01 December 2009

Filtering to be run for the Christians?

Over at the EFA site, Colin Jacobs points out some worrying facts, like the Australian Christian Lobby getting briefed where the Rest of Us cannot be, about the Internet Filter. Here's what he said:

One of the reasons EFA so opposes the Government’s mandatory ISP-level filtering scheme, of course, is that once it’s in place, special interests will be knocking on the Minister’s door seeking to have their own bugbears addressed by the blacklist. Even if, on day one, the list is limited to the “worst of the worst” of violent, illegal material – which it won’t be – how long do you think it would be before AFACT’s lawyers are lobbying for BitTorrent trackers to be added? Even members of Parliament have gone on record with their own ideas of what should be banned, such as racist Flash games, Bill Henson photography or “pro-anorexia” forums.

Now, before the results of the pilot have even been released for public discussion, the Australian Christian Lobby are crowing about how they received a special briefing from the Minister himself on the filtering scheme. Although they say the pilot’s results were not discussed, they clearly received an update on the scheme’s planning, something the rest of us have long been denied. (When was the last time detailed policy information was made available to the public?)

We’ve written before about the confused nature of this policy. Will it act like a home-based filter, keeping age-inappropriate material from children? No. Will it prevent the trade in illegal child pornography? Not that either. We’ve been assured that the list will contain “almost exclusively” RC (refused classification) material, whatever that may mean. Could all adult material be grist for the blacklist? Previous indications have been that this is not the case, but with anti-filth crusaders receiving a special briefing in the Minister’s office, one might have doubts about whether the list might have more puritanical applications than have been disclosed so far.

After all, why should the minister be giving the Australian Christian Lobby, of all the possible stakeholders, a special briefing? They have a right to lobby for their members’ wishes, certainly, but they do not represent a very broad section of the community, and have demonstrated on many occasions an inability to grasp the policy and technological issues surrounding mandatory filtering. Even looking at it cynically, the ACL is hardly a bastion of ALP supporters. Is it because the ACL’s view on how the Internet should ultimately look is in line with the Minister’s?

The Greens have called for an explanation, but sadly if the Government stays true to form we probably won’t be getting one soon.

The Australian electorate demands transparent and evidence-based policymaking that represents broad community interests. EFA will be contacting the Minister’s office in order to get a meeting and again put our concerns with the plan on the record.

I warned you all this was coming. Now that Tony Abbott, the Catholic mouthpiece, is leading the Opposition, we are officially in a nation that is Christianised, and our politics will increasingly marginalise anyone who doesn't meet their religious standards. We are going to have to protest and take legal action to protect our freedoms.

25 November 2009

Rudd to oppose ACT gay marriage laws

Just as the first legal gay marriages happen in the ACT, Rudd has decided he will block those laws.

Listen carefully, Mr PM. You. Don't. Have. That. Right.

You were elected to handle federal laws and issues, not state laws, and if a state democratically passes a law that permits Australian citizens who presently lack the same rights under law as other Australians enjoy, you do not have the right to overturn that because you happen to think differently. That has a name: it's called tyranny.

Your objections are religious, and the Constitution of the Commonwealth of Australia - you may have heard of it - states that no federal laws may be passed that favour one religion (or many religions) over another, including those who do not subscribe to your religious moral code:

116. The Commonwealth shall not make any law for establishing any religion, or for imposing any religious observance, or for prohibiting the free exercise of any religion, and no religious test shall be required as a qualification for any office or public trust under the Commonwealth.

This would be imposing a religious observance. It's unconstitutional, immoral, politically outrageous and as it happens I think contrary to the ideals of the Labor movement, not that that carries much weight these days. Gay rights were introduced by Labor, and it seems Labor will take them out, just like Cosby said about fatherhood.

If you want a solution, one that doesn't break the constitution and which is consistent with our laws and principles, try this. I wrote it for Howard's government. It seems yours might do well to read it as well.

24 November 2009

Well that kills the Greens for me

The father of the modern attempt to censor the internet in Australia has, in a stunning case of hypocrisy, attacked the Labor government for its secrecy over internet filtering. Yep, Clive Hamilton! But there's worse to come! The Greens have made him their candidate for the Higgins by-election!

Fuck 'em, I say. I will no longer touch or trust the Greens as a party if they can take that paternalistic religious fool as a candidate. I hereby take back every recommendation I have made about the Greens. He is the enemy of free speech and indeed of freedom in general. Ergo, so are they.

Sorry Bob Brown, you totally messed up, and the only thing that would redeem you is if you dropped him before the election is held.

