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Breaking Down the Barriers logo: click for websiteOn Sunday, I’ll be at the Breaking Down the Barriers conference at the Sydney University law School, talking Internet content regulation — that is, censorship.

I’m on a forum panel (scroll down to “Forum 5”) with Geordie Guy from Electronic Frontiers Australia; James McDougall, Director, National Children’s and Youth Law Centre; network engineer Mark Newton; and moderator David Vaile, Executive Director of the Cyberspace Law and Policy Centre at UNSW.

I’ve been asked to talk about:

The debate surrounding the government’s filtering proposal, with an overview of how the issue is played out in the media; the different tactics used by proponents and opponents of the proposal; how the issue has been framed and how moral panic has been used in the debate; how evidence is used by proponents and opponents of the filtering proposal and in particular how the Government uses evidence to support its “evidence-based policy”; the potential impact of the proposal if any on free speech and different interpretations of actions that have been taken.

Whew!

I’ll record my presentation, perhaps with video if it can be organised, so stay tuned.

[Update 4.35pm: I suppose I should mention that the forum is scheduled for 2.15pm Sunday.]

Composite photograph of Stephen Conroy and Maxwell Smart

Of all the moments of frustration in last night’s SBS program Insight — and there were many — the most revealing was from host Jenny Brockie. After almost an hour debating Internet “filtering”, Brockie said, “I’m still unclear about whether it works or whether it doesn’t work, as a system.”

Thus begins my article in Crikey today — though it’s behind the paywall. If you’re not yet a subscriber (and why not?) you can get yourself a 21-day free trial. [Update: Things are only behind the Crikey paywall for 14 days, Click away!]

My key theme is that the reason no-one can agree on whether “the filter” will “work” is that no-one has defined exactly what it’s supposed to do — least of all the Minister, Senator Stephen Conroy.

“I have only ever identified [the material to be blocked as] Refused Classification in terms of child porn, bestiality, rape, incest sites, those sorts of things,” Conroy said last night. “For adults who want to be able to watch the other sort of material, we’re not proposing to do that. We’ve never proposed to do that.”

Except that, as the article details, the story has changed over time.

OK, this morning’s post about Senator Conroy being sacked was a little April Fools’ Day jokette. But with the continuing controversy over Internet censorship, the delayed National Broadband Network (though that finally gets an announcement of something or other this week), and yesterday’s gaffe about iiNet spying on its customers, could it soon be true?

Mark Newton, the network engineer who Senator Conroy’s office tried to bully, has written to his local member Kate Ellis MP detailing his criticism of both the Internet censorship plans and Conroy’s behaviour — and calling for a detailed response.

The PDF of the full letter has all the references, but I’ve reproduced the main text below — verbatim, except for minor changes to suit my own typographical and linking preferences.

One important figure which was “hidden” in a footnote….

When translated into the network traffic handled by a medium-sized ISP, the 3% false-positive rate of the most accurate filter tested corresponds to more than 3000 “bad blocks” per second.

Imagine the bureaucracy you’d need to undo all that damage to legitimate Internet traffic!

Imagine if your business or your family’s holiday photos were being blocked and you had to “prove” to the government that you’re not a child pornographer — because that’s how Senator Conroy is characterising you!

Here then, The Letter… it had been released into the public domain, so spread it wide! (So to speak. Sorry, Senators.)

Read the rest of this entry »

Photograph of Senator Stephen Conroy labelled Cnut of the Week

Last night‘s Stilgherrian Live viewers voted Senator Stephen Conroy (pictured) “Cnut of the Week” by the clearest margin ever. But the actions of his office reported this morning really take the biscuit.

As Australia’s Minister for Broadband, Communications and the Digital Economy, Senator Conroy has been spokesman for the ALP’s policy of ISP-level filtering of the Internet. I’ve written about this before, but it’s back in the news this week because it was discussed in Senate Estimates, as Michael Meloni reports.

Conroy, as in December, was accusing critics of the policy like Greens Senator Scott Ludlam of supporting child pornography — a cheap rhetorical trick at the best of times.

This morning, though, news broke that Conroy’s office had tried bullying other critics.

Internode’s Mark Newton was highly critical of the filtering plan and Conroy’s evidence, but he was speaking as a private citizen. It was totally inappropriate for Conroy’s policy advisor Belinda Dennett to attempt to pressure him via Internet Industry Association board members and his employer.

Last year, Senator Conroy agreed with his Coalition predecessor, Senator Helen Coonan, when she said you get into trouble when politicians start picking technologies. Problem is, the ALP’s “cyber-safety” policy specifies “ISP filters that block prohibited content”. Conroy’s stuck with it. But the filters clearly don’t work. And he can’t be seen to back away from Internet filtering — in a trial program which, ironically, was scheduled by his predecessor — because the ALP needs the votes of Family First Senator Steve Fielding and independent Senator Nick Xenophon for other things.

Poor bloke. What is he to do?