Senator Conroy

Common sense prevails

The ISP filter has been scaled back from any black listed items to just Refused Classification content – which some people have argued was their policy all along (particularly one debate on Craig’s blog. It may well have been – but that was poorly communicated. Here’s the SMH story.

“Communications Minister Stephen Conroy has long said his policy would introduce compulsory ISP-level filters of the Australian Communications and Media Authority’s blacklist of prohibited websites.

But he has since backtracked, saying the mandatory filters would only block content that has been “refused classification” (RC) – a subset of the ACMA blacklist – amid widespread concerns that ACMA’s list contains a slew of R18+ and X18+ sites, such as regular gay and straight pornography and other legal content.”

I’m a lot less worried about that – it seems to be much more transparent than the previously stated policy. I’m sure my freedom loving friends will still have problems, as do the Australian Christian Lobby. Nice work guys…

“The lobby’s managing director, Jim Wallace, wants the Government to introduce legislation forcing internet providers to block adult and pornography material on a mandatory basis, in addition to illegal content. Australians would then have to opt in to receive legal adult material.”

That sounds nice. It really does. Pornography is a blight on society. And it would be nice to protect vulnerable people (particularly vulnerable Christians) from its insidiousness. But. It isn’t really up to Christians to make the laws in a country where we are in the minority (despite the number of people ticking the Christian box on the census). Why should we expect those given over to sinful desires (which is surely how the Bible describes the state of non-Christians) to conform to a Christian standard of living?

Full disclosure

Apparently Senator Conroy is not the Internet killing free speech hating barbarian the Internet community claims.

I’ve been having a lengthy email conversation with the guy who called me a Greens Party Stooge (which still hurts) and he pointed me to this article and these quotes:

Conroy also reiterated that the Government has made clear which content is to be filtered and how.

It will attack RC [refused classification] content, he said, by the same rationale ACMA already classifies content under the existing Broadcasting Services Act for television, radio and print publications.

“There is no political content banned in the existing Broadcasting Services Act,” he said.

“We are not building the Great Wall of China. We are going after the filth – like child pornography. Its been done around the world and it can be done here.”

How it is done “will be guided by the outcome of the trials.”

Most of the assertions otherwise are “patently a scare campaign [against] a policy objective we think is fair and reasonable,” he said.

I have no doubt there is good intention behind this plan. Don’t get me wrong. I don’t like child pornography or other illegal stuff being on the internet – including piracy.

But while I think this “policy objective” is fair and reasonable the policy being promoted to achieve it is not. If this is the case – why the secrecy? If this is the case why are there two trials – one of the ACMA blacklist, and one of a smaller list of illegal sites? And why is Whirlpool facing fines for providing a link to the leaked ACMA blacklist – which demonstrated the lack of vetting of content added to the list (eg a dentist’s site).

So, Conroy wants us to “show good faith” – how bout showing the people of Australia some good faith by making the blacklist process as open and transparent as the classification process? The argument that the blacklist based filter will be “opt in” doesn’t hold water if those who don’t opt in don’t know what’s on it.

Personally, given the choice, I’ll sign up to the filtered version. But that should be my decision – and we should know what we can’t access when signing up.

Clean feed ship listing due to leaks

There’s a lot of debate still raging about the proposed clean feed. We all thought it was dead when Nick Xenophon decided he didn’t like it. But no. It’s alive and kicking. And costing money for anyone who dares link to the leaked blacklist.

Obviously there’s a fair bit of support from the Christian side of the fence for anything limiting people’s access to pornography – particularly child exploitation material. But these objections are, in my opinion, misguided. There’s also a fair bit of reasonable Christian objection to the proposal. Examples here from Craig and Seamus.

Here’s some reasons I think the policy is a bad idea…

  1. It won’t actually address the problem it claims to address – I have not read about any court cases involving prosecution of people who took part in illegal pornography via an http website. The filter only addresses these sites. Illegal material is traded via complicated, secure sharing systems.
  2. It provides no deterrent for wrongdoers – a better way to tackle the problem would be to invest in better policing and increase the penalties for people involved.
  3. It gives the government an opportunity to act without accountability – The blacklist is a closely guarded secret – as is the process for sites to get on it. There are fines for people who reveal any of its content. The process is secretive and arbitrary – how long before “objectionable content” becomes “things we don’t agree with”… despite the constant cry from Christian supporters of the policy that “this isn’t censorship” and we should act to protect children and keep harmful material from adults the system we’re introducing is more like the system in China and Iran than the system in the US and New Zealand. It is censorship. In fact, it’s worse. By keeping what’s being censored secret and not addressing the criteria involved other than with motherhood statements it’s more akin to policing thought than to protecting the population from unwanted nasties.

Libertarians want the policy scrapped because they think people should have access to whatever material they believe is in their best interest. I don’t agree. And I don’t think you have to agree with that idea to oppose what is a stupid piece of policy that was only tabled in the first place to appease the Christian vote.

The debate at Craig’s blog continued into a second post – where I joined the fray.

From here on in I’m just reproducing what I said there.

Here’s what Conroy had to say about the issue from an ABC story on the matter of the blacklist and how it will be used… from the horse’s mouth so to speak.

Senator Conroy: A whole range of people have said, ‘Hey let’s expand this’. That’s a debate that we will come to. What we’re trying to establish at the moment, we’re no further than establishing at the moment, whether it’s technically feasible. So in terms of what some of us senators want to claim should be included on the blacklist, I’m sure that when we get to the debates down the track, if it proves to be technically feasible, there’ll be a whole range of people with a whole range of demands about what should be on the blacklist. But what we’ve committed to do is practically implement what’s on the blacklist at the moment, if it is technically feasible.

Conroy is basically admitting that the technology will allow the Government to pretty much block whatever they see fit. It’s scary.

Hansard from this Senate estimates hearing (it’s a PDF) makes for interesting reading (at least when they’re talking about getting newsradio in Townsville and the Clean Feed).

Quotes like this one worry me:

“As I have said, whether we will consider other items will be determined by the live trial.”

It’s not simply restricted to illegal content – this trial is restricted to illegal content – the filter may be open to further suggestions once they know it works…

Having read the entire discussion in that Hansard report I’m still not convinced. I know they say that they’re only dealing with material in line with the current classifications system – but their statements are far too open ended when dealing with the future of the scheme and the way sites are added to the ACMA blacklist – which like it or not is a secret list controlled by the Government and will play a vital role in identifying blocked content.

Nobody is arguing that there aren’t good intentions behind the scheme – just that in its current form it is far too open for abuse in the future for my liking. It also won’t do anything to stop or deter those who use the internet for nasty means – because as has been argued time and time again – they don’t use standard http websites.

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