cripple children’s growth, render them susceptible to disease, dull their intellects, diminish their motivation, and sap their productivity.

A Chorus of Logical Discontent

Clive Hamilton stirred an orchestra of disdain this week at Crikey with an amazing flakey rant, bragging about his fathering of Conroy’s proposed net censorship bastard. Such a polyphony of fallacious sour notes is peculiar from a Professor of Ethics with University maths training who regrets not studying philosophy, as Jon Seymour reveals in the foot of his superb dissection of Clive’s fuzzy thinking – and it shows.

Again in contrast, many of the comments following Clive’s disastrous diatribe, Colin Jacob from the EFA’s excellent article and Stilgherrian’s wittily scathing remonstrations, display cogent, honest reasoning.

For a very readable overview of the Australian net censorship issue, Raena Lea-Shannon’s piece “Conroy’s Web” is highly recommended. In the UK, Conroy is shamed as well, with the Guardian publishing a feature on Australia’s past and present antipodean obsessions with censorship.

And last but by no means least, Matthew Thompson over at ABC Unleashed makes the Fringe’s annoyance with the shallow populist prudery and technological blinkerdom of Rudd and team seem positively milquetoast.

Is debate between moral absolutism and moral relativism a red herring when the primary criticism of Conroy’s scheming is its technical unfeasibility? or should we watch carefully regardless, since as Oz moves toward a republic, tussles between cognitivists, noncognitivists and other philosophical camps will be germane to the formation (or not) of an Australian Bill of Rights.

NB To follow up – current HREOC Discussion paper and Louis Brandeis’ famous judgment.

Fear of serious injury cannot alone justify suppression of free speech and assembly. Men feared witches and burnt women. It is the function of speech to free men from the bondage of irrational fears. . . . Those who won our independence by revolution were not cowards. They did not fear political change. They did not exalt order at the cost of liberty. To courageous, self-reliant men, with confidence in the power of free and fearless reasoning applied through the processes of popular government, no danger flowing from speech can be deemed clear and present, unless the incidence of the evil apprehended is so imminent that it may befall before there is opportunity for full discussion. If there be time to expose through discussion the falsehood and fallacies, to avert the evil by the processes of education, the remedy to be applied is more speech, not enforced silence.

TWITFLASH!

@michaelmeloni
Clive Hamilton responds ( http://is.gd/8Drp ) to Jon Seymour’s article on STotC ( http://is.gd/8xz8 ) #nocleanfeed

MORE NEWS

Glenn Milne weighs into the debate, examining some of the unintended consequences of existing net filters.

Jon Seymour has now rejoindered to Hamilton’s response to him, aptly pointing out the false dichotomy presented in Clive’s ‘argument’ and maintaining “unless Clive admits he made a mistake and that his dichotomy was actually false, the charge of intellectual dishonesty still stands”.

Mark Newton comments on the impact of filters on net speeds.

Somebody Think of the Children notes that Logipik, a php image filter, interprets pictures of Conroy as porn.

More comment on the unworkability and undesirability of Conroy’s net filters from internet security expert, James Turner.

NEWS UPDATE

Senator Nick Minchin encapsulates the current debate on net censorship (Fringe can’t believe she’s commending a Lib for principled common sense – are they returning to their ‘liberal’ origins?):

“The Opposition firmly believes that adult supervision, supported by optional user-end filters, effective law enforcement and education should be front and centre of any efforts to keep children safe online,” he said.

“In relation to criminal conduct online, our nation’s law enforcement bodies must be adequately resourced to monitor and investigate unlawful activity.

“There is no technical substitute for appropriate adult supervision when it comes to keeping our children safe online and most parents and teachers take that responsibility very seriously and any suggestions to the contrary are patronising and offensive,” Senator Minchin said.

“Labor’s plan to implement a mandatory Internet filter at ISP level has been roundly attacked with valid concerns raised about its likely effectiveness, the adverse impact it would have on Internet speeds and performance and also the precise nature of the content the Government plans to filter.

“The Communications Minister Stephen Conroy has further fuelled concerns with his talk of filtering not only illegal content, but also unwanted and inappropriate content. This policy proposal is also causing Australia embarrassment internationally, with comparisons to the world’s most repressive regimes,” Senator Minchin said.

“The Internet interprets censorship as damage and routes around it.” – John Gilmore

UPDATE 30 Nov

Chris Berg from the Institute of Public Affairs points out the obvious:

There is a certain element of Australian political culture that sees censorship and banning as the panacea to almost every social and policy question. But wowserism dressed up in concerned rhetoric about the sanctity of childhood is still wowserism.

UPDATE 1 Dec

Even children’s welfare groups see the filter is deeply flawed.