Thanks for all the fish, suckers

The Minister for Digital Obstruction has decided to reduce his mooted 18 day EPIC FAIL blog to 16 days – get in now folks, you have till 3 pm on December 24 to vent your thoughts. And if this is the first you’ve heard about it, follow the links below and in previous posts here to bring yourself up to speed.

Conroy’s signature behaviours are scope-creep, secrecy and lies, in view of which trusting him, the present wowser government and their Hollow Men with upholding our individual human rights is patently unwise. Without revealing precisely who is participating in the ludicrous ISP filter trials yet or which filtering technology will be tested, Conroy’s latest scope creep is to include filtering of Bit Torrent and other P2P protocols in his trials, the commencement of which has now been delayed to mid January. Filtering unencrypted traffic is fraught with difficulties and expense, let alone considering the degrading effects on network performance and potential major dangers resultant from encrypted packet inspection at ISP level.

Pushed by news stories detailing a leaked IIA report commissioned by the Howard government which identified serious flaws in ISP filtering, Conroy has now published the full report himself. Contributor to the report, Bjorn Landfeldt makes further comment about blacklists on his blog.

“So, what is the big issue as I see it? A blacklist requires manual effort in order to determine what should be included. The Internet is a network of networked computers that carry information in many forms and realms, one of which is the World Wide Web. If we restrict ourselves to talk about only WWW, we have a global network with billions of pages worth of information. The information is made up of all different languages of the world and incredible diverse. Some information has a very high profile and some information has very limited visibility. Since a blacklist would rely on user reporting, it is questionable how efficient it would be to locate unwanted content in the first place. Second, every case would have to be tried to see if it breaches Australian law and falls within the categories specified for the filtering list. It will be a very difficult task to do this for content in the grey zone in all different languages. If the point is to stop child pornography, determining if a model is 19 or 25 in content from a different country with different jurisdiction is not an easy task and would be quite labour intensive. The next question is who is responsible for blocking of material that is legal if the wrong judgement is made?

The only way to identify such material quickly and significantly limit the risk of accidental access is to do some form of dynamic content filtering. However, the state of the art of such technologies is very limited in accuracy and if they are to be used there is a consequential performance impact on the response times of systems or at least an increased cost for the service provider. Current filters are rather good at detecting certain patterns of information such as a combination of many images and certain keywords usually means a porn site. However, there are at least two additional dimensions to consider. First, the current filters only look at such patterns, they do not try to analyse the actual content in any meaningful way. It is therefore difficult to distinguish between different types of content where there are similarities. For example, if a web site contains information about sex education or erotic content. Second, more and more content moves to other forms of multimedia and filtering and detecting the nature of content is much much harder in this case. For example, analysing a video and detecting that it has adult content is not a lightweight computational task. Separating sex education from porn is even harder. Third, if indeed there would be widespread filtering of content the providers would see a need to obfuscate content to fool filters. When we step into this realm it becomes very difficult for any filters to keep up.”

Confirming his continued commitment to filter trials, Conroy suggests that “International experience suggests that index-based filtering of a central blacklist is technically feasible.” But is it desirable or sensible?

In the face of the following, if he really cared about children, Conroy should repudiate his censorship plans immediately. The idiocy and counterproductivity of government blacklists in enabling, not preventing child abuse is perfectly illustrated with the publishing of the Danish and Thai blacklists on Wikileaks. Thai censorship was initially focused on child pron sites, and was expanded to include political censorship of sites which criticised the Thai royal family. The Fringe anticipates the leaking of the Australian blacklist is nigh.

Here’s some great Christmas links to remind us that Australians do care about their freedoms, even if government has forgotten it’s the servant of the people, not their ruler:

In Touch With The Obvious. Mostly says:

“In spite of the Senator’s reassurance, this is fundamentally an attack on free speech. Our laws are defined in such a way that whatever is not prohibited by law remains legal. (We legislate against certain behaviours, rather than regulate in favour of others.) Final responsibility for any action ultimately falls to the individual. By introducing an ISP-level filter, Sen Conroy has removed that freedom. In spite of your protests, Senator, you are censoring free speech by introducing this filter.”