22 September 2009

Conroy's memory lapse

Usually, when someone forgets on the stand some crucial bit of information, we call it evasion. A convenient lapse of memory has now been had by Stephen Conroy, who now says (in the Senate, no less) that he never intended to filter peer-to-peer internet traffic. Since this is how the child pornographers he is using as a convenient justification for government control over the internet in Australia will share their illegal pornography, what's the frigging point?

I don't usually quote entire articles, but this one is too good not to, from Zeropaid News:

Aussie Minister: “I Never Wanted to Filter P2P”

Written by soulxtc

Broadband Minister Stephen Conroy responds to criticisms that the proposed “mandatory voluntary” Internet filter would try to block BitTorrent and other P2P programs, though is a complete reversal from earlier statements.

Opposition to Australian Broadband Minister Stephen Conroy’s plan for a “mandatory voluntary” scheme of filtering the Internet to “protect the children” is taking another beating these days with criticism from the Green Party over his refusal to release data on what proportion of illegal net traffic the government’s filter would actually block.

In Senate Question Time last week, Greens Communications Spokesperson Senator Scott Ludlam asked Minister Conroy to what degree his plan would filter BitTorrent and P2P traffic. For after all, it was he who said last December that “technology that filters P2P and BitTorrent traffic does exist and it is anticipated that the effectiveness of this will be tested in the live pilot trial.”

Minister Conroy, apparently suffering from a case of amnesia, denied any pans to filter file-sharing traffic.

“As Senator Ludlam well knows, there has never been a suggestion by this government that peer-to-peer traffic would or could be blocked by our filter. It has never been suggested. So for you to continue to make the suggestion that we are attempting to do that just misleads the chamber and the Australian public, Senator Ludlam, and you know better than that. We are not attempting to suggest that the filter can capture peer-to-peer traffic,” he said.

Senator Ludlam said the Minister was either trying to hide some quiet goalpost-shifting or was simply unaware he had contradicted himself.

“Maybe the minister doesn’t read his own blog,” Senator Ludlam suggested.

He also said that if that’s the case then the whole “mandatory voluntary” scheme is more pointless than ever.

“We received another vivid demonstration yesterday of why people are right to be suspicious of this pointless waste of $44 million,” Senator Ludlam said.

“The Greens support measures that will achieve better protection for children from objectionable online material, but Minister Conroy reminded us again that the mandatory internet filtering scheme started out as ill-conceived and has just gone downhill from there.”

Stay tuned.

17 September 2009

Shock jocks on radio and decency

"At long last, sir, have you no decency?" That was the question that finally brought down that weasel Joseph McCarthy in his vile campaign to make anyone who was not right wing and equally vile isolated and marginalised in the US. His success can be seen in the present American vile right wing.

So Kyle the Vile Sandilands has been suspended for four weeks. Whooptifuckingdoo. Why hasn't he been banned from being on the media? For that matter, why wasn't John Laws, and why isn't Alan Jones and why aren't all the little Lawsies and Jonesies throughout the land?

Where's ACMA? Is it too busy telling adults what they can and can't play on their computers even if it's lawful? Why haven't they censored Jones, who initiated the race riots on air? Why? Well let's not forget that these guys get politicians into power and out, and the politicians know this. It's all about lobbying for influence. It's all about money.

ACMA ought to immediately revoke the license of any broadcaster or on air personality or producer that breaches the rules of democratic decency. When laws are broken, they should be charged and if at all possible jailed. But we'll never see that in this brave new lobbocracy. They have no decency. Just money.

Scientologists want to gag anonymous criticism

This is not news, of course, because they have always tried to harrass and gag critics using legal and other means, but now they want the Australian legal system to do it for them. From here, which has some links you ought to read if you don't already know the back story.

10 September 2009

Anonymous threaten dDoS against the federal government

It looks like the hacking group that attacked the Scientologists are going to do the same thing to Labor's government websites. I don't approve of this, because it means that Labor on the one hand will retreat into their shell and blame the hacking community for the ills of the internet. The best way to win this is for people to vote and protest. And on the other hand it is, after all, illegal, and the technology to do this will be used for both good and bad purposes; it ought not to be encouraged.

Meanwhile, the Christian lobby that is fronting this censorship proposal fails to respond to criticisms, as expected.

02 September 2009

On preventive censorship versus punishment

In the last few years, there has been an increasing tendency of so-called democratic governments to increase the amount of control they have over their population, under the guise of various "emergencies": terrorism, child pornography and of course a slightly more honest concern over property rights. Just today, the Australian attempt to mandatorily censor all internet feeds to eliminate child pornography has been attacked as ineffectual.

