Budget explains Internet censorship plan, a bit

The vagueness of the Labor government’s planned kid-friendly “clean feed” Internet become a tiny bit less vague last night. The Federal Budget dumped Howard’s NetAlert scheme and replaced it with a $125.8 million Cyber-safety Plan.

Budget Paper No. 2 says there’ll be “a range of initiatives to combat online threats and protect children from inappropriate material on the internet.” There will be ISP-level filtering of “an expanded Australian Communications and Media Authority blacklist” — which presumably means the already-illegal material such as child pornography — plus an “examination of options to allow families to exclude other unwanted content”.

To me, this implies that families will be in control of their Internet filtering, and it’ll be opt-in. As it should be. Presumably this will become clearer once the “options” are “examined”.

The plan includes other measures “such as”:

  • an education program for teachers and the community
  • a Youth Advisory Group to assist the Government to formulate age-appropriate measures to
    protect children
  • an expanded Consultative Working Group focussed on cyber-safety issues,
  • a dedicated website for children
  • research projects on cyber-safety issues

ISPs will get a one-off subsidy in 2009-10 to install the filters, with funding in following years only for new providers. The Australian Federal Police and the Director of Public Prosecutions continue to get their funding to combat child sexual exploitation. Again, as they should.

Covering the Federal Budget for Crikey

Crikey logo

Joy (I think). I’m part of Crikey‘s commentary team for Australia’s 2008 Federal Budget to be announced tonight at 7.30pm Sydney time. It’s the first budget for Chairman Rudd’s Labor government, and the first for treasurer Wayne Swan, so it’s bound to interesting.

My role — at least as I understand it, ‘cos I haven’t actually spoken with my editor yet — is to look at it from a geek perspective. That’ll include, I imagine, issues I’ve previously covered for Crikey: Internet censorship, the ABC’s move into Internet TV, social media, the national broadband network…

But what else should I look out for?

Continue reading “Covering the Federal Budget for Crikey”

No evidence that porn causes harm

One book on my to-buy list is the recently-released The Porn Report by Alan McKee, Katherine Albury and Catharine Lumby. Until I get around to that, Danny Yee’s review has some juicy tidbits (ooherr).

[T]he common stereotypes are wrong: unsurprisingly, given that pornography users make up about a third of Australian adults, they are fairly representative of the broader population, with the major exception being that fewer than one in five of the respondents were women…

Detailed analysis of the most popular Australian DVD titles shows that, even with broad definitions, fewer than 2% of scenes have any kind of violence. The total ban on violence in the Australian X-rated category seems to have worked. Another finding was that “pornography does not really objectify women more than men… On some measures, men are the more active sexual subjects… on others, it’s the women.” The Internet is a lot more diverse, but despite extensive efforts the authors managed to find not a single site with actual rape photographs, and only a handful of sites with faked ones.

There is no evidence that pornography causes harm to its users: the studies that suggest this have involved pushing pornography on non-users in artificial laboratory experiments. In contrast, there has been almost no attempts to study the beneficial effects of pornography, even though consumers overwhelmingly report positive effects…

Part 2 of the book covers issues such as censorship, and notes:

“Protecting the children” has been a rallying call for censorship for a long time. It turns out that actual child pornography — the police prefer to call it “child abuse material” — is extremely hard to find. And evidence-based education has to be central to protecting children from harm, whether from cyberstalking or contact with material they will find disturbing.

Essential reading, I’d have thought, for anyone wanting to discuss censorship of the Internet, eh Senator Conroy?

How clean is Labor’s “clean feed” Internet?

Crikey logo

The ALP’s grand vision of a “clean feed” Internet safe for Aussie kids is meant to filter out — what, exactly? Labor’s pre-election policy [PDF file] seemed to give the proposed ISP-level filters wide scope indeed, blocking content “inappropriate” or “harmful” for children — however that’s defined. But evidence given to Senate estimates last night suggests it’s little more than what’s already in place.

As I’ve written in Crikey before [1, 2] debate is clouded because sometimes people talk about Internet filtering in terms of child pornography and other very-illegal “prohibited content”, and other times it’s about material as wide-ranging as websites promoting anorexia as a lifestyle choice.

Communications minister Stephen Conroy hasn’t helped by labelling free speech advocates watchers of kiddie porn.

Last night Senator Conroy confirmed that the trial of ISP-level filtering is on schedule. The contract has been issued; the report’s due back on 30 June. But what’s actually being filtered, beyond ACMA’s existing blacklist of about 800 URLs of “prohibited content”? No-one knows. A Ms O’Loughlin from ACMA told us they “haven’t completed discussions” with the Minister’s office about that.

Continue reading “How clean is Labor’s “clean feed” Internet?”

Liar, Coonan, Liar!

Well surprise surprise! The (former) government’s campaign to promote their dodgy NetAlert filter — it was cracked by a teenager, after all — over-stated the risk to kids on the Internet. And Senator Helen Coonan seems to have fibbed about what was in the government-commissioned report.

One advertisement said a survey had shown that more than half of 11-15-year-olds who chatted online were contacted by strangers…

[Coonan] refused to make the research public, saying it contained personal information. The Age has obtained the research, a survey prepared by the Wallis Consulting Group, under freedom of information laws. It does not contain any personal information…

[The claim] regarding stranger contact does not appear in the government-commissioned research. The question was not posed in this form. Participants were asked: “When chatting online, have you ever been contacted by someone you haven’t met in real life?” More than half answered “yes”.

So, a “stranger” is anyone you chatted with online, even a friend of a friend, who you just haven’t met physically. A “contact” could have been spam. Gee, we all have them, don’t we?

Continue reading “Liar, Coonan, Liar!”