[Update 21 December: If you've just found this post through recent links just before Christmas 2008, you might also want to check out some of the later material which I list at the end of the article.]
Network engineer Mark Newton met with his local MP Kate Ellis in Adelaide yesterday. She too had nothing but canned responses.
This is not good enough.
The same goes for “pro-family” lobbyists like the Australian Family Association’s Anh Nguyen in Online filtering recognises families’ concerns today, or the people quoted in the Courier Mail‘s Web filter ‘needed’ to protect kids from porn on Friday.
Detailed, coherent critiques have been put forward addressing the technical, economic and policy flaws in clear, straightforward language. If you can’t counter those arguments with evidence and logic, not more “think of the children” hand-wringing, then we must stop wasting time and taxpayers’ money on this “filtering” folly. Now.
I can almost excuse family lobbyists for failing to understand. If you’re deeply concerned about children emotionally, then logical analysis probably isn’t your strongest suit. If you’re so ignorant of the Internet that you imagine “hardcore pornography” (whatever that is) suddenly pops up to freak out your six-year-old every time you turn your back to stir the soup, then you might also imagine some magical technology which can automatically figure out what you do and don’t want your child to see.
But “all our members have families, and they think X” is not the same as “all people with families think X“. Every family is different. Every child is different. And there are plenty of families who don’t want this so-called “filtering”. And don’t bring religion into it either, because there are Christian mothers who think censorship is wrong too.
An elected representative has no excuse for ignorance, however. We pay good money to advisors to keep them informed. Mark Newton is quite rightly concerned about Kate Ellis’ ignorance.
She was unknowingly parroting the same factual errors that Conroy uses every time he opens his mouth on this issue. It’s obvious that there’s a set of talking points that has been distributed around the Parliamentary Labor Party, and no matter which member you talk to they’ll say the same things.
Those same things are easy targets, low-hanging fruit. Because they’ve so completely failed to educate themselves on the facts of this issue, they’re absolutely simple to demolish.
There was nothing Ms Ellis said at the meeting that couldn’t be drilled into the floor by the factual data I’d footnoted in my letter (and I’ll be following up the meeting with another letter drawing attention to that fact, and suggesting that she forward my footnotes to ALP policy hacks so that they can replace their current talking points with true ones).
The overwhelming impression I walked away with is that the ALP members who support this policy don’t know what they’re talking about. They haven’t researched it, they don’t understand the existing law, they don’t understand the scope of what they’re proposing; It seems that they actually believe the talking points because they don’t know any better.
Anh Nguyen reckons the Phase 2 filtering trials should go ahead, asking “Why not give some families a chance to pilot to see if it suits their requirements?”
My response to that is simple: You already have plenty of options without interfering with everyone else’s Internet.
Why aren’t you trying the existing “filtered” Internet available from ISPs in the Internet Industry Association’s Family Friendly ISP program?
Why aren’t you using the free taxpayer-funded filters downloadable from NetAlert?
If you’ve tried them already and they don’t work for you, why not try one of the many other filters on the market?
Why not band together with like-minded parents and start your own “safe” ISP?
Why, exactly, do you expect the government to do your child-minding for you, and every other taxpayer to pay for it?
Anthony Albanese’s letter
Here’s the full text of the letter I received today. You can also download it as a text file for handy editing.
Dear Mr Stilgherrian
Thank you for your fax regarding ISP filtering. I am aware that the proposal has attracted some criticism from those, like yourself, who are concerned that it will lead to censorship of the internet. However, the Australian Government has no plans to stop adults from viewing material that is currently legal, if they wish to view such material.
The Government regards freedom of speech as very important and the Government’s cyber-safety policy is in no way designed to curtail this.
The internet is an essential tool for all Australian children through which they can exchange information, be entertained, socialise and do school work and research. The ability to use online tools effectively provides both a skill for life and the means to acquire new skills.
However, while the internet has created substantial benefits for children it has also exposed them to a number of dangers, including exposure to offensive content. As such, parents rightly expect the Government to play its part in the protection of children online.
