Another nail in the coffin of Conroy’s Rabbit-Proof Firewall

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Third Crikey story this week! Today I returned to that evergreen favourite, the idiocy of the Rudd government’s plans to install ISP-level filters on the Internet.

Alas, the story is currently behind Crikey‘s paywall, but it begins:

Is there anyone who reckons trying to filter bad stuff out of the Internet is the right way to go? Or even possible? Apart, that is, from sex-obsessed panic merchants and moral crusaders, politicians with Senate numbers to count on stubby little fingers, shiny-suited salesmen hawking boxes marked “Rooly-Trooly-Safe Internet Filter”, or cud-munching Luddites who just don’t understand anything about the Internet generally?

Those with a clue are getting sick of pointing out the same policy and technical flaws. But Minister for Denying the Bleeding Obvious Senator Stephen Conroy relentlessly continues his warped version of the trials program set up by Coalition predecessor Helen Coonan.

Filters won’t work because no shut up doesn’t matter let’s try again they don’t work no let’s try again they don’t work let’s try again don’t work try try try try … FFS!

The Rudd government says it’s all about evidence-based policy. Maybe this new report from the US Internet Safety Technical Task Force will help. This panel — a who’s who of Internet heavies — was set up by 49 state Attorneys General to tackle the problem of children being solicited for sex online. It discovered there’s actually no significant problem at all.

You can read the whole thing, if you’re a subscriber or take up the free trial offer, at Another nail in the coffin of Conroy’s Rabbit-Proof Firewall.

My writing must be starting to score some hits, because there’s been two comments today attacking the man and not the ball.

Someone calling themselves Verity Pravda, who blogs at The Interweb Warrior, commented:

Simple question. Does this raving lunatic think there should be no classification system on any media? Or that there should not be a Refused Classification category at all? If so I look forward to his campaign on that change.

I heartily agree that the policy is being handled atrociously. But Stil continually misrepresents what is proposed. Nothing about the filter is about the threat to children from being entrapped on line. The “protection of children” the Minister talks about is the protection of children from taking every action he can to stem trade in the images.

It is the functional equivalent of protecting elephants from poaching by banning the trade in ivory. It doesn’t mean you don’t also have programs to catch poachers. But you sure as heck don’t put up a special entrance way at your ports saying “if you have potentially illegal items please enter here”.

And at this point all the Minister is asking is that ISPs try blocking access to the websites and tell him how it works — that looks like real evidence based policy rather than just one person saying “it doesn’t work”. By the way, saying something more than once doesn’t make it true.

And exactly why is Crikey providing his rants. Since when has Crikey been a paragon of a complete libertarian view on content. Goodness me only yesterday Stephen Mayne seemed to be promoting ASIC’s investigation of those Packer stories and — horror — quite calm about the idea of the journalist being forced to reveal their sources. Somehow I thought that was on the taboo list.

Actually, I’ve corrected the typing mistakes. I’ve got this thing about publishing badly-typed material.

My response:

@Verity Pravda: As I’ve previously answered on your own blog… No, I do not think there should be “no classification system on any media”. I’ll even answer the question again, since you seem to be having trouble with my answer: No, I do not think there should be “no classification system on any media”.

It’s not “just one person saying ‘it doesn’t work'” but in fact the government’s own trials from the first half of 2008 (which we’ve linked to many times before), and the detailed commentary of experienced network engineers such as Mark Newton.

As I’ve also pointed out in your blog, many of the assertions you keep making about current government policy have been thoroughly debunked at Libertus.net (and elsewhere). But you keep repeating your incorrect assertions. As you yourself say, “saying something more than once doesn’t make it true”.

The opponents of ISP-level internet filters can back up their arguments with facts, references to official documentation and solid logic. You seem to keep avoiding addressing those argument and resorting to the straw-man “you want to flood the world with illegal material”, like Conroy does… why? Could it be because your own arguments are actually weak, and the factual basis non-existent?

My own argument is that the limited money we have available should be spent precisely where it will do the most good to “protect the children”: policing and education.

My experience with Crikey is that they publish a whole range of reportage, opinion and commentary. People who imagine there’s a “party line” can’t be reading very carefully.

I will admit to one problem with my article. Written quickly and with a word limit, it didn’t adequately separate out the threads of the government’s Cyber-Safety program.

On the other hand, Senator Conroy has continually jumbled up all the pieces too. And that’s deliberate. It’s a classic troll tactic. Keep changing the focus of the subject. Keep making personal attacks. Keep claiming things which are factually incorrect. Your opponents get lost trying to correct the myriad of factual inconsistencies — while the “ordinary person”, baffled, can only respond emotionally to the “we must protect the children” plea. Dirty, but effective.

25 Replies to “Another nail in the coffin of Conroy’s Rabbit-Proof Firewall”

  1. @Sweet Sister Morphine: Yes, “Verity Pravda” is just a tad precious. My theory: a university-educated political advisor, current or former. Indeed, I wouldn’t be at all surprised if this is all astroturfing, run out of somewhere connected with the Labor Right.

  2. The troll tactic you speak of in your last paragraph above is exactly the thing I intended to combat by publishing (and, for the most part, sticking to) a consistent framework for addressing the Government’s claims.

