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Politicians are notoriously clueless when it comes to technology. Indeed, a Parliament House staffer once told me that it’s impossible to overstate their level of ignorance. But isn’t it time they caught up with the rest of us?

Last year I wrote about this in the business context, “I don’t understand computers” is not an excuse.

If you own or manage a business that handles information (and which business doesn’t?) then you must understand computers and the Internet. If you don’t, you’re incompetent. Yes, that’s right, you heard me. Incompetent…

In short, you don’t need to know the technology itself, but you do need to know its implications for your business.

Australia’s had a Goods and Services Tax since 2000. If you waved your hand and said, “Oh, I don’t understand GST,” your shareholders would have every right to sack you for incompetence.

Yesterday I wrote about this in the political context for ZDNet.com.au, Are clueless politicians holding IT back?, and as in my business-focussed piece I suggested a checklist for what I reckon they should know.

What do you think? Am I being too harsh? Or am I right in using the word “incompetent” here?

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Since Friday’s Crikey story about the leaked blacklist — which Senator Stephen Conroy denied was the actual ACMA blacklist of banned Internet content — there have been further leaks. And two more Crikey stories.

Monday’s piece was Yet another ACMA internet blacklist springs a leak. I explain how the leak unfolded, and how Wikileaks published instructions for extracting the cunningly-named file Websites_ACMA.txt from a certain brand of Internet filtering software — one of the Internet Industry Association’s Family Friendly Filters and one of those provided free to (a few) Australian families by the Howard government’s now-defunct NetAlert scheme.

I also run through Wikileak’s's legal threats, and Senator Conroy’s latest spin — that the government never intended to block all of the ACMA blacklist, just the “Refused Classification” items. It’s a shame that doesn’t match a list of seven public statements about what’s planned to be blocked.

Tuesday’s was It certainly looks like the ACMA blacklist, eh Senator Conroy?. There’s further evidence that the most recent leaked list is, almost certainly, the actual ACMA blacklist. I also look at Senator Nick Minchin’s daft attempt to portray Conroy as Big Brother over a perfectly ordinary-looking government tender for media monitoring service.

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[This article was first published in Crikey on 27 November, but I forgot that I hadn't re-posted here.]

Evidence-based policy! National Broadband Network! Australia 2020 Summit! After 11 years of Howard’s opportunism and fear-mongering, Ruddish mantras sounded like… well, like “Fresh Thinking”.

But one year on, precisely none of the NBN has been built. The Summit produced nothing. The Cyber-Safety Plan is trialling (again) unworkable internet filters while Senator Conroy accuses everyone of being a pervert.

Tenders for the NBN only closed yesterday, and Telstra’s off-grid bid means we’re probably in for months of legal battles. Although the network is intended to cover 98% of households, David Kennedy from Ovum Research reckons it’ll take three years to reach the first 50% — that’s 2012.

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Here are the web links I’ve found for 28 November 2008, posted automatically with the aid of badgers.

  • Conroy responds to Ludlum. Finally. | Public Polity: A blog post quoting Senator Stephen Conroy’s eventual response to Greens Senator Scott Ludlam’s questions about Internet censorship plans. I haven’t had time to analyse it or link back to the original Hansard.
  • Future of Journalism summit | Corporate Engagement: Trevor Cook’s live blog of the MEAA’s The Future of Journalism summit, held in Melbourne on Wednesday. Yes, there’s still some value in reading the commentary.
  • History of US Govt Bailouts | ProPublica: A nice chart comparing the size of financial bailouts of commercial operations by the US government since 1970.
  • Statistics Laundering: false and fantastic figures | Libertus.net: “This research paper contains information about various alarming and sensational, but out-of-date, false and/or misleading ‘statistics&’ concerning the prevalence of ‘child pornography’ material on Internet websites, etc., which appeared in Australian media reports and articles in 2008. While sometimes statistical exaggerations are not important, those referred to herein are being used to directly exaggerate the prevalence and hence risk level of certain threats, and to indirectly weaken the position of those attempting to critically assess the nature of the threats, and whether proposed public policy solutions are effective and proportionate.”
  • Save the Net | GetUp! Campaign Actions: “The Federal Government is planning to force all Australian servers to filter internet traffic and block any material the Government deems ‘inappropriate’. Under the plan, the Government can add any ‘unwanted’ site to a secret blacklist. Testing has already begun on systems that will slow our internet by up to 87%, make it more expensive, miss the vast majority of inappropriate content and accidentally block up to 1 in 12 legitimate sites. Our children deserve better protection – and that won’t be achieved by wasting millions on this deeply flawed system.”
  • Are web filters just a waste of everyone’s time and money? | The Guardian: The interesting thing about this article isn’t so much its clear explanation of the pointlessness of trying to automate an Internet “bad things” filter but the fact that it was written in August 2007. Nothing has changed since.
  • AFACT v iiNet: the case that could shut down the Internet | APC: A legal analysis of the law suit being brought by the movie industry body AFACT against ISP iiNet. This will be an important test of the “safe harbour” provisions of Australian copyright law.
  • Labor's arbitrary internet filter plan misguided and deeply unpopular | Liberal Party of Australia: The Liberal Party’s media release, which includes the full text of Senator Nick Minchin’s statement about Internet censorship.
  • Minchin slams Labor’s NBN backflip | ZDNet Australia: Opposition Senator Nick Minchin has ripped into the Australian government’s Internet censorship plans, calling them “misguided and deeply unpopular”. Without Liberal support, and without the support of The Greens, no new legislation can be passed. (The article’s headline related to the other story covered in this report, the question of whether the tendering process for the National Broadband Network is sufficiently transparent.)

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[This article was first published in Crikey yesterday.]

This morning Australians woke to the news that Google’s Street View has taken photos of their street, their office, their school — their home! — and published them for all to see. Doubtless we’ll now see a flood of stories screeching “Invasion of privacy!” Hardly.

A picture taken on a public street isn’t “private”. A house is a visible, physical object that anyone can walk past and photograph. Its address is a known fact. Anyone can post pictures online with a description. Real estate agents do it all the time. All Google has done is photographed “everywhere” all at once, and given us the results.

Worried that knowledge of who lives in your house will become public? That data is already available — in the phone book, in most cases, or the electoral roll. If you’ve done any renovations recently, there’s probably even a floor plan of your house on your local council’s website.

Besides, when you use Street View, chances are the very first thing you’ll look up is your own home. Knowing this, Google can simply cross-match that with everything they already know about you: every Google search you’ve done, every link you’ve followed, every YouTube video you’ve watched — and, if a website uses the “free” Google Analytics or runs Google AdSense advertising, Google also knows about every such website you’ve ever visited. Congratulations, you just let them write your address across the top of their dossier!

And isn’t Google owned by the CIA anyway? Beware The Googling… ! [Insert maniacal laugh here.]

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I’ve been researching Australia’s contribution to the Space Age for an article to be published in Crikey today. Part of that narrative seems to be the continual announcements of plans for a Spaceport which never come to anything.

And those three are just a taste! When will this spaceport actually happen?

50 years old tomorrow, the Space Age began with the launch of Sputnik 1. Australia’s current role in space is a set of commemorative postage stamps. Wow.