The Government has committed $125.8 million over the next four years to a comprehensive range of cyber-safety measures, including law enforcement, filtering and education. Measures include:
- Australian Federal Police (AFP) Child Protection Operations Team – funding to detect and investigate online child sex exploitation;
- Commonwealth Director of Public Prosecutions – funding to help deal with the increased activity resulting from the work of the AFP to ensure that prosecutions are handled quickly;
- ISP level filtering – funding to develop and implement ISP filtering, including undertaking a real world ‘live’ pilot;
- Education activities – funding to the Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA) to implement a comprehensive range of education activities;
- Websites / Online helpline – funding to ACMA to improve current Government cyber-safety website resources and to make them easier for parents to use, and to provide up-to-date information. ACMA will also develop a children’s cybersafety website to provide information specifically for children, and improve the online helpline to provide a quick and easy way for children to report online incidents that cause them concern;
- Consultative Working Group – funding for an expanded Consultative Working Group. The Group will consider the broad range of cyber-safety issues and advise the Government, to ensure properly developed and targeted policy initiatives;
- Youth Advisory Group – funding for a Youth Advisory Group which will provide advice to the Consultative Working Group on cyber-safety issues from a young person’s perspective; and
- Research – funding for ongoing research into the changing digital environment to identify issues and target future policy and funding.
These initiatives will tackle the issue of cyber-safety from a number of directions to help clean up the online environment and protect Australian children from the dangers of the internet now and into the future. This approach acknowledges the key role parents and carers have in the online safety of children, and provides them with the necessary information to assist with this task. This initiative also recognises that there is no single solution to ensure children can access the internet safely.
A key part of the Government’s plan to make the internet a safer place for children is the introduction of ISP level filtering. The policy reflects our community’s growing belief that ISPs should take some responsibility for enabling the blocking of illegal material on the internet. Filtering would cover illegal and prohibited content using an expanded ACMA blacklist of prohibited sites, which includes images of the sexual abuse of children.
Consideration is being given to more sophisticated filtering techniques for those individual families who wish to exclude additional online content in their own homes.
The Government wants to ensure that Australian parents can access a ‘clean feed’ internet service. This will be informed by the technology adopted in countries such as the United Kingdom, France, Sweden, Norway, Finland and Canada where ISP filtering, predominantly of child pornography, has been successfully introduced without affecting internet performance to a noticeable level.
The Government’s ISP filtering policy is being developed through an informed and considered approach, including industry consultation and close examination of overseas models to assess their suitability for Australia.
ACMA recently completed an extensive laboratory trial of available ISP filtering technology. The trial looked specifically at the effect of a range of filter products on network performance, effectiveness in identifying and blocking i”egal and
inappropriate content, scope to filter non-web traffic, and the ability to customise the filter to the requirements of different end-users.
The laboratory trial indicated that ISP filtering products have developed in their effectiveness since they were last assessed in 2005. The Government wll now proceed with a ‘live’ pilot in the second half of 2008 which will provide valuable information on the effectiveness and efficiency of filters installed in a ‘real world’ ISP network. An Expression of Interest will be released in due course seeking the participation of ISPs in the pilot.
The Government is committed to working closely with internet industries to address any concerns, including costs and internet speeds. These concerns will be carefully considered during the pilot and will further inform the Government’s cyber-safety policy.
Thank you for bringing your concerns to my attention. I trust this information will be of assistance.
Anthony Albanese MP
Federal Member for Grayndler
Minister for Infrastructure, Transport, Regional Development & Local Government
Leader of the House
28 October 2008
21 December 2008: In the weeks since this post was written, I’ve written more on this issue, as have others.
If you have time to read only one article, make it Irene Graham’s incredibly well-researched Australian Gov’t Mandatory ISP Filtering/Censorship Plan. What Irene doesn’t know about this issue wouldn’t even cover half the head of a pin.
If you like my style of writing, then you might like these pieces:
- The lies of the internet censors: Your. Filter. Won’t. Work.
- My radio interview on 2SER FM’s Diffusion
- Clive Hamilton doesn’t quite win “Cnut of the Week”
There’s some earlier material, listed here newest-first:
- Conroy thoroughly tangled in his own Rabbit-Proof Firewall
- Cheap tricks not the right response on internet filtering
- Internet filters a success, if success = failure
- Labor’s dream of kid-friendly internet is flawed
- Angry geeks: “Don’t waste money on internet filters”
- Why government internet filtering won’t work
Gosh, this really has been my Issue of the Year, eh?