30 December 2008

The road to hell

In the final chapter of Terry Pratchett's Eric, the wizard Rincewind and the boy Eric are climbing out of hell on steep steps.

He looked down at the broad steps they were climbing. They were something of a novelty; each one was built out of large stone letters. The one he was just stepping onto, for example, read: I Meant It For The Best.

The next one was: I Thought You'd Like It.

Eric was standing on: For The Sake Of The Children.

"Weird, isn't it?" he said. "Why do it like this?"

"I think they're meant to be good intentions," said Rincewind. This was meant to be a road to Hell, and demons were, after all, traditionalists.

mrs_lovejoy.jpgPay attention to the Prophet here: For The Sake Of The Children is a good intention. And it leads to hell.

The minister in the UK who is the equivalent of Conroy in Australia, Andy Burnham, has proposed a mandatory age rating of websites. He wants the US administration to cooperate. His next comment is important, for it shows the "For The Sake Of The Children in all its glory:

“If you look back at the people who created the Internet they talked very deliberately about creating a space that governments couldn't reach,” he said. "I think we are having to revisit that stuff seriously now.”

Governments have always hated the free exchange of ideas outside their control, and European governments more than most have a history of restricting the right of free expression. Sure, some people express things that are malign and illegal. When they do, they should be prosecuted under the law. But it is nobody's right to tell me what I may or may not say or think, and it is no government's right to evaluate in private what I say and determine if I have the right to say it. Even if the present party in power is benign and well intentioned (ahem), which is always a very bad assumption, what is to keep the next one from misusing this power to control speech? Have we learned nothing from the past two centuries?

In particular we should be careful of the For The Sake Of The Children ploy. It leads to witchhunts where 19 year olds who sleep with 17 year olds get listed for life as pedophiles and sexual offenders. It leads to censorship of anything that upsets influential religious figures. And it leads to a loss of freedom. Others overseas agree.

24 December 2008

Peer to peer next. After that, email?

Conroy has finally responded to criticisms that URL filtering is a fail by saying "Well, we'll also filter peer to peer". But how? What filters can tell if child p-rn is being sent across the intertubes? Only a human can tell, which suggests a whole department of internet censors. Is anyone feeling 1984ish yet? Will they next read all our emails? I have a hypothesis: this isn't about p-rn. It's not about illegal sites. This is about RIAA copyright. They're setting up the machinery to look for copyright theft through a backdoor, and without anyone overseeing them.

In the meantime, the opposition has forced the admission there is a report to the previous government that argued that filtering is a flawed strategy. Gosh. Apparently we of the general public, you know, the users of the internet, are not worthy to read it.

Earlier this morning, Australia's Shadow Minister for Communications, Senator Nick Minchin, put out a release demanding that "Communications Minister Stephen Conroy should today publicly release an expert study, which he has kept buried since February, and is reportedly damning of the type of Internet Service Provider (ISP) level filtering being proposed by [the Federal] Labor [Government]."

What's more, the report highlights some of the egregious problems with filtering.

Senator Minchin's statement noted that the report said "centralised mandatory filtering will "significantly slow Internet speeds", inadvertently block acceptable content and be ineffective against peer-to-peer file sharing networks, chat rooms, email and instant messaging."

In addition, the report said: "entire user-generated content sites such as YouTube and Wikipedia could be blocked because of a single suspect posting."

We have seen hints of this around the world already, with Wikipedia being blocked in Turkey for a short while, and so on.

And just so nobody thinks I am pro-Coalition, the report that said nobody was being political in the unfounded charging and expulsion of Haneef by minister Kevin Andrews, AFP Chief Mick Keelty and the rest of the "Terrorised". Bullshit. It was political - it was all about race. Andrews and Keelty are racially prejudiced against Muslims and non-European foreigners, or nothing like this would ever have occurred. They allowed their prejudice to override evidence and judgement. Welcome to the war on terror, folks.

17 December 2008

The lies of the internet censors: Your. Filter. Won't. Work.

The title is the title of a nice essay at Crikey. I especially like this:

Bernadette McMenamin of ChildWise, you've crossed the line, defaming everyone who’s protested the government’s plans. "Most of these people are not fully aware of the facts and secondly, those who are aware are, in effect, advocating child p-rnography," you said. How dare you!

Ms McMenamin, to really stop child abuse we need to spend our resources efficiently. Let's run through it one more time. And let's skip those hysterical, made-up "statistics" you still peddle. Child abuse is bad enough without heading into your paranoid fantasyland.

