Talking internet trolls on ABC TV Lateline

Screenshot of Stilgherrian on Lateline: click for video and transcriptLast week Collective Shout activist and campaigns manager Caitlin Roper told her story of the horrific misogynist abuse she’d received online, and what can most politely be called a disappointing response from the police.

I reluctantly went to the police station, already knowing that threats against women online are not regarded as a priority. “Why don’t you just close down your account?” asked the officer taking my statement.

I explained how I used Twitter in the course of my work for a non-profit organisation. She pressed further — “but why do you need to use it?” — as if it was somehow unreasonable for me to believe I had as much right as anyone to access social media without threats

Another colleague went to the police after one man described how he intended to mutilate her body and dissolve it in acid. The police officer suggested that the internet was “not a very nice place”, and maybe she should stay off it.

Last night, ABC TV’s Lateline did a follow-up story, the reported being John Stewart, and I provided a few comments.

It’s interesting that the one piece they used was about the internet putting everyone right next to everyone else:

It’s simply that within the past people were in communities, that were mostly made up of people like them or people they grew up with. If there was a violent part of town or a red-light district or whatever it might be, and you didn’t want to go there or you didn’t want to know about it, well you just didn’t go there. The problem is now on the internet all of that is right next to you as well and people are shocked by this. They’re suddenly discovering that there are people not like them. They have different attitudes to women, different attitudes to acceptable language, to religion, to class, to sporting teams, to clothing as we’ve seen in the media lately. Everything.

I also said that thanks to the internet, we are now building a global society, and yet policing is organised on a regional or even local basis.

While these women, and so many others, have experienced appalling abuse, in most cases there’s no credible threat. Even if the police cranked up the mechanisms of transnational police cooperation, there’d be little chance of a prosecution leading to a conviction. Their lack of follow-up reflects that unfortunate reality, as well as many police officers’ unfamiliarity with online life.

I daresay I’ll have further thoughts in this, because this story certainly isn’t going away.

Yes, I know they spelt my name wrong. Yes, I know they said “social media commentator”.

Talking crimefighting smartphones on The Project

Screenshot of Stilgherrian on The Project, 14 March 2013The trial of the alleged murderer of Melbourne journalist Jill Meagher revealed (at least to those who were previously unaware) the importance of evidence gleaned from people’s smartphones.

Last Thursday 14 March I ended up talking about that on Channel TEN’s The Project, following a package that featured Gizmodo Australia editor Luke Hopewell.

Just like my previous appearance on The Project, which is produced in Melbourne, I was beamed in from Sydney while sitting in front of a green screen. This time I even managed to get a picture of what it looked like from my point of view.

The video of the four-minute segment is embedded over the jump — which is immediately below if you’ve come directly to this page.

Continue reading “Talking crimefighting smartphones on The Project”

Death of a Freedom Fighter, a writing challenge

Boy Genius: Aaron Swartz at the Creative Commons Salon, 9 March 2006, photographed by Buzz Andersen: click for original on FlickrThis photograph by Buzz Andersen has been haunting me for the last hour. It’s Aaron Swartz, seen at the first Creative Commons Salon in 2006. And over the weekend we heard news that Swartz is now dead, aged just 26, from an apparent suicide.

My challenge for today is writing something about the meaning of this bold and bright young man’s life and death. Something new to add to the whirlpool of words that has been devouring the internet from its geekier nether regions all the way to the mainstream press.

This is why, despite my expressed intention to write more last night about my slowly-evolving plans for 2013, I wrote no such thing. Having slept on it, though, I have an answer to both problems.

Continue reading “Death of a Freedom Fighter, a writing challenge”

Insulted, ASIO? That’s not really the problem, surely?

There aren’t many places in the world where you can openly accuse the nation’s top police and intelligence agencies of having an attitude problem, as I did on Monday, without being visited by the men in the van with the canvas sack. Which is a good thing.

In this week’s Patch Monday podcast, embedded immediately below for your convenience and CBS Interactive’s traffic logging, I departed from the usual format to present a personal opinion.

Data retention for law enforcement is one of the most important political issues relating to our use of the internet now and as far into the future as we care to imagine, I said, and it’s being mishandled.

The Australian government’s current one-page working definition (PDF) of what constitutes communications metadata (which can be requested by law enforcement agencies without a warrant) as opposed to communications content (which generally does require a warrant) is, to anyone with a technical understanding of how the internet actually works and is evolving, virtual gibberish.

“Dangerously immature” is how I described it.

I also raised three points where I think the version of reality being promoted by the Australian Federal Police (AFP) and the Australian Security and Intelligence Organisation (ASIO) is wrong.

  • This is a push for more power. We conduct so much more of our lives online than we ever did on the phone, and that means the balance of power is changing. We need to have a conversation about this.
  • The AFP says quite specifically that they’re not after our web browsing activity, but I don’t see how the working document supports that argument. And other agencies, including the Australian Securities and Investment Commission (ASIC), are after that stuff.
  • ASIO and the AFP constantly talk about the powers being needed to catch the terrorists and pedophiles. But the law will probably be modelled on the current law for the phone, which provides access to communication metadata to many other agencies with far less stringent accountability rules for many other, far less serious, crimes.

Please have a listen and tell me what you think.

Play

The podcast stands on its own, but I want to emphasise the thing that still disturbs me…

Continue reading “Insulted, ASIO? That’s not really the problem, surely?”

Talking about the “Dark Web” on ABC News 24

This morning I was interviewed by ABC News 24 about the “Dark Web”, a term Fairfax news outlets used earlier this week in a story headlined The new underbelly. Since I was at the event in Sydney that triggered the writing of that story, I was happy to tone down some of the hype-scare.

By the “Dark Web” they meant things like Silk Road, a marketplace for all manner of illegality, and the Tor anonymity network that allows Silk Road to hide… somewhere.

I’ll update this post later today to include links to the other things I discussed with presenter Andrew Geoghegan.

If the embedded video doesn’t work for you, you can watch it over on YouTube.

This is a rough copy of the video for now. I’ll upload a better version as soon as it becomes available, though that’ll still have me staring mindlessly into the distance as I’m being introduced. Sigh. The footage is ©2012 Australian Broadcasting Corporation.

Irrational hatred of the Internet

“Hating the Internet because of child pornography is a bit like hating the roads because of drug trafficking. If you had no roads there would be much less of it.” A great observation from a friend today.

Yes, “bad things” happen online, just as “bad things” happen anywhere. But when Clive Hamilton screeches about all the naughty things he’s found online, it looks to me like a deliberate attempt to press our emotional buttons and avoid rational debate. And he does it repeatedly.

The police don’t try to stop drug trafficking by putting a road block in everyone’s street and searching every vehicle. No, they use intelligence — in both senses of the word — to work out where best to deploy their finite resources for maximum results.

They also allocate their resources between conflicting demands so society as a whole is best protected. Their risk assessments tell them to worry more about the suspected rapists, serial killers or violent thugs in their community than some kid with a few grams of weed.

The people who actually understand child protection continually remind us that the greatest threats to children are the same as they always have been — abuse in their own home by family and close family friends, poverty, and bullying by their peers. Why oh why do we have to keep repeating that, Senator Conroy?