It is, of course, due to the technical nature of the internet, but that is, I fear, the wrong objection.

Cast your mind back to the end of the nineteenth century. The new communications technology then was the post and the telegram. Now, telegrams were sent, as it were, "in the clear" and so senders tended to be circumspect, but the mail then, as now, was private.

Suppose, in the light of terrorism from the anarchists and revolutionaries active at the time, the government said that it would open all mail and read it to ensure that no untoward things were being communicated, and what is more, the censors were not accountable to anyone but the presently elected minister, and in practice not even then.

Suppose that no rules as to what were prohibited were published, so as to not excite the population about forbidden fruit. Suppose that someone's mail could be intercepted and prevented from being received by agents of the government, and the sender would not even be told of this.

Would this be acceptable? I suggest it wouldn't, then or now, and the Kafkaesque nature of such draconian censorship would not be ameliorated by the claim that it was in order to protect the innocent. One can envisage an Edwardian Labor minister of the day holding his coat like a barrister as he accused opponents of the censoring of mail of not wanting to protect the children.

The fact is, even if mandatory filtering were possible technically, this is a kind of Stalinist statism, or a fascism. It suggests that the population is not able to make choices properly, and that it is up to the politicians and administrative arms of government to do it for us. It also suggests that one should punish before the act that is sanctioned is committed, like a Minority Report style interdiction.

If an act is rightly condemned – such as murder – it is the government's duty only to punish those who transgress. When the crime is committed, then the law comes into effect. If there is no crime, the law has no role to play in the lives of citizens going about their lives. What mandatory censorship does it invert this: before there is a crime, you will be held accountable.

Worse, powers held by governments must be balanced and checked to prevent abuse. But this is completely unchecked. We are expected to think that not only this minister (who I personally wouldn't trust to run a chook raffle), but all subsequent ministers and prime ministers and lobbyists and police and bureaucrats and indeed anyone who might prejudice the process is honest and competent.

Did we not learn anything from the past three centuries? Star Chambers? Monarchical absolutism? Special Branch? Intelligence agency failures? Does none of this ring any bells? No? Then get the hell out of power, because you have no right to be doing this, Conroy.

I would once have expected those who are on the conservative side to protect individual freedoms from such statism, but these days they are as much at fault, in Australia as anywhere else, of abuses of power and control as the other sides of the political paddocks. I applaud that Senator Minchin (no relation to this guy, I think) is on the ball about the technical stupidity of filtering, but I really want to see him follow the Greens and attack it for being wrong in principle.

And non-Australians? Watch out. This is coming your way. The UK is already highly controlled, and other countries are going to try it if it works anywhere. The Chinese have dropped the mandatory aspect of their Green Bank filtering, but Malaysia is trialling it now, and it's not a long leap to European and New World countries doing it. All it takes is a little bit of paternalism.

Won't somebody think of the children when they grow up?

27 August 2009

Oppose the anti-gays on marriage

The current Senate Inquiry into Marriage Equality has just been swamped by thousands of anti-gay submissions from the Religious Right. The inquiry is just about to close for submissions. It aims to gauge the level of public support for marriage equality across Australia. Does anti-gay discrimination have any place in our secular laws? If you think not, go here and register your PoV. Hat tip to Jason Ball.

25 August 2009

Corby and the media

lawrence-corby.jpg Are we supposed to feel sorry for Corby now? Is the media's continuing obsession over her "plight" (but not the less camera-friendly Bali Nine) another beatup by a family that has been pretty good at manipulating it? Let's face it, if Corby looked like the woman who is looking after her, Renae Lawrence [see pic], she'd be ignored just as much as they are. But Lawrence is taking it like an adult.

I wouldn't wish the conditions of the prisoners in an Indonesia jail on anyone, but let's face it. She's a drug trafficker, and probably part of an extensive criminal network. She shouldn't have her rights taken away, but she did surrender a few of them when she decided to try to smuggle drugs. I don't think that drugs should be criminalised (it's a sop to the law enforcement industry of America) as this merely encourages criminal activity, but given that it is criminal activity, how pretty someone looks shouldn't modify our concern over the rights of criminals.

As it is, Indonesia has reduced the life sentences and death sentences to reasonable lengths. We shouldn't allow style to impose a subtle racism against the Indonesians.

20 August 2009

More funding for Brethren schools

This is pretty fucking disgusting, but it only highlights the wrongness of funding religious schools any differently to state schools. If you fund a Catholic school you have no argument against funding all religious schools, including the cults.