Kiddie-p-rn is hard to find. As Inspector John Rouse, former head of Queensland Police's Taskforce Argos told the authors of The Porn Report, "the chances of stumbling across this material… are minimal as it isn’t really distributed on web pages." P-dophiles use peer-to-peer software and, as Crikey reported six months ago, none of the filters can deal with P2P. The filter will not work. The. Filter. Will. Not. Work.

Catholics, on the other hand, really like the filtering scheme. So do the major political parties. Can't imagine why - and I can only guess what they will want to be filtered next.

As ITWire says, it's time for a great debate. Now, not after it's in place. In the meantime, iiNet's defence of the suit brought against it for not taking action against its users who had been accused of copyright infringement proceeds. It seems to me that they did the right thing, and if the laws say they didn't, the laws are wrong. Overuse of the Digital Millenium Copyright Act by aggressive corporations and interests are rife, with people being taken down just on the sayso of an accuser. iiNet passed on the complaints to the police, and in the absence of action by them, they shouldn't have acted. This case needs to be settled the right way to set a precedent.

16 December 2008

Why copyright is censorship

Here's an excellent discussion by Lawrence Lessig on the creeping nature of regulation through copyright. Quite apart from anything else it's an amazing use of presentation software. Sure, it's 2002, but things have only got worse...

15 December 2008

No shit?

Here's an article, by MSN no less, that explains the problems with broad filtering. A fellow named Herman Libshitz can't get an email account from Verizon because his name contains "shit". Residents of Scunthorpe in the UK apparently have similar problems. God only knows what the residents of Testiclebreastpenisvaginaville can do...

Rudd does too little on climate change

I received this from GetUp today. I wonder if the politicians recognise that no amount of economic manoeuvring or political RealPolitik will avoid the laws of nature? If we do too little, then our children - not even our grandchildren but the very next generation - will suffer and badly. The ALP (sorry, the Clean Feed Censorship Party) is starting to look like More of the Very Same... again.

I'm writing from Canberra with an urgent message. I've just finished reading an advance copy of the Government's White Paper on climate change. They aim to reduce carbon pollution by only 5% by 2020, with an option to go to only 15% if the rest of the world drags us there.

A 5-15% target means Australia is aiming for a global deal so weak scientists predict it will destroy the Great Barrier Reef, Kakadu and the Murray Darling Basin. The window is still open, however, for Australia to become a world leader on climate solutions - if we demand it.

Many Australians voted for change at the last election on the promise of strong action to solve climate change. Kevin Rudd has today failed the mandate he was given to act; but we as a community can still show him that action to combat climate change is non-negotiable.

Since the Government isn't listening to your concerns about climate change, let's translate it into the language they will listen to: votes. So we're asking the entire GetUp community:

Regardless of who you traditionally support, does today's announcement make you less likely to vote for the ALP at the next election?



The PM has said he'll be doing some holiday reading; so we'll collate the results and make sure they're on the desks of every member of the Government before Christmas. Who knows how weak the targets would have been without your efforts so far, but we know 2009 will take a renewed effort - beginning with the results of this poll.

Here in Parliament House, there's a feeling the importance of this decision will be lost in the distraction of the holiday season. That's why we think the best Christmas present we can give the Government is a reminder of the importance of strong climate change action.

Thanks for all that you do, Simon Sheikh GetUp National Director

PS - We're translating community concern about climate change into the language all politicians speak: votes. Tell us: Regardless of who you traditionally support, does today's announcement make you less likely to vote for the ALP at the next election - Yes or No?

14 December 2008

Latest bits on the Clean Feed

I have an infected foot, and couldn't attend the protest yesterday. If anyone has pics and info (for any city) let me know. Late note: APC has an article with pics of the Sydney event here.

The New York Times is now reporting the Clean Feed proposal. A PC World blogger has attacked it here. Blog Critics blogger Jonathon Scanlan has a discussion on the feed here.

Greg Laden has a discussion of the subjective nature of the filtering criteria in general, not just in Australia. The problem seems to be wider than just Aus: lawmakers are asking the FCC not to filter a proposed free internet network. British and German ISPs filtered links to Wikipedia because they pre-emptively decided that the content was child pornography, making it hard for Wiki to filter trolls and hackers.

12 December 2008

Latest on Clean Feed

There's a nationwide series of protests this coming Saturday from 11 am to 3 pm. Take a hat, some sunscreen and a drink and go along. I'll be at the Brisbane one.