    As I’ve been writing for months, the argument against the Government is actually a fairly simple one that’s hard to rebut without going off into the realm of woolly-headed wishful thinking. The government may well be prepared to go ahead with policies based on woolly-headed wishful thinking, but they shouldn’t be able to get away with it without attracting a good deal of derision.

    A coherent argument against it is almost small enough to sketch on the back of a business card with a blunt pencil:

    1. There’s no problem to solve.
    2. Even if there was, the public hasn’t demanded that the Government solve it.
    3. Even if they had, this is a bad, wrong solution that won’t work.
    4. Even if it worked, all the data gathered over many years says it’ll be slow, unreliable and expensive.
    5. Even if it was perfect, it’ll be implemented terribly by regulators who don’t know what they’re talking about (cf: Haneef, Henson, IWF’s Wikipedia incident, etc)
    6. Even if perfectly implemented, the blacklists will leak and consequently enable child abuse.
    7. There is no possibility that the blacklists won’t leak.

    Each and every one of those points, all by itself, is a good reason to abandon the whole scheme. To justify its existence, a Conroy-supporter would need to knock each and every one of them out of the park. It does them no good to rebut all of them except (6), for instance, because (6) is a deal-breaker, and going ahead with the policy in the knowledge that (6) is valid is painfully stupid and embarrassing.

    The narrative neatly encompasses just about every bit of news which has come out about this issue since October. A paragraph themed on one of those points linking back to the big picture can be written about virtually every discrete event that’s happened.

    Government reported to be suppressing an IIA report saying it won’t work? Well that slots in at number (3) and number (5). IWF in hot water for blocking the Internet Wayback Machine? That’s clearly number (5). Blacklists in Finland, Denmark and Thailand going public? That’s at number (6) and (7). Report released by Harvard about exaggerated child safety threats? Bang on number (1). Cory Bernardi announces his disapproval because he doesn’t want the rights of families usurped by the government? Number (2)! Nick Xenophon doesn’t like it either? He’s concerned about (3), (4) and (5). ACMA Tasmanian test report? (3) and (4). Conroy totally fails to commence the “live trials” he’s been planning for almost an entire god-damned year? Definitely (5), and the fact that he can’t keep his advisors’ email quiet or the IIA report suppressed echoes (6) and (7). Govt taking $2.8m from OCSET while claiming they’re trying to protect children online? Big reference to (5), and what kind of idiot would put people who make bad decisions like that in charge of anything anyway?

    The structure also completely avoids religion, porn, and all the other hot-button issues that the supporters keep banging on about. Opponents of Conroy can calmly stay on a whole range of reasons why it’s a stupid idea, making people like Clive Hamilton look like obnoxious intemperate jerks when they want to keep spinning the conversation off on emotive tangents about sexual perversions (“Why do you keep bringing that up, Sir? Do you always think about things like that, or do you have some kind of problem here and now? Can we get back to the subject, please?”).

    And when McMenamin says something like, “Any cost is worthwhile to protect the children,” one answer is a reference to point numbers (3) and (6) with an explanation that it won’t work but will probably make the problem worse. She can keep carrying on if she wants, but what’s a reader to think when she’s been placed on notice that it’ll cause the problem she hates, she fails to rebut, and she keeps arguing about it anyway?

    While the Government is, as you say, very deliberately sending out a confusing message, opponents can look calm, collected, consistent, simple, reasonable, factual and on-message with no character attacks, no abusiveness, no insane ranting. And above all, no confusion. It’s all a consistent narrative, with a common thread running through the whole opposition based on principle, real-life observation and objective criteria.

    “Look at this, here’s the argument. Either rebut each and every point or don’t, your choice. But if you choose not to, you’re probably going to look a bit silly.”

    I used the framing to guide my agenda for my meeting with Ellis, and the subsequent letter (check the topic headings). But individual points form the framework for responding to just about everything else.

    Try it for a challenge: Pick a random article that’s been published about this over the last six months and see which point above corresponds to each paragraph. Works great.

    A good deal of winning an argument is choosing the frame. I think Conroy initially thought this whole thing would be a cakewalk if he just said, “Won’t somebody think of the children,” often enough, and he didn’t do any framing early on and was caught completely flat-footed by the strength of opposition he provoked.

    So my framing, which I’ve been using since October, is above. You’re welcome to use it if it works for you.

  3. @Mark Newton: This is an excellent framework — as is your advice to be “calm, collected, consistent, simple, reasonable, factual and on-message with no character attacks, no abusiveness, no insane ranting.” Sometimes I fail on that last one — well, I think my rants are sane rather than insane, but then I would say that, eh?

    Since you’ve said “use it”, I’ll reformat your comment into a whole new blog post, with linkage to all the relevant references. It’ll be a good focus for those wanting to improve their debating style.

  4. Well it is nice to be noticed — one of the good things about having a name like Verity Pravda or Stilgherrian is the wonderful ability to be able to set Google Alerts on oneself. I pity all the John Smith’s out there.

    @ Mark Newton You have been so at the fore on all this, even contributing to the CIS Policy rag, that I wonder if he has ever thought about the long run implications of an extreme libertarian view of the Internet. If the Internet continues to be the home of all kinds of nasty things like copyright theft, distribution of material that is otherwise refused classification, botnets, phishing, etc, one of these days Governments will come to the realisation that the world relies far too much on these technologies to allow them to continue to be run the way they have.