The Fringe has read somewhat bemusedly the statement of Mike of Melb, who posted in hit and run fashion on this blog as The Observer. The statement in part reads:

“I have been interacting with several players involved in this whole process for over a year, on an ad-hoc and unpaid basis (advisory on technologies and market developments), however I recently agreed to be contracted with a vendor of ISP-filtering solutions.”

Meanwhile, Hoyden About Town has trouble making sense of this world. So do we!

Alex Byrne’s “The way of the wowser: censorship as a barrier to access to information” is a worthy reference on Australian wowserism:

“The wowser is a killjoy, one who wishes to spoil the pleasure of others especially in entertainment, alcohol and sex. It includes temperance advocates and homophobes. The way of the wowser is to seek to control the lives of others: in our domain, to bar access to information which the censor finds objectionable.”

And from the twitterverse:

@mpesce “”Politics is the art of looking for trouble, finding it everywhere, diagnosing it incorrectly and applying the wrong remedies.” — Groucho

Another example of gross governmental irresponsibility and inadequacy has come to light with the release of the Clarke report on the Haneef affair. Mick Keelty, the AFP, Howard and his Ministers will be protected despite the report’s findings of culpability. Cameron Reilly puts it not so mildly:

The report found that the AFP told the Howard Government that there was no evidence against Haneef – AND THEN CHANGED THEIR MIND. This is what they call “in good faith”?

I call it BULLSHIT.

So the Rudd Government is going to give the Howard ministers and the AFP a get out of jail free card. Does it have anything to do with how Rudd, when Opposition leader, didn’t have much to say about the Howard Government’s handling of the case? Or is it just favours for mates?

Heads should roll.

Over at Tech Wired Australia, Ben Grubb has a stellar piece about the victimisation by police of citizen journalist Nick Hac who last Friday was “threatened with arrest under the Australian Anti-Terrorism Act 2005 for videoing Police performing a search in public.” His phone was confiscated, searched and the video deleted despite him not consenting to search of his phone. Margaret Simon highlights this travesty on her blog at Crikey.

The Second Parable of Michael Kirby

At his address to the IIA in February this year, Michael Kirby shared some prescient, relevant insights:

“We are moving to the point in the world where more and more law will be effectively expressed, not in terms of statutes, solemnly enacted by the Parliament and sent to the Governor-General for the royal assent – but in the technology itself. What Lessig calls, “Code”. Embedded in the Code, on a multinational basis and effective across borders in a way that could not have been dreamt of in the past, will be effective regulation, expressed in the technology itself.

This is a very important and new development. It’s a development that is not initially in the hands of democratic legislators. They don’t set the balances and adjust the competition between free usage and fair usage, free expression and protection for copyright. This is not going to be done in that way. It’s going to be done in big corporations, protecting their own interests.”

Colin Jacobs from the EFA echoes Kirby’s concerns commenting on Conroy’s internet censorship plans:

“It could go either way. Either this is the last gasp of government attempting to censor the internet – and it is going to run into the same sorts of technological and legal brick walls previous attempts have – or the Government will have succeeded in getting their hooks into the internet.”

“And then you can be absolutely sure that every special interest group will be lining up to have their particular bugbear dealt with. The copyright lobby will be first in line to have file sharing websites banned. Then you’ve got two gentlemen with significant influence due to the balance of power in the Senate – Senator [Nick] Xenophon, who is against internet gambling, and Senator Fielding, who would be against all adult material on the internet. It’s not panic mongering to say that; these people are on the record.”

To date the most enthusiastic participant in Conroy’s filter “trials” is Primus, whose CEO Ravi Bhatia said “It’s easy for us to do it”. Optus will trial filtering of the ACMA blacklist “limited to a specific geographic area, with customers given the option to opt out of the trial.” iiNet is participating “to make sure the public, media and political players are well informed and realise that it is bad policy. We hope that the outcome of this trial will be the final nail in the coffin of this misguided approach, which seems to re-surface with every new minister.”