A number of bloggers' efforts against the Clean Feed are reported by the Sydney Morning Herald. They missed me, of course...

Conroy is evading questions about the trial, according to the Australian. But on a day when actual child pornographers were arrested through good old fashioned police work, he again tried to justify the filter by "Thinking of the Children". We're starting to hear of "law enforcement, education, content filtering, research, international cooperation and a youth advisory group."

PC World says the backlash has been unprecedented. WA Today says it is in "shreds". Australian Personal Computer calls the standards a "confusing waffle". Global Voices has picked it up, showing that it is doing Australia's reputation no good at all.

Conroy's own new blog has been swamped by hundreds of critical comments against the filtering.

Time, I think, to start thinking about what we should be going after here. Justifying bad policy by appeals to the interests of the nation, the children or the interests of some minority is a time-honoured way to gain control over the populace. Julius Caesar did it, taking imperial powers "until the emergency subsides". Emergencies never subside.

It's enough that there are laws and law enforcement against these crimes. Restricting, and inflicting silly bandaids on, the entire population has no justification at all, even if it were technically feasible. The issue here isn't workability - it's principle. Do we have rights to free exchange of non-criminal ideas without the presumption that a government, or worse, a bureaucrat, has to be looking over our shoulders at all times? Or not?

11 December 2008

Human Rights in Australia

GetUp! is running the following campaign as part of the government's consultation process on Human Rights. Support and contribute to it.

Dear friends,

Today, as we celebrate the 60th anniversary of the UN Declaration of Human Rights, we've been given a once in a lifetime opportunity to ensure that human rights are finally protected in Australia.

It sounds unbelievable, but Australia is the only democratic country in the world without formal human rights protections.

That's how our governments have got away with keeping children in detention, with leaving indigenous people without adequate housing, health and education services, and with everyday human rights abuses that take the form of bureaucratic bungles and discrimination.

Now, finally, the Government has opened up the conversation on human rights. Click here to tell them your vision for an Australian Human Rights Act that protects the values we all hold dear:


Imagine telling your children you had a hand in creating the Magna Carta, the US Declaration of Independence or the French Declaration of the Rights of Man. We have a chance now to fight for Australia's own nation-defining declaration.

But it won't happen without you - many in the Government are hoping there will be little community interest in a Human Rights Act for Australia. We know better- over the past three years you and 300,000 other GetUp members have campaigned to stand up for our human rights time and time again.

Even so, a modern democracy shouldn't have to rely on community outrage to ensure laws and decisions are right and fair. We need to find a way to make sure that human rights are taken into account when decisions are made, so that nobody falls through the cracks.

Click here to take the next step in building a democracy where our everyday rights are protected:


The kind of things we worry about on a day to day basis: job security, giving our kids a good education, paying rent to avoid getting evicted, getting good health care, or paying for childcare are all human rights issues that can be protected under a Human Rights Act.

A strong society is one where we stand up for our fellow human being, setting a standard for how they should be treated in both good times and bad, and sticking to it. We have one chance to set that standard. Be a part of this moment in history today.

Thanks for being a part of the solution, The GetUp team

PS - Think freedom of speech or freedom from torture are protected in Australia? They're not. We're the only democracy in the world without human rights protection. Click here to tell the Government it's time for an Australian Human Rights Act.

Latest clean feed objections

Telstra has said they will not participate in the trials, arguing that it is unable to due to "customer management issues".Are they worried that customers used in the trial might sue them? I would. A child protection agency, Childwise, attacked this as a bad decision, but I think this is the "Somebody Think of the Children" motivation in play, not any considered judgement. Sage-Au, the sysadmin group pointed out the problems:

"How do you choose these participants? To make these trials really meaningful, it has to be done in a real-world environment with millions of internet users," Sage-Au president Donna Ashelford said.

"The bottom line is live ISP content filtering is simply not feasible."

There's also the question of legal liability and who would be held responsible if something went awry during the pilot.

Opposition communications spokesman, Nick Minchin and Greens spokesentity Scott Ludlam both attacked the vagueness and lack of failure criteria on a "live trial" that doesn't actually involve any users.

Australian PC writer William Maher notes that Telstra, the all-purpose evil demon in telecommunications in Australia, may have won some friends with this.