    A really simple solution will be re-regulation to create monopoly networks that can be controlled by the State. Fanciful? No. The telephone network in the States was a competitive market till 1917, the creation of State sanctioned monoplies was created by the promise of “universal service” which did’t mean phones in the bush it meant any-to-any connectivity.

    The industry of which he is a part continues to wash its hands of each and every one of these issues, believing in the freedom fighter view of the net, a view that ultimately will see the end of the opportunities to run these businesses. If ISPs really want a uture they would turn their product – the Internet – into a far safer more reliable and policed entity. They would not at every turn wash their hands and say it is the Government’s job to fix these things in some other way.

    I like the blue pencil argument, but I disagree at every turn.
    1. As the ACMA has a list of URLs that do contain content that would be refused classification in Australia, well, technically yes there is a problem. Sure the problem isn’t that kids inadvertently find it, but that isn’t the problem.
    2. Well, the Government did get elected with this as an election commitment. I know there is a problem with the theory of “mandate”, but technically, yes the voting public did ask the Government to do this.
    3. Well, saying it is a wrong solution that won’t work assumes that the problem was “stopping any bad stuff travelling over the Internet to Australia” as opposed to “stopping people navigating to URLs containing bad stuff using a standard browser”. If the latter is the objective it will work.
    4. All the data gathered to date hasn’t been about what is actually proposed. All that the Minister is currently doing is trying to organise a trial with ISPs to see what happens. I happen to tink that to meet the limit objective there are relatively easy BGP implimentations that will only slow a very small percentage of traffic at all.
    5. The Minister is highly concious of how badly regulators would implement this which is why he is trying to work with industry on the how. He could have just passed law that said ISPs had to filter, he hasn’t done that.
    6. The existing black list is already distributed to PC level filter providers and has not leaked. I understand that ISPs are not ru like filter companies and that security of data is not their primary skill set, but some solutions don’t require the ISP to ever see the list.
    7. Not sure how 7 is different to 6, but then again, I never really figured out how the infinite improbability drive worked.

    Here is my question. If all the Internet users in the world were to say “we rather like the kinds of content classification systems we are used to with V, films, magazines. We’d like something like that for the Internet,” how would all these really intelligent folk deal with it.

    NB: Just to let you know I am university educated, but not a political staffer ever. I used to be a member of the ALP, but was always of the Left, never the Right. In fact I currently work for an ISP.

  5. @Verity Pravda: I haven’t actually bothered putting Google Alerts on my own name. My discovery of linkage is more… serendipitous. However WordPress does note new inbound links.

    Two points now, over a cup of tea…

    1. “Extreme libertarian” is a nice little label to attach to those who disagree with the government’s plan, but what does it actually mean? Surely it’s nothing more than a debating trick designed to trigger an emotional response? Where is the evidence that those opposing the government’s plan are “extreme”? I’d have thought the percentage of the population opposing the filter was large enough that they’d qualify as “mainstream”, whether they’re currently in the majority or not. Calling opponents of the filter “extreme” is like calling the National Party “extreme”.
    2. “If all the Internet users agreed…” is a fantasy scenario. There’s demonstrably a group of people who don’t want the filter. Your hypothetical is impossible, and therefore irrelevant.

    Is the ISP you work for iPrimus, by any chance? I ask because they’ve been pretty upbeat about the filtering plan.

    As an aside, I’ve been assuming that Verity Pravda is a pseudonym, but am I right in that? It doesn’t matter if it is or isn’t, but after this week’s spat between Telstra’s Rod Bruem and myself I thought I’d better not risk the same false assumption.

  6. Dear Verity Pravda,

    You fail on the very first step. The current ACMA blacklist does contain some material which would be refused classification in Australia, that much is true. However, it also contains much material which is entirely legal in Australia, but requires age-controlled distribution.

    http://www.acma.gov.au/WEB/STANDARD/pc=PC_311421 has the breakdown of content ACMA looked at in 2007-8. Roughly one-quarter of content listed by ACMA was not “Refused Classification”, but does merit (according to Australian law at least) restricted distribution.

    Thanks for playing, come again some time!

  7. @Verity Pravda:

    “I happen to tink that to meet the limit objective there are relatively easy BGP implimentations that will only slow a very small percentage of traffic at all.”

    Okay, I’ll bite. Please do explain how you intend to filter out individual pages using BGP? Or maybe that’s not what you’re intending to do?

  8. I would (like to) point out that “Pravda” is the name of a Russian newspaper that was regarded in the former Soviet Union as representing “Truth”, and it would appear that Verity has taken the name in the context of “Truth” and in accordance with the pursuit of Truth as explained in her/his blogging profile.

    Secondly my computer notes that the name “Verity Pravda” has been located in at least one cached entry found on my computer from a casual perusal of the Australian National University “Link” list

    http://mailman.anu.edu.au/pipermail/link/2008-December/080710.html

    It would appear that Senator Conroy’s office has taken special note of those who “engage thoughtfully” on each topic, like Verity Pravda.