We should insist upon funded schools following a tight secular curriculum and not proselytising. That would sort 'em out.

19 August 2009

The great Australian Starhunt

My mate Ian Musgrave, who is too clever for six ordinary people, has sent me this:

The Big Aussie Starhunt is well underway! I did my survey tonight, the first chance I've had with the clouds and kids. The Big Aussie Starhunt is a Australia wide event to get people more familiar with our wonderful night sky, and to raise awareness of light pollution so it's well worth participating . All you have to do is count how many stars you can see in Scorpius during Science Week (15 – 23 August 2009). The 23rd is coming up fast, so get out and have a go!

You can get to the Aussie Starhunt here or go directly to the survey page.

Use SkippySky to get cloud cover predictions.

14 August 2009

*China* is smarter than Kevin Rudd

Because they will make their internet filtering optional. You know, personal choice and freedom optional?

13 August 2009

The Malaysia PM is smarter than Rudd

He, at least, realises that an internet filter will not work to stop child porn.

07 August 2009

01 August 2009

Labor compromise turns down gay marriage

As reported by the ABC. One question? Why? What possible argument against gay marriage can there be? How is it not discrimination to prevent adults from marrying who they choose? What is motivating the ALP?

There can be only one answer: religion. Yes, the ALP is now Kevin Rudd's personal religious evangelising ground.

29 July 2009

More tales of incompetent filtering

So, the NSW Education Department put internet filters on school computers. The outcome? Students may access porn sites, but not educational or government sites.

Lesson #1: anything administered automatically can be mistyped...

Meanwhile, gay groups are waiting to see if their [legal] sites are going to be barred. They have every right to be concerned.

Lesson # 2: If bureaucrats are the ones who choose what the people may see or do, they will blindly follow badly written guidelines.

As you were...

09 July 2009

Censordyne for a clean internet

GetUp has an amusing and pointed "ad" here. Go see it. Contribute also,

07 July 2009

Rudd to lobby Dalai Lama

In news to hand, the Prime Minster, Kevin Rudd, is dropping in on the Dalai Lama to lobby for the next Panchen Lama to be an Australian. He's also visiting London to ensure that the next Archbishop of Canterbury comes from Sydney.

Paul Syvret nails it

At The Courier Mail no less:

It's idiocy. Offer, and that means offer not impose, filtering for children's net use by all means but let adults decide for themselves what they want to watch, play and talk about, or buy online.

When even a News Unlimited paper can say it, it's freaking obvious, right? Nah. Labor will continue as before, you watch.

02 July 2009

How to tell if your country is illiberal

When the People's Republic of China is less censorial censorious than your own country, you might be living in an unfree country.

The PRC has bowed to demands by its own users and not put the Green Dam Youth Escort internet filtering software mandatorily on every computer sold in its borders.

Meanwhile, it turns out that the Great Wall of Australia will filter out adult games, including Second Life. Even the Christians recognise this is more draconian than censorship in China. These games aren't illegal, mind, just unclassified, because there is no adult classification category in the Censorship Board scheme, and the filter will block all RC (refused classification) games irrespective of why. This includes accessing Second Life domains, as well as downloading the game, which can still legally be bought in person.

Have we had enough of teh stoopid yet?

27 June 2009

Internet censorship shock! Well, not really

So the wider public have realised what the internet filter is really going to be used for - to filter out entertainment some censorship committee thinks you, as adults, shouldn't be exposed to. Games, of course, but who thinks it will stop there?

Look, the principles here are obvious: stop censorship altogether, and if people do things that are criminal, prosecute them. No committee appointed by the PM and his advisors has the right to tell me not to do something that is legal. No such committee can substitute for parental oversight or teaching. All that a government instrumentality has the right to do is prosecute those who break the law. By all means rank or classify material as a guide. But stopping me or any other adult from playing games or reading what we like? There is no basis for that.

This paternalism of Labor and Liberal alike has to stop. Australia is one of the most censored of all western democracies, with no rights assigned to individuals to speak or see what they wish. We are firmly stuck in the Edwardian morality of the federation days. It's about time we grew up into an adult nation.

13 June 2009

Are Australians racist?

Recently, departing Telstra CEO Sol Trujillo claimed that Australians were racist, and the media went spare. Then along came the attacks on Indian, and it later turned out also Chinese, students. There are hints that this is due to Lebanese gangs. What is going on here? Is Australia racist?

