Look, about this Internet filter thing… part 1

Crikey logoI’ve been very busy this week following Tuesday’s announcement that mandatory ISP-level Internet “filtering” will go ahead, writing stories for Crikey and ABC Online.

Two stories for Crikey:

  • Conroy’s internet filter: so what? Senator Conroy’s claim that “ISP-level filtering of a defined list of URLs can be delivered with 100% accuracy” is perhaps true in a narrow technical sense, but it misrepresents the Enex TestLab report. And it ignores Enex’s finding that “a technically competent user could, if they wished, circumvent the filtering technology.”
  • Internet filtering: first step on the path to Burma? Not just my fear, but that of retired High Court Justice Michael Kirby. I also point out how the existing censorship system has extended the definition of Refused Classification — that is, banned material — three times in the last decade, often without public consultation. Such scope creep is a worry.

ABC logo

And my first outing for ABC’s The Drum — well, for Unleashed, there’s still some unresolved branding issues — is Evidence-based policy? Not on this filter! I argue that the mandatory filtering program isn’t about “protecting the children” at all.

A sample:

If the plan were really about protecting the children, and if it were really evidence-based, the government would have first have figured out what risks children actually face — online and everywhere else. They’d then figure out the best methods of countering those risks. Then they’d figure out the most cost-effective ways of implementing those solutions.

If we did that, we’d probably find that the risks are the very same ones that child protection experts keep banging on about. Bullying by their peers. Abuse from within their own homes and families. Poverty and its associated health risks. Obesity.

But this is politics, not child protection.

This policy is probably about a Senate preferences deal between Labor and Family First. It’s certainly about the political demands of a small but vocal and well-connected minority of conservative Christian voters and the devilishly evil internet.

The political solution has already been chosen: compulsory censorship by an automatic filter. The political goal is to sell that policy to the voters.

The comments threads on all articles is revealing fascinating stuff. Please read. And comment.

That’s all link to my recent stuff. In part 2 I’ll link to some of the other clever writing on this issue.

9 Replies to “Look, about this Internet filter thing… part 1”

  1. Having watched the comments on both your ABC and Crikey pieces today (and thus got rather less work done than I should have), it seems we need to find the eloquent supporters so we don’t get bogged down in either furious agreement with others against censorship or fighting with non-answers to non-questions by (sometimes seemingly well-meaning) trolls.

    On that front, Senator Kate Lundy has had a go here: http://www.katelundy.com.au/2009/12/17/my-thoughts-on-the-filter/

    But I will leave with a ‘courageous’ Labor Member of the NSW Legislative Council, The Hon Penny Sharpe, who is against, here: http://pennysharpe.com/redleather/15/12/2009/why_the_internet_filter_is_not_the_solution_we_wish_it_was

  2. @Mark Hurd: I’ve had a lot of time-soak in the various commentary streams too, but that’s kinda the point of a debate I suppose.

    One of the key issues here is that the opponents of the mandatory filtering plan, as it currently stands, are in furious agreement with each other but engaging in activities like changing their Twitter avatar black which will have precisely zero impact upon government policy.

    Senator Kate Lundy and Penny Sharpe MLC have taken a brave stance, given the central-control nature of modern political parties. I wish them well.

    Someone said to me yesterday that the anti-filtering folks need to fine their eloquent spokesperson.

  3. A video recently uploaded to Vimeo and reproduced in part on the nocensorshipaus YouTube channel (Philip Argy of the ACS) reminded me of the NSW inquiry back in June 2002. The conclusions can be found here:-


    Inquiry into the Classification (Publications, Films and Computer Games) Enforcement Amendment Bill 2001.

    Page 38 covers Mandatory filtering of objectionable content

    7.24 This section examines whether it is feasible or desirable to require:
    · the blocking of all objectionable content by ISPs, and
    · the use of filters on individual computers to block access to material unsuitable for
    minors at sites where minors use computers.

    7.25 The first key question is whether this scenario would be possible. The second question is whether it would be culturally appropriate as a way of meeting the policy objectives of the Act. The Committee acknowledges that implementation of this option is highly unlikely but has included it for the sake of completeness.

    There are various arguments against such a proposal. The final outcome was that the Standing Committee on Social Issues effectively blocked the proposed legislation which I believe is still in limbo.

    The first 10 minutes of Philip Argy’s address is here:-


    BTW Sapia Pty Ltd has a telephone number at sapia.com.au. This is presumably the company that is causing grief for Senator Conroy at the moment.

  4. @Bob Bain: I don’t know that Sapia are causing grief for Senator Conroy as much as grief for themselves. In the grand scheme of things, a website screeching “fascist” is nothing more than an annoyance and can easily be ignored. And as I’ve written before, we should probably save the f-word for when we really need it.

    There’s plenty of interesting material in that NSW enquiry, yes. As Senator Conroy would say, though, technology has moved on. The cultural arguments are perhaps still valid, and maybe I’ll have more to say about that when I’ve read it properly.

  5. @stilgherrian Well here’s the latest thoughts on the issue from Trevor in Cornwall. You may or may not recall that after the December 13th 2008 rally at Town Hall I made mention of Trevor being disgusted at discovering magazines of females wrapped in plastic (plastic fetish bondage) found in magazines on beaches in Cornwall to which your reply (which you may or may not remember) was “BAN CORWALL”

    Banning Cornwall isn’t feasible. Anyway here’s what Trevor emailed me this morning regarding Philip Argy.


    dear Bob, I read your bit you put in on on 22nd December.

    It made sense in some ways, but I could not really see what his point was.
    Judging by the amount of sex with children that has gone on through the ages
    as well as now, it is ‘normal’ however distasteful.

    After all, people had shorter lives and marriage was important politically,
    socially and for kinship reasons. We ‘keep’ humans as children much longer
    than we used to. they used to be sent to work as soon as possible and treated
    like little adults with adult responsibilities.

    And with according respect. personally I don’t really like children so the idea of physical intimacy is even more distasteful but it is hypocritical for people to moan on about it
    all the time indignantly when even toddlers are sexualized – at least in UK
    and USA with sexy clothes and sexy writing on their clothes – chosen by their
    parents. And on their tv progs all the young teens are at it like rabbits.
    If ‘they’ are going to censor films ‘n’ books and that they should censor
    children’s clothes. The children don’t have a real choice about what they are
    wearing, and we don’t have a choice seeing them in clothes. But people have a
    choice to look at ‘mucky’ films or books.


    I’m currently evaluating this. Points raised…

    Sex with children has been “normal” over the ages but distasteful
    People in previous centuries had shorter lives
    Marriage used to be more important than it is now
    We keep humans as children longer than we used to
    Child labour used to be the norm
    Young teens are at it like rabbits on tv (in Cornwall)
    Children don’t have a choice about what they are wearing
    If they are going to censor films and books they should censor kiddy clothes
    We don’t have a choice seeing them (children) in clothes
    People have a choice to look at mucky films and books

    Trevor prefers cats to children. BTW: There are an awful lot of cats on the Internet. You may or may not know the story of Sox the Kat and the alternate network to Fidonet (Katnet) but if you don’t you are forgiven. I used to email as bobb@soxkat.com until my link with soxkat.com came to grief.

    To read about sox the kat – http://sox.soxkat.com/

  6. Addendum to my reply earlier today:

    A google search on “site:mailman.anu.edu.au Bob Bain soxkat” reveals that I used the soxkat domain frequently when posting to the ANU Link list (Australian National University)

    Some of my entries were deemed controversial.

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