    We have had an, at times, close to overwhelming response to the blog — over 1500 comments—a large number of which discussed the issue of filtering, as expected. Various comments provided useful feedback on how governments can and should blog and we had some repeat commentators coming back to engage thoughtfully on each topic, like Verity Pravda.

    I would also like to point out (once again) that “Refused Classification” does not mean that something is “bad”. Much good and legal (in other countries) media falls foul of the Australian censors due to the fact Australia imposes a very limited set of classification criteria on classified media. Many items are Refused Classification simply because the guidelines do not permit many good and legal (in other countries) media to be classified in Australia and hence much that is rated “RC” should perhaps be rated “UTC” (“Unable to Classify”).

    The inability to classify is often due to the fact that Australian “guidelines” are only reviewed once in a blue moon rather than anything being “wrong” or “bad” with “RC” content in a global context.

    The X rating was introduced (by Senator Gareth Evans I seem to recall) as a “catch all” category for items that would normally fall “foul” of the censors. Refer to this OFLC resource for the original intent and purpose of the X-rating :-

    http://www.classification.gov.au/resource.html?resource=608&filename=608.pdf

    Title: VIDEO CLASSIFICATIONS: Discussion of Matter
    of Public Importance
    Date: 14 June 1984
    Database: Senate Hansard
    Speaker: Evans Sen The Hon G.J. (ATTORNEY GENERAL, ALP, VIC,
    Government)
    Interjector: Senator Mason; Senator Harradine; Senator Walters
    Page: 3037
    Proof: No
    Source: Senate
    Type: Speech
    Context: Matter of Public Importance
    Size: 33K

    Senator GARETH EVANS (Victoria-Attorney-General)(3.57) –The interest being shown by the Opposition in pornography is becoming positively unhealthy. For some considerable months now it has been bordering on the obsessive but today’s debate, occupying as it does some two hours of parliamentary time at a time when all of us are anxious to wind up the session, demonstrates that the Opposition’s pre-occupation with this subject is becoming a matter of almost clinical concern . At least Senator Durack spared us the dirty words, unlike his colleague Senator Walters, who can never resist on these occasions uttering a few contributions from the lexicon of the censors, and similarly his colleague in the other place, Don Cameron, whose idea of good, clean, non-degrading fun is to have a half-naked woman jump out of a cake at a Liberal Party bucks night.

    I was 40 years old when the X rating was introduced. I recall it – and the discussions about it – quite vividly. I also recall (very vividly) 1984 was also the year State governments reacted against the proposals they all seemingly agreed to by sending the new born chick into a legal limbo where it has remained ever since…

    Brian Harradine was as vigorous in 1984 as he was in later years when he sought and obtained Australian bans on content he regarded as being contentious.

  9. @ Verity (A little presumptuous don’t you think?)

    I’m pretty sure PC based filtering houses weren’t given the ACMA blacklist but I could be wrong. I’m asking them now.

    If the minister was so keen to cooperate with industry on this one, why has he so far steamrolled any attempt at questioning him about it? His answers are less than useless and continue to frustrate the public’s ability to appropriately scrutinise his intentions.

    The government went to election with an opt-in filter, not a mandatory opaque censorwall. There is no mandate for this censorwall.

    The government is filling a void better filled by private industry. If the internet was as horrible and nasty as you claim it is, wouldn’t the free market rush to fill the void? Wouldn’t business interests demand that the internet be made a better place before attempting to do business there?

    Well, that isn’t happening and e-commerce is now massive. The internet isn’t going away, no amount of pornography can make the internet unattractive to business. The internet is not going to collapse under the weight of paedophiles trying to access it. It already would have done so.

    The beauty of the internet, and the reason it has expanded so rapidly, is that it defies all attempts to regulate it. There are inherent aspects of the internet that at the same time make it impossible and unneccesary to regulate it. If governments had their grubby little fingers in the pie, there would be less interest from industry to use it.

    Creating an infrastructure whereby a misguided future government or a malicious external power could block whole swathes of internet is just poorly thought out rubbish. The real issue isn’t how much porn is on the internet, the real issue is that the AFP isn’t getting the funding it needs to track these bastards down and arrest them.

  10. @Verity Pravda: The ACMA blacklist does not contain “content that would be refused classification in Australia”. This is a misrepresentation. It contains content which, in the opinion of an ACMA officer, might be refused classification. Only the Australian Censorship Classification Board (formerly the Office of Film & Literature Classification) and any subsequent appeals courts can actually refuse classification. It’s a flawed process.

    Moreover, as James Polley correctly points out, there are plenty of other things on the list other than RC material. To focus constantly on the RC material is to parrot Senator Conroy’s misleading talking point.

    @James Polley: I wouldn’t bother going down the red-herring path of asking how you block websites using the Border Gateway Protocol (BGP).

    (For readers who happen not to be network engineers, BGP is how routers tell each other about changes to the Internet’s structure. A BGP “announcement” is a bit like letterboxing everyone to tell them Smith Street is closed for roadworks, please take Jones Street instead. The main “backbone” link of the Internet carry a constant chatter of BGP as the routing is changed to even out traffic flows and bypass faults.)