Yes. Yes, we are. Not just against Asians, but against any non-majority group. The very structure of Australian institutions were founded on anti-Irish and anti-Aboriginal racism, and the basis of our modern society today is fundamentally to advantage some ethnic groups and disadvantage others. And this is a rolling event. When I was a kid, in the early 60s, it was Italians. Then it was Greeks. Then Chinese, Vitenamese, Serbs, Croats, Indians, and so on. Whoever is new in our society is a target, and aborigines are always targets as the natives.

I say this as an antidote to the myth (and it is a myth) of Australian mateship. Aborigines who fought in the second world war were excluded from pubs and clubs unlike their white mates. Chinese, some of whom have lived in Australia since the 1851 Gold Rush, are still treated as foreigners. In the 1980s I dated a Malaysian Chinese girl, and we were assualted in the street by hateful people, me for dating a "Chink" and she for just being Chinese. We are racist through and through. Deal with it.

That said, my Malaysian girlfriend was in Australia because she was not Bumiputra, and was therefore excluded from tertiary education in Malaysia. Hindus have one of the most racist social structures in history, which, ironically, was established in reaction to Islamic encroachment rather than going back to the final immigration of the Indo-Iranians. And even socially enlightened states like the Scandanavians have a major component of racism and neo-fascism, especially against the Muslims. And Islam, well don't get me started.

The fact is, humans are fundamentally racist, and no amount of nice rhetoric from governments, or legislation, will change that. Racism is something that takes constant effort to resist. It's not like there is some egalitarian instinct that horrid social institutions force into racism. It's more like the fact that humans natively will identify in-group from out-group, and that if you want to promote cosmopolitanism, you have to work at it.

Australians are racist, and we can take steps to overcome the social institutions that reinforce it. We can legislate against it (and we most certainly should), but to ignore the innate racism of both Australians and Australian sociopolitical institutions is to make a very bad mistake.

27 May 2009

Conroy shifts ground. Film at 11

Smartcompany magazine is reporting that Conroy has shifted ground in a Senate estimates committee meeting. I'm shocked! Shocked! I say. [Late note - Christians upset, film at 12]

Communications Minister Stephen Conroy said in a Senate estimates committee yesterday that the Government could take two approaches to introducing a scheme, one mandatory and one voluntary.

"Mandatory ISP filtering would conceivably involve legislation ... voluntary is available currently to ISPs," Conroy said.

"One option is potentially legislation. One other option is that it could be (on a) voluntary basis that they (ISPs) could voluntarily agree to introduce it."

The comments are the first indication that the Government would consider a voluntary code, after having spent the last 18 months declaring the filter would be mandatory for all ISPs.

Senator Conroy has scaled back some elements of the filter recently, including changing the definition of content to be blocked from "unwanted content" to "content that is refused classification".

What happens when an ISP refuses to introduce "voluntary" filtering? Will the ACMA then prosecute that ISP at a threat of $11,000 per day if it allows links to sites with "refused classification" content, as it is doing now, to chilling effect upon freedom of speech?

Meanwhile, Conroy said in the same hearing that the Government is "considering options for greater transparency and accountability in respect of the blacklist".

A regular review of the list by a committee or independent panel may be formed, as well as a regular review of complaints made about the list.

Oh yeah? We're going to have representative oversight, access to the list to independently check it for errors, notifications to content providers that they have been filtered, and a complete independence from political (i.e., religious) interference? Sounds remarkably like the Howard government's filter... as if anyone is surprised.

Here's the Hansard transcript:


Senator LUDLAM—... What is the process of getting off the blacklist for somebody who finds themselves on there? Can you appeal your appearance on there or is a site notified? There are a couple of examples that have been used.

Senator Conroy—This is the blacklist that has existed for nine years that you are talking about?

Senator LUDLAM—That is correct, yes. What is the process for getting off that if you are put on it inadvertently or if somebody has hosted material on your website that you were not even sure was there?

Ms O’Loughlin—Generally, if somebody came to us in the first instance to say that they felt that they were on the blacklist for a reason that they did not understand then, of course, we would look at the matter.

Senator LUDLAM—How would they know that they are there? The list is secret and we are not meant to know what is on the list.

Ms O’Loughlin—That is an issue. There are two parts to the scheme itself. Firstly, for those sites we find prohibited located in Australia, their hosts receive a takedown notice, so they are very much aware.

Senator LUDLAM—That is right. It is the overseas hosts.