07 December 2008

Technical reasons against the Clean Feed

From Ars Technica:

Here's an idea: if the Australian government actually finds child porn, nuclear bomb making manuals, and the like on the Internet, why not do their best to find the perpetrators and put them behind bars? That way we get to keep our free speech and have less crime and terrorism, rather than less of the former without actually reducing the latter. Then again, imposing restrictions on what local taxpayers can do is a lot easier than tracking down and rounding up international criminals and terrorists, and the filtering plan is moving forward despite the massive and fairly obvious drawbacks.

GetUp! raises a lot of cash

I trust The Brisbane Times won't mind me including their whole story - it is important because it is one of the few media outlets to note that Conroy still refuses to answer questions about ISP filtering, which is due to commence on 24 December (merry Christmas! Your present is a fail of internet). Parliament has now risen for the year, which means that no matter what the trials indicate and no matter what public objections there are, come 24 December, we are all in the shit, ISPs and consumers alike.

Note that this will, not possibly, will involve slowdowns of internet address lookups to as low as 1/6th or more of the present time. I have suffered this filtering trial at the University of Queensland for the past year, and it makes the internet basically unusable - if a web page has more than one source for its material, each individual link is checked against the "list". Since at heavy use times it takes up to a minute to access a link, it can mean it will take as much as ten minutes to load a complex site. As a result I did all my internet work at home before I went to work - as an academic I could at least do that. Now this option is gone.

Cash floods in to fight Rudd's web censorship

Asher Moses | December 5, 2008 - 11:04AM

Political activists GetUp have raised over $30,000 in less than a day to support their fight against the Government's plan to censor the internet, a response the group has described as "unprecedented".

The money will be put towards an advertising blitz designed to inform the public of the consequences of the plan, which experts say include slower internet speeds, significant false positives, failure to stop people from subverting the filters and the risk that the blacklist will be expanded to include the blocking of regular pornography, political views, gambling and pro-abortion sites.

Meanwhile, as the Communications Minister, Stephen Conroy, continued to dodge questions regarding the scheme in Senate question time, it emerged that protesters are planning anti-filtering marches for Saturday December 13 in Australia's capital cities.

Almost 500 people have signed up on Facebook to attend the protest at Sydney's Town Hall, while more than 1000 will picket at Melbourne's State Library. Thousands more are listed as "maybe attending".

Live trials of the controversial internet filters, which will block "illegal" content for all Australian internet users and "inappropriate" adult content on an opt-in basis, are slated to begin by Christmas, despite harsh opposition from the Greens, Opposition, the internet industry, some child welfare advocates, consumers and online rights groups.

Even NSW Young Labor has abandoned the Government's filtering plans, passing a motion last week rejecting the mandatory scheme and calling on Senator Conroy to adopt a voluntary opt-in system.

Ed Coper, campaigns director at GetUp, said the response to the anti-censorship campaign had been "astronomical" and "quite unprecedented".

Almost 80,000 people have signed GetUp's petition and the organisation has created a widget that website owners can embed on their sites, which allows their visitors to sign the petition and obtain more information about the filtering plans.

Mr Coper said GetUp's advertising blitz would begin next week, with the number of ads determined by how much money is raised.

"We're thinking about putting it [the ad] on high profile news websites but also on the websites that are trafficked by the more engaged internet users - the technological websites that the regular internet users visit a lot," he said.

Despite having yet to prove the viability of its filtering plan, the Government will by the end of the year shut down the existing NetAlert scheme, which was set up by the previous government and provides free software filters to all Australian families.

These are different to the filters proposed by Senator Conroy, which are mandatory and block sites from the ISP end.

In 1999, Foreign Minister Stephen Smith, then the Opposition communications spokesman, told Parliament that ISP filters were "largely ineffective", citing CSIRO research that found software filters were better because they were voluntary and the level of blocking could be customised by users.

Newer tests released by the Australian Communications and Media Authority in June found available ISP filters frequently let through content that should be blocked, incorrectly blocked harmless content and slowed down network speeds by up to 87 per cent.

Moreover, none of the filters will be capable of filtering non-web applications such as peer-to-peer file sharing programs. And the filters can easily be evaded by those set on accessing child pornography, using freely available tools.

During Senate question time this week, Senator Conroy refused to say how many customers an ISP would need to enlist for a trial to be credible or whether the results would be independently examined and verified.

He justified the closure of NetAlert by saying it was a "monumental failure of a policy" because the free voluntary filters had attracted "extraordinarily small usage".

Anti-filtering advocates have seized on those comments as a sign that there is little demand for internet filters in the first place.

06 December 2008

Opposition to ISP filtering now from Telstra

When the 600lb gorilla objects, even the Clean Feed Feds must pay attention, right?