    Early versions of China’s Great Firewall, as well as simplistic filtering systems, would block sites by IP address. One way of doing that is to add an entry to the routing table for that IP address, leading to nowhere. Presumably you could then communicate the block list between routers using BGP. A bit BFI (brute force and ignorance), but given the size of China’s Internet and the central control it’d work.

    Verity Pravda is actually right when he/she says it’d work for the “limited objective” of blocking a small, pre-defined list of URLs, but it wouldn’t scale very well. And I don’t know how effective it would be in Australia’s decentralised, multi-player ISP industry. Maybe it’d be OK at the borders, because there’s relatively few links in and out of the country, but it’d be a hell of a mess to get it to work internally.

    This fits another of Senator Conroy’s repeated talking points, though: that the plans “at this stage” are only about the ACMA blacklist and increasing it to this magic number of 10,000 sites. That brings two points to mind:

    1. If the plans “at this stage” are only about the ACMA blacklist, what is all the rest of this testing about? Particularly the last-minute-before-Christmas announcement that P2P traffic would be added to the mix?
    2. In the Cisco routers which are typically used at the junction points between major ISPs, what is the maximum size of the routing table they can hold before performance degrades? Would it be… 10,000 entries, by any chance?

    @Bob Bain: Thank you for that extremely useful background information. I also like your point that UTC (“unable to classify”) might be a better term than RC (“refused classification”).

    @Verity Pravda: My my my… you are the special one, aren’t you! Senator Conroy singled you out for mention by name. And you just happen to be repeating the Senator’s talking points. What a happy coincidence. I guess that’s why he likes you so much!

    @websinthe: Increasingly I’m thinking the argument that “your attempts are futile because the Internet resists regulation” works to the advantage of the filter-mongers. It’s easy to frame “unregulated” with “outlaw” with “shonky”, in a Today Tonight dodgy builders ripping off poor old grandmothers sense. It’s much better to emphasise that to achieve the real stated aim — which admittedly has not been clearly stated, and that’s part of the problem — that this is not the most effective approach.

    Increasingly, talking in detail about how effective a filter might be — false positive rates, performance degradation percentages, whether you block by BGP-transmitted changes to the routing table or the triple-tap RST packets of the newer pass-by Great Firewall technologies — is the wrong path for three reasons:

    1. It clutters the debate with technical detail which few people understand. “Ordinary folk” tune out and are left with the emotive “we must protect the children”.
    2. It frames the debate as a discussion of how effective a filter will be. To a lay audience, something that’s “99.8% accurate” sounds good, even though that still means a huge number of filtering mistakes every day.
    3. It diverts effort from more effective debating issues — such as continually pointing out that the most effective way to stop child abuse is to fund law enforcement and education.

    Whew! Another coffee after that, eh?

  11. @stilgherrian: Agree about BGP being a complete and utter red herring. It’s not what you’d used to block a few IPs — 10,000 IPs maybe, if they happened to be bundled into a convenient /19 — but if all the child porn in the world was concentrated in a single /19, there would be much easier ways to deal with it.

    It’s just that hearing someone say we can filter porn using BGP is like hearing someone suggest cracking a macadamia nut with a jackhammer. It’s such a wrong idea that I can’t help but be intrigued about how anyone could come up with such a profoundly wrong idea (unless, maybe, they have no idea what a jackhammer is, but just heard someone on TV say that jackhammers are good at cracking things…)

  12. @verity pravda My my, you spent a fair bit of time on that, didn’t you? It’s hard to know where to start, please forgive me if I don’t address everything.

    What you mischaracterize as “an extreme libertarian view of the internet” is what I prefer to view as “the status quo.” I don’t need to invest too much time in considering the long run implications of what I advocate, because we’ve already been doing it for decades and I merely need to examine the empirical results.

    Due to the internet in its current form our society is immeasurably better off as measured by virtually any metric you can dream up. We are now more connected to each other, we are more informed, we have new ways of doing business, we are wealthier, we have new ways of conducting ourselves politically, we have more social outlets. The AFP even says the internet even makes us better at catching criminals, imagine that! On every issue governments are supposed to care about, the internet in its present form has made us better than we were before its arrival.

    So society hasn’t fallen apart due to the status quo, and virtually everything is better than it was before, so I reckon the status quo has done a pretty good job. You could argue to tweak it to fix some of the infinitesimal areas where it has failed, but I posit that the tweaks will introduce their own unintended consequences too and, on balance, we’ll be no better off than we were before. Furthermore I’d want to resist tweaks authored by people who completely misunderstand anything and everything about the internet, and observe that pretty much every time control-freak politicians get involved in the internet we end up with a colossal clusterfuck because they just don’t get it.

    Your damning of “the industry of which I am a part” (are you trying to personalize this?) completely misunderstands the role that the internet industry plays in the internet. ISPs don’t, as a rule, create or publish content. End-users do that. ISPs don’t build botnets or phishing sites, end users do that (and nobody does more than ISPs when it comes to locating and destroying them — do you actually know anything about the subject?) ISPs don’t distribute refused classification material, nor do they carry out copyright “theft” (another loaded term if ever I saw one — are you familiar with Section 116AH of the Copyright Act, by the way, or Order 15A discovery?). They do, however, routinely work diligently with the AFP to investigate them when they happen. how else do you think the AFP finds all those bloody pedophiles they keep catching?