Ms O’Loughlin—It is the overseas hosted. Very rarely do we receive any correspondence. In fact, it is quite often difficult to find overseas hosts and overseas providers. There is no requirement under the current act for us to notify overseas based providers when we do add them to the filter. The concern over the last few months has been some websites when we have investigated them that have had links through to child abuse images which have been placed there. Their sites have been hacked. They have been placed there by other parties. A couple of months later, in most of those cases, you will find that they came off our blacklist. In those circumstances it is quite difficult for us because often, particularly if it is child sexual abuse imagery, we have referred those to law enforcement agencies and it is really incumbent on us not to do anything with those sites until law enforcement agencies have finished their investigations. It is quite a difficult area for us. We try to handle it by this regular review that we do of the URLs to make sure that if those links no longer provide access to prohibited content we remove them as quickly as we can.

This is a very interesting exchange (and bless Ludlam for taking this cause up - the only one to do so. Because of him, I am probably voting Green henceforth, as the sole opposition party in place right now). O'Loughlin (Ms Nerida O’Loughlin, General Manager, Industry Outputs Division of the department) is forced to note that people can only find out if they have been blacklisted if their ISP notifies them, and that even then it can take several months to rectify (this can cause a business to fail, by the way, if they have been hacked).

Shortly afterwards, Conroy says

Senator LUDLAM—You cannot be held responsible for what people may have done with it once it was leaked.

Senator Conroy—The Broadcasting Services Act sets out the regime which requires ACMA to assess online content. It also sets out the mechanism for the ACMA black list, and this has been in place since 2000, as I have already mentioned. The government is considering options for greater transparency and accountability in respect of the black list. It is not possible to publish the list as it contains links to child sexual abuse material and this would be a criminal offence. We are considering options which could include a regular review of the list by a panel of eminent persons or a parliamentary committee or a review of all URLs by the classification board. These issues will be considered along with the pilot trial on filtering before the government makes final decisions on the implementation of the new policy.

Senator LUDLAM—Can you tell us what you are reading from there? Is that a press release or is it an internal document?

Senator Conroy—No, it was my notes.

So now we have policy being made on the fly... again.

Ms O’Loughlin—If I can just add also that any person who is adversely affected by our classification decision can apply for review of the decision to the Commonwealth Ombudsman or the Federal Court obviously. Where we have gone to the classification board for an assessment they can also go to the review process through the classification review panel board as well.

Senator LUDLAM—I guess I would go back to where I started with this, which is that because the list is secret for the reasons that you have both outlined, certainly in the case of the examples that I just mentioned, they were not aware that their sites had been hacked until they read about it in the media. Because the list itself is secret your rights of appeal are a bit limited.

Conroy then reverts to the bullshit he delivered on the SBS Insight program, that obviously one of the victims knew he had been hacked and had fixed it, which ignores Ludlam's point entirely. This guy is a sleazy piece of crap. You can read the whole thing here.

08 May 2009

More on the ACMA censorship of political content

The Register has a good piece here. They note that this means that even linking to content rather than having it is sufficient to attract the $11,000/day fine, and ask how many hops are sufficient to be OK. If I link to a site that links to a site that links to the offending (in this case anti-abortion) site, am I liable? This gets more fucking ridiculous by the day.

06 May 2009

I hope he was pushed

So Mick Keelty is going early and the panegyrics are starting up. I believe Keelty's spineless subjugation to the political interference of the previous government, and his opportunism in gaining "special powers" for the AFP, have been among the greatest disasters to Rule of Law in Australia, and have gone a long way to re-establishing the "special branch" mentality of the old style of policing in Australia [see also here, here and here]. The Haneef affair is only the tip of it. How much else will we hear about over coming years as the gags are removed?

I hope that he was pushed by the present government, but I doubt it. Labor is traditionally in favour of large government bodies, and they would see what he did as building a better instrument of government policy. I too see it this way. Our difference lies in thinking that it is a good or a bad thing. Although I am not a "small government" advocate, when it comes to unnecessary police powers I am as libertarian as it gets.

05 May 2009

Political censorship of internet linkage begins in Australia

The host ISP of Electronic Frontiers Australia has been served a take-down notice for linking to an R-rated "blackbanned" site, itself not in Australia, in a page that was a political comment on the merits (or demerits, rather) of mandatory internet filtering in Australia. I put the entire text of their notice below. This is exactly what we were told would never happen by the minister. It is exactly what everybody who ever thought for ten minutes on the subject knew would happen.