The trials are expected to start on December 24 and run for a 6 week period.

Under Conroy’s proposed cybersafety plans, $44.m is set aside for ISP based filtering.

How can we, the public, ensure *our* interests are protected, when our access to information on the internet is under attack by government, religious groups, moral panickers and business interests?

UPDATE Dec 21 scoops the pool with a stunning interview with security expert Matthew Strahan, whose precise knowledge, if it was understood by Rudd and his minions, should alone cause Conroy’s net censorship plans to be canned as an extremely tasteless, dangerous joke.

The interview is in three parts – Exclusive: White hat hacker tears apart flaws in Aussie net filtering scheme, Interview with a white hat hacker, Part 2: The filters’ vulnerabilities and Interview with a white hat hacker, Part 3: What machines can’t judge and why.

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.”

Human Rights Day 10th December

Today is the 60th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, a document which recognises humanity’s common interests and belongs to us all.

The Declaration represents a contract between governments and their peoples, who have a right to demand that this document be respected. Not all governments have become parties to all human rights treaties. All countries, however, have accepted the UDHR.


As the Declaration’s custodians and beneficiaries, all of us must reclaim the UDHR, make it our own. While we are entitled to our human rights, we should also respect the human rights of others and help make universal human rights a reality for all of us. In our efforts lies the power of the UHDR: it is a living document that will continue to inspire generations to come.

Universal Declaration of Human Rights PetitionOne way you can show your support for the UDHR and spread awareness of human rights around the globe is to sign the petition to print the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in your passport .

Australians might contemplate in particular Article 14, so cruelly ignored by the xenophobic and human rights abusing Howard government.

1. Everyone has the right to seek and to enjoy in other countries asylum from persecution.
2. This right may not be invoked in the case of prosecutions genuinely arising from non-political crimes or from acts contrary to the purposes and principles of the United Nations.

Howard's ShameSadly, the right to seek asylum takes second place to border protection in the minds of many brainwashed Australians.

The sixth ‘people-smuggling’ vessel to reach Australian waters since September arrived on December 8.

Its 44 passengers brings the number of suspected asylum seekers arriving by boat over the past 10 weeks to nearly 120.

This is a VERY VERY SMALL number of people compared to the legal migrant intake instituted by the Rudd government this year.

The overall migration program will now be 190,300 for this year, and 133,500 of those places will be allocated to permanent skilled migrants.

Wrongful detention of legitimate asylum seekers committed by Howard’s cold-eyed goons is coming back to haunt us.

Immigration Department may be forced to compensate 191 of the 247 people investigated by the Ombudsman for wrongful detention.

The department has so far offered compensation in 40 of the cases and settlements have been reached in 17. In total, about $1.2million in compensation has been paid so far.

If Australia wishes to minimise people-smuggling within the character of the UDHR to which it is signatory, it needs to address human rights issues in asylum seekers’ countries of origin.

Increased border protection to prevent the entry of desperate asylum seekers fleeing human rights abuses is an ineffective bandaid solution, and as has been amply demonstrated during the Howard years with the Tampa and SievX affairs, can lead to shameful Australian human rights abuse with consequent blowback later on, including diminishment of Australia’s international stature and authority to speak out about human rights abuse elsewhere.

Article 19 of the UDHR is today’s recommended reading for Stephen Conroy and supporters of his web censorwall.

Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers.

On December 13, protests against Conroy’s proposed web filters will be held around Australia.


Father Frank Brennan is to head a Human Rights Consultative Panel to consider a wide range of human rights issues, including whether Australia should have a bill of rights. Brennan is a self-professed fence-sitter on whether we Australians would benefit from our individual rights being enshrined in a Bill or Charter of Rights.

Australia is the only democratic country in the world without formal human rights protections – join the Getup campaign to change this.

Aung San Suu Kyi, the democratic elected leader of Burma and Nobel Peace Price recipient, speaks about printing the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in passports.