    As for your disagreements with my arguments:

    1. You claim that there’s a problem on the internet that needs solving because the ACMA has a list of “prohibited content” (not, as you would mischaracterize it, “refused classification” content — hardly any of the list has even been vetted by the classification board, so we’re really just trusting a public servant about the whole damn thing). I suggest that it’s equally likely that the ACMA has a list because the definition of “prohibited content” is broken. Why don’t you have a read of Schedule 7 of the Broadcasting Services Act and see if you can figure it out?

    2. The government did not get elected with this as an election commitment. On December 29, over a month after the election, Conroy was still being quoted by the ABC as saying that Australians who didn’t want a filtered feed wouldn’t have to have one. Then in July, after the ACMA/Enex trial, he completely changed his mind. The voting public did not ask the Government to do what they’re pushing now — even if they had time to consider it in the five days between the publication of the policy and the election, they’d have been asking the Government to do something else.

    3. If “stopping people navigating to URLs containing bad stuff using a standard browser” is the objective, I promise you it will not work as soon as someone posts an open proxy’s IP address to their facebook page, or when someone uses an online translation service to translate a prohibited page “From English to English”, or when I or anyone else like me gets circumvention features committed to the firefox “standard browser” source tree, or when you socialize end users into seeing the benefits of moving their mouse pointers up to the top right of their screen, pulling down their network menu and selecting “Connect VPN (L2TP)”. That’s a reprehensibly stupid argument, Verity, and it speaks very poorly of your understanding of this issue. Do you really think that everything and everyone on the internet is static, and won’t evolve to grow countermeasures?

    4. Perhaps you know more than me about what’s being proposed. If so, spill the beans. At the moment I can only go on what Conroy has said, and what the government has said in their form letters, which is that he wants ISPs to mandatorily implement an ACMA Prohibited Content blacklist of up to 10,000 URLs, and he wants ISPs to implement additional opt-out adaptive content filtering. As for whether or not there are “relatively easy BGP implimentations (sic)” that will make any difference at all, I’m not even going to attempt to address that until you prove to me that you know enough about BGP to be able to spell it, and until you read about the government’s view of a false positive as specified in the Technical Testing Framework document accompanying the hilariously delayed “(almost, but not quite) live trials”.

    5. The Minister is working so closely with industry that he tried to shove the negative IIA report down the memory hole, he’s completely ignored SAGE-AU, and he’s accused ISPs who speak out of wanting to assist child molesters. Yup, pull the other one, it plays fart jokes. As for whether or not the data gathered to date is associated with what’s proposed, perhaps I’ll believe you when the Minister stops referring to it as useful information when he’s talking about it under oath in the Senate, ok?

    6. The blacklist distributed to PC level filters has leaked. Cyberpatrol’s list has been cracked and decrypted on multiple occasions since 2000, and the ACMA list has been embedded within. The Minister can’t magick his way out of this one, and nor can you: Do you seriously believe that when this list is distributed to hundreds of ISPs who hate this idea, and is placed into the hands of thousands of staff who hate this idea to control millions of end-users who hate this idea, that it won’t leak? As for solutions that don’t require ISPs to see the list, that’s completely false: the Minister is on the record saying that his department won’t be imposing any particular technology on ISPs, and each one will be free to work out the best way of implementing the ACMA blackiist. Unless he was lying, that requires a copy of the list to be sent to each ISP so that it can be incorporated in each ISPs custom-developed blacklisting solution.

    7. Merely a statement of fact, which you ignored in your answer to 6 when you seemed to suggest that a lack of leakage from PC level filters implied that the list could never leak, ever.

    As for your final question: The existing content classification system already applies to the internet. All of it. Including the bits that say you get a judge and jury for offenses, including the bits that say RC material is legal for adults to view, including the bits that say that principle 1 underlying the national classification system is that adults should be free to read and view whatever they please.

    Verity, it’s like you’re living in some kind of parallel universe where the internet is an expression of extremist libertarianism, where no rules apply, and where it creates all kinds of problems. I don’t see that in my universe; I see an internet that’s part of an existing legal system with checks, balances, due process, and three decades of well-documented inarguable success.

    Maybe you can bring mandatory government-controlled ISP censorship into your universe and it’ll work for you. Good luck with that. I think I’ll stay in my universe though, and advocate for the continuation of the status quo that’s been so monumentally successful that it’s given you this vast, complex communications platform you can use to argue with me.

  13. This is a good point to plug, yet again, Irene Graham’s incredibly well-researched and even-toned Libertus.net, which covers all censorship in Australia, online and offline.

    She cuts through the spin and rhetoric, digs through the documentation and explains what’s really going on, both what’s already in place and what’s being proposed — and how that proposal has been morphed, changed and indeed warped since the discussion started.

    Of particular interest:

    1. Australia’s Internet Censorship System, explaining what is in place now.
    2. AU Gov’t Mandatory ISP Filtering / Censorship Plan, explaining the plan itself and its evolution.
    3. ISP ‘Voluntary’ / Mandatory Filtering, comparing both of these with what’s in place in Norway, Sweden, Denmark, Finland, Netherlands, Switzerland, UK, Italy Canada and New Zealand — i.e. all th countries Senator Conroy keeps claiming are already doing this. They’re not.