EFA gets link removal notice

Posted by Colin Jacobs | Censorship, Mandatory ISP Filtering | Tuesday 5 May 2009 3:14 pm

EFA’s web hosting provider was today the recipient of a Link Deletion notice from ACMA for an article on our web site ironically entitled “Net censorship already having a chilling effect“. The original article included a link to a page at abortiontv.com that includes graphic images and was previously added to ACMA’s blacklist for being “R-18+”-level material. (For more information on the ACMA net censorship system, see here and here.)

There are many reasons why this should alarm Australian net users. Most significantly, the link was part of a political discussion about the merits of the existing and future Internet censorship policies. The link was offered as a demonstration of the sorts of controversial content that could and would be included in any such proposal. No “offensive” material was included on our site itself. Nevertheless, we were forced to remove the link on pain of severe penalties.

To be clear, EFA published only a link to a page that is hosted overseas and is on ACMA’s prohibited list. Viewing the potentially R-rated page itself is not in any way illegal, and no system is yet in place to enforce the blocking of such web pages. One may well wonder why a link to a legally viewable page should draw the threat of legal sanction while the content itself remains visible. Because the link was on a web page hosted in Australia, the hosting provider - not EFA ourselves, who have more control over the content - falls under Australian legal jurisdiction and could be so served. What this accomplishes is uncertain.

This system, which costs Australian taxpayers millions each year, is clearly unworkable. Because the content is hosted overseas, it remains untouched by ACMA’s directives. Any links or commentary on prohibited content can be protected by the simple expedient of posting it on a web site hosted overseas. No letters from the Australian media regulator, issued months after complaints are filed, will reduce the availability of such material. If a link to a prohibited page is not allowed, what about a link to a link? At what number of hops does a hyperlink become acceptable?

This is a textbook case that demonstrates that there is no sharp dividing line between “political” speech and other content. At the edges of public policy are issues which will inflame passions and lead to images, video and words that are offensive to many people. Trying to stamp these out, especially on the Internet, not only diminishes our democracy but is pointless and paternalistic to boot.

On the Internet, a discussion about some information is often barely distinguishable from the information itself. The current ACMA censorship regime accomplishes little apart from achieving a Howard-era political objective, and makes it clear how far behind the curve political thinking is when it comes to the technical realities of the Internet. We now seem set to move to a new stage where the perceived shortcomings of the current system are to be remedied by legislation making the blocking of overseas content mandatory. It goes without saying that such a block will be easily circumvented by those with the motivation, and material of genuine political interest will find a way to proliferate despite the ban. It is average Australians who will be left wondering what they should and should not be viewing, and not know what controversial material has been deemed unacceptable by the censors.

With fines of up to $11,000 per day threatened against our hosting provider, we have little choice but to comply with ACMA’s directive. However, we are investigating an appeal of the order on the grounds that it stifles a legitimate political discussion on the merits of the Government’s internet censorship policies.

Full text of the LDN here.

Don't trust filterware

They can cause a major problem of national security.

Incidentally this is who we are emulating.

07 April 2009

Keating's Mistake to be rectified

Back when privatisation was all the rage, even for left-wingers like Paul Keating, Telstra was sold partially to investors (and boy, didn't they get a bargain!). At the same time, other telecommunications companies were permitted to compete. But there was a real flaw in this bit of economic rationalism: Telstra still owned the exchanges, the PSTN and the other infrastructural components needed, and they behaved, well, like a really big corporation that was staffed by public servants. They spent the last 13 years obstructing other companies' access to the networks, necessitating and expensive duplication of infrastructure.

What Keating should have done was to privatise the marketing and customer service parts of Telstra, and set up a government administered public company to oversee and maintain the networks, and to improve them as the customer companies needed, with the companies funding the costs. But it is still the bottleneck that ISPs and telcos face, that Telstra controls the exchanges, and you have to wait on their pleasure to get connections made (while, of course, their customers get connected immediately, but at a high cost).

This is no way to run a chook raffle, let alone our telecommunications infrastructure. Now KRudd has decided to build a new infrastructure as a government (and, we hope, recoup the costs from license fees by the telcos). It should have been done in 1996. It will cost us a lot more than it would have back then, because the Optus optic fibre rollout would have been a shared cost and not a duplication.

I bet Conroy had little to do with this sensible, albeit late on the part of Labor, decision.

04 April 2009

Filtering with an electric kettle

“Trying to filter the Internet is as effective as boiling the ocean with an electric kettle.” From here.

Zombies eat Sydney again

Another power outage leaves folks stuck in elevators again. The Premier obviously hasn't read his Pratchett, because he said, “I was told the other day that the chances of this happening again were one in a million. So I am seriously unhappy.” All us Pratchett fans know that a million-to-one chance happens nine times out of ten.