TELSTRA chief operating officer Greg Winn says the federal Government's attempt to censor the internet is akin to trying to "boil the ocean".

"My view on that is that's like trying to boil the ocean ... to think that you're going to be able to centrally filter everything, I think that's a pipe dream," Mr Winn told reporters and analysts yesterday.


Online advocacy group “GetUp!”, which with 230,000 members has more members than every political party combined, has started a “Save the Net!” campaign and has received incredible support from the community.

Urging a government re-think on net censorship, GetUp! is asking the “Federal Government needs to re-think its plans to censor the internet and consider the impact it will have on thousands of Australian households and businesses.”

GetUp! says it has received the support of “more than 75,000 thousand Australians who fear it will slow internet speeds to a crawl and fail to stop unwanted content”, and all this in “less than one week after Federal Government said it would press ahead with its internet censorship plans for December 24”.

Think of that - more members than all the political parties combined! There may be hope yet...

05 December 2008

It's the end of the world as he knows it

This is just embarrassing. Here's a representative of Parliament in the ALP, which I have noted before is increasingly pandering to religious interests:

LABOR MP James Bidgood, the first-time MP under investigation for selling pictures of a protester attempting to set fire to himself outside Parliament House, has declared the global financial crisis an act of God. Mr Bidgood, who was carpeted by Prime Minister Kevin Rudd over his actions yesterday and apologised to Parliament, makes the new claims in a DVD, The Australian reports. In a speech to a function held in Parliament he argues that Christian marches for Jesus in London caused the October 1987 stock market crash. He also predicted the end of the world and one world monetary system. "We have to say 'What would Jesus do?'," he said. "In 1987 there was another march for Jesus. That took place in April. And guess what happened in October 1987? The stock market crashed. All property values lost one this of their value and over a million people lost their homes. "I believe when Christians pray, God does things. I believe what is happening today is as much to do with God in economics bringing judgement." He went on to warn that "there is God's justice in action in what has gone on here". "I believe there is God's justice in action in what is going on here. We haven't seen the end of it. "The ultimate conclusion is like I say, we look at Bible prophecy, we are going towards a one world bank and a one world monetary system. And if you believe the word of God and you read Revelations...you will see clearly what is being spelt out. We are in the end times."

Somebody put this guy on the front bench, say in the Treasury portfolio. I so want him serving my nation by preparing for the end of the world...

04 December 2008

ISP filtering opposition grows in the MSM

So we are starting to see more objections to the "Clean Feed": The GetUp campaign has attracted the attention of the Fairfax Media (The Melbourne Age) and also an OpEd. Blogger Josh Catone at Sitepoint attacks it from Rhode Island, with many comments by readers. And a really badly designed news feed service for Australia, Australia.to, also reports negatively.

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The Policy policy, and a Bill of Rights

When my kids were in school, I noticed an interesting phenomenon that went something like this: Headmaster: No, your kids can't be being bullied. We have a policy against bullying. I came to call this the "Policy policy": so long as there's a Policy in place for some longstanding problem, action is unnecessary and complainants can be silenced by reference to the Policy. The Sydney Morning Herald is reporting that the present government (AKA the Clean Feed Censorship Party) wants to establish a Bill of Rights in Australia to protect citizens against laws that are unconstitutional and against said Bill. I can only see this as misdirection, and a pure instance of the Policy policy. After all, we have seen no infringement of rights in the UK (the most surveilled nation on the planet, death for looking like a terrorist) or the US (Gitmo, extraordinary rendition, police home invasion, Taser deaths...) because they have such Bills. Look, a Bill of Rights is a nice idea. It may even have some positive effects on legislative excesses, like attempts to restrict marriage to straights (how's that working in the US right now, by the way?). But it won't stop a government like the Clean Feed Censorship Party from being able to circumvent liberties to achieve something For the Children (i.e., for the bureaucrats and their ministers) if they want to do so. The only thing that prevents that is citizen activism, speaking out against these restrictions on freedom. Hat tip: Sam D at Philosophy Hurts Your Head

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This blog will be my Australian rants - things that are of interest solely to Australians and those who engage in the Australian polity. It will be different from my Evolving Thoughts blog in that there will be some but not much biology and philosophy, and a lot of opinion... err, wait... that may not be much of a difference. Anyway, enjoy. I'll repost some of my previous posts from ET in a while. Thanks to Jenny Webster for the inspiration for the title.