    It’s all must-read stuff.

  14. Hi gang.

    Responses here.

    But on the personal stuff. “Pravda” means truth in Russian. Yes it was the name of a Communist newspaper, but “Truth” was the name of an Australian newspaper (of some infamy) run by John and Ezra Norton. I hope you aren’t offending some people because there are a few Pravda’s in Australian telephone books. And “Verity” as a first name does mean “truthful”. If that was your name wouldn’t you wonder “what is truth”?

    As to being noticed on the DBCDE website on the DE blog, I guess that happens if you take policy discussion seriously. But it doesn’t mean the Minister noticed – I doubt the Minister has looked at that blog – that’s what he has a Department for.

  15. @Verity Pravda: Your “personal stuff” answer provides some interesting media history for the young’uns, but the hypothetical doesn’t answer the question of whether your name is a pseudonym or not. It’s just a “yes” or no” question, and harmless.

    Another nice ad hominem trick: “I guess that happens if you take policy discussion seriously” is a back-handed way of claiming others are not taking it seriously. I’d suggest there’s plenty of people taking it seriously — they just don’t agree with you.

    Thank you for quoting the pre-election ALP policy in your blog post:

    That is why Labor will provide a mandatory ‘clean feed’ internet service for all homes, schools and public computers that are used by Australian children. Internet Service Providers (ISPs) will filter out content that is identified as prohibited by the Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA). The ACMA ‘blacklist’ will be made more comprehensive to ensure that children are protected from harmful and inappropriate online material.

    It gives me the change to repeat, again, that “harmful” and “inappropriate” have no defined meaning. This is one of the key reasons that many people oppose the policy — including ultra-conservative Liberal Senator Cory Bernardi.

    Which ISP did you say you worked for again?

    I think it’s time for you to properly declare your interest in this debate. After all, almost everyone else commenting on this post has identified themselves, either directly or through online handles clearly linked to their identities.

  16. Dear Stil

    Firstly we could play an endless version of the Humpty Dumpty trick of debating what words mean (and resort a la said HD to claim they mean what I want them to mean … or to not mean what I want them not to mean.)

    I have no intention of answering whether my name is a pseudonym or not. I didn’t see anyone on the Digital Economy blog asking whether other people’s names are theirs or someone else’s. I just found the presumption that a name was a pseudonym as equally offensive as you did when Rod Bruem had a go at you. And that was even with a Tom Riddle – and we all know who he was!

    I only revealed the detail that I worked for an ISP to dispell the myth that I was a staffer, and to demonstrate that not everyone who disagrees with you is removed from reality and/or the industry.

  17. Verity, I’m not going to debate you on your blog, because the discussion started here and moving it elsewhere disconnects it from its context.

    But in rough order:

    You stated that the ALP “Plan for Cyber Safety” said “… Labor will provide a mandatory `clean feed’ internet service for all homes, schools and public computers. Internet Service Providers (ISPs) will filter out content that is defined as prohibited by the Australian Communications and Media Authority,” and you’ve suggested that that makes it clear that what’s being proposed right now is the same as the election policy.

    There are a number of ways that those aims could be fulfilled — The GOVERNMENT could provide a clean feed available for subscription by interested parties, for instance, and there’s no requirement for ALL ISPs to censor to meet the strict language of the section you’ve quoted.

    Senator Conroy appears to have been open to that possibility in December 2007, over a month after the election, when he proposed that “anyone wanting uncensored access to the internet will have to opt out of the service.” http://www.abc.net.au/news/stories/2007/12/31/2129471.htm So it’s clear that a month after the election it was still going to be optional, and that filtering would be a “service”, and it wasn’t until July after the failed ACMA/Enex trials in Tasmania that the whole thing became compulsory.

    So it’s a bit rich to argue that there’s some kind of election mandate at play here. When I compare the Government’s 2007 rhetoric to their 2008 rhetoric (there isn’t anything from 2009 yet, it appears they’re too embarrassed!) I reckon they’re breaking an election promise to make it optional.

    You say I want “to restate the objectives so that the project fails.” Well gee, excuse me for being realistic. And need I remind you that YOU are the person who came up with this “standard browser” nonsense, and the Government has said no such thing. Who, exactly, is restating the objectives here?

    Conroy working with the industry: I’m trying to work out whether you’re trying to rebut me or agree with me. Is the bar for our public discourse so low that merely “trying a lot more than other Ministers” is sufficient? And is labeling an entire industry segment as supporters of child molesters really what you’d call “trying” anyway?

    On the existing classification scheme: Here you’re going right off the deep end. You downplay the distinction between “reading/viewing” and “selling”, and claim that a ban on the latter is an effective ban on the former. Sadly for your case, we have about 20 years worth of regulatory history which draws completely the opposite conclusion. The ALP-initiated “Film and Literature Censorship Procedure” published by the Australian Law Reform Commission 1991 even drew attention to the dichotomy and considered whether it should be an offense against the Commonwealth to possess material that is illegal to trade, and they specifically rejected the idea on the basis that Australians are grown-up enough to be able to read and view whatever they please.
    http://www.austlii.edu.au/au/other/alrc/publications/reports/55/ch5.html#Heading2 under the section “Should RC films and publications be prohibited?”, we see the important statement that, “Classification is done for the purpose of controlling dissemination. It is not done for the purpose of controlling what a person is able to have in his or her own home.”

    So you can downplay the separation between distribution and possession/reading/viewing as much as you like, but the fact remains that we have an existing, mature regulatory structure here which applies every bit as much to the internet as it applies to anything else which, after much detailed consideration and public submission, specifically recognizes that adults can have access to that material.

    So what, exactly, are you arguing for? Overturning of that time-honoured concept, the idea that Australians are mature enough to make their own reading decisions? Because that’d be a profound alteration of the relationship between the individual and the State, and I’d expect that it’d be accompanied by a bit more level-headed discussion than the ALP is prepared to entertain about this policy.

  18. Mark

    I give up. If you can’t get that material being accessed over the Internet is “dissemination” then I give up. After all your customers pay you to carry all those little encoded binary signals that make the pisture or the words onto the end user’s computer.

    Do you think surfing the web is somekind of teleporting machine? The content is distributed to the end user. The classification scheme applies. Get used to it.

    PS Last I saw Conroy didn’t label the whole industry child molesters, he only labelled those opposing him such.

    PPS This discussion didn’t start on this site. I blogged about Stil’s Crikey post behing the paywall, and he replied here.

  19. @Verity Pravda: You say:

    Last I saw Conroy didn’t label the whole industry child molesters, he only labelled those opposing him such.

    So that’s OK then? Defend a policy by slandering your opponents rather than tackle their clearly-stated concerns?

    As for the Humpty Dumpty reference, well, as it happens words like “harmful” and “inappropriate” currently have no clear legal meaning. Since this is government policy, the justification for spending $44.5 million of taxpayer’s money, a little clarity wouldn’t go astray. But every time someone asks for the words to be defined, Conroy (and you) resort to debating tricks to avoid the question. Who, exactly, is playing the Humpty Dumpty game?

  20. The conversation certainly didn’t become a bit “meta” for me. I’m actually not in the business of trying to defend Conroy orhis policy either.

    I will defend the policy of asking ISPs to undertake technical trialls though. I will defend the idea of mandatory index-based filtering of web sites based on a “blacklist” of RC sites only subject to said tests and subject to the implementation of an effective and transparent review process for claims of incorrect listing. I would defend the policy of the Government encouraging ISPs to provide network based filtering solutions as a commercial service.

    But I will continue to oppose people who scare monger about the technical implications or missrepresent the existing classification process as a freedom of speech debate.

    Kiss Kiss

  21. A bit late, but in case anyone comes across this later – blocking websites based on BGP is a guaranteed recipe for massive collateral damage. For instance, blocking a single blogspot.com subdomain will take out the entire domain, as they share a single domain. That “Verity Pravda” would suggest such indicates that he/she has no fricking idea how the internet and the web actually work.

  22. Dear Anthony

    No. It does not. Using BGP is only the first step. The ISP has a relationship with a filter provider. The filter provider identifies for the ISP the IP addresses associated with the URLs that exist on the blacklist. The ISP then sets the routing tables in its border routers to route traffic to these IP addresses to the filter provider.

    The filter provider then undertakes the further analysis of wether the specific URL requested is a blacklisted URL. The filtering solution itself stays index-based and is not a dynamic filter. The point of using the BGP is that traffic that is not to one of the IP addresses listed is not slowed at all. The benefit for the ISP is that they never have to see the blacklist. In addition the nett cost can be low as each ISP does not need to own the filtering solution, indeed it can be even lower if it is implemented by the transit provider rather than the domestic provider.

    None of this alone makes blacklist management any easier. But knowing the blacklist can be effectively blocked means that it can be more actively managed – including doing things like advising domains for which the specific content would fall outside of their hosting rules of the content.

    I am here continuing to assume that mandatory blocking is restricted to RC material.

  23. @Verity Pravda: Thanks for the clear explanation of how BGP fits into the current filtering technology. At least it was clear to me, with a bit of a head start on IP issues.

    I am here continuing to assume that mandatory blocking is restricted to RC material.

    Alas, no. The current version of Conroy’s plan [checks desk calendar] is that the filtering will be “the ACMA blacklist”. As Ireme Graham explains, the blacklist isn’t just RC material, but also material which is rated PG or above which doesn’t have an age verification mechanism, or material which an unnamed ACMA officer thinks “would be” prohibited.

    Offline material is classified by the Classification Board, an independent statutory body comprising publicly named members. Titles of banned and classified material are publicly available in the Board’s online database. Classification Board decisions can be appealed to the Classification Review Board which from time to time overturns decisions to ban material.

    In contrast, decisions to add content hosted outside Australia to ACMA’s blacklist are made by unnamed government agency (ACMA) staff, such decisions cannot be appealed or otherwise reviewed, and all information about material on ACMA’s blacklist is secret. Freedom of Information (FOI) legislation was changed in 2003 to exempt all such information from disclosure under FOI. (The same FOI amendments also exempted from disclosure any information about Australian-hosted online content classified ‘prohibited’ by the Classification Board).

    This secrecy is, in my opinion, a serious cause for concern. As is the lack of appeals process.

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