03 April 2009

Here it comes...

Gird your loins, boys and girls, and strap yourself in; we're in for a bumpy ride. The Cleanfeed nonsense is spreading. Now the EU wants to impose it. Given that the agenda here is control rather than protection, I foresee an increase in censorship of the free internet over the next few years. I wonder who benefits from that? Oh yes...

22 March 2009

Iran - what Australia can aspire to be

See this.

Update on the "leaked list"

Wikileaks, bless them, are now saying that they have a new copy of the blacklist, and that ACMA did a massive cleanup to drop the number of links from over 2000 to around 1200. It looks like the minister was, dare we say it, lying about this. Whirlpool have the story here. They also point out how stupid it is for the minister and ACMA to threaten a Swedish site with Australian prosecution, especially when the Swedish constitution protects such acts. I wish I lived in a civilised nation too.Do you think we could convince the Swedes to invade? I can't stand that much darkness, or I'd probably try to move there.

21 March 2009

Not "smacks of" Big Brother; *is* Big Brother

Helen Razor has a nice article in the Melbourne Age taking down Conroy's hubris, but the subeditor who put the title "Net filter smacks of Big Brother" missed the point. This is Big Brother. Helen's final line gets it just right:

Don't even try to argue with Conroy about his Clean Feed. When it comes to debate on internet safety, he appears every bit as flexible as an evangelical toothpick.

Later: The New Zealand minister is smarter than the Australian:

"We have been following the internet filtering debate in Australia but have no plans to introduce something similar here," says Communications and IT minister Steven Joyce.

"The technology for internet filtering causes delays for all internet users. And unfortunately those who are determined to get around any filter will find a way to do so. Our view is that educating kids and parents about being safe on the internet is the best way of tackling the problem."

Err, yes. Parents, if they are concerned about their kids, should educate them and monitor them until they are old enough. This is not rocket science, Conroy.

20 March 2009

That's not the real blacklist, but you can't see what is

Really minister? We are supposed to take your word that the leaked list on Wikileaks is not the real one because you tell us there's a different number of links on the "real" list? Why would we believe you? You have steadfastly refused to countenance any criticism and have declared opponents like me to be supporters of child pornography, just because you don't want to hear us. We should take your word for it? You are a dissembler and it seems none too bright, so forgive me if I don't think that even if you are telling the truth about what you have been told, that you have the wattage to spot when you are being misled by public servants who like the control this ill-fated legislative bastard gives them.

If you want credibility, then give an independent watchdog, with community support, access to the list and the protocols for getting sites on it and more importantly off it. Like the American balls-up, the "no fly list", the default view everyone should have is that this will also be a balls-up.

And while I'm on default opinions, why are people like me called "freedom of speech advocates" by the media? Surely that's the default view, that one has the right to state what one thinks no matter who happens to find it unpleasant? That's the ground on which democracy walks. It is people like yourself who deserve a special designation. I suggest we call you restriction of liberty advocates from now on.

19 March 2009

Censorship outright now

I have put my post up at Evolving Thoughts for reasons given there. Note, however, that Wikileaks is now blocked from Australia - with no legislation behind it! We are long past potential censorship and into the worst excesses of the 1950s. Funny; I thought Howard was the regressive PM.

18 March 2009

In defence of liberty

I urge you all to go read Russell Blackford submission to the Human Rights consultative committee. It covers well the issues brought about by the recent rolling back of civil liberties to combat "terrorism" and "religious vilification" and the like.

17 March 2009

A balanced view on internet safety

Here's an essay by Peter Chen at Online Opinion that gives a good summary of the issues, concerns and problems with internet filtering and safety. I recommend it.

But one thing Chen does not address that I think is crucial here is the legal principle of not punishing people for criminal acts before they are committed. By inhibiting people's rights to see what they want online, so long as it is not illegal, clean feeding is an unfortunate step towards government oversight on what we do in any respect. It sets a precedent, and such precedents are hard to eliminate once they enter the domain of legal decision making (called stari decisis under common law).

Yes, I object to the fact that clean feeds are impracticable, will degrade internet performance, and not do what they set out to do (which is protect children), but fundamentally the main reason for not adopting them is that it gives power to governments and their instruments to decide sub rosa what we can and cannot see. Suppose that the present government and all the members of the department of telecommunications are exemplary individuals who not only have our best interests at heart, but do so intelligently and effectively. Can we guarantee that the next government, or a much later bureaucracy, will consist of these people? Not at all, which is why checks and balances are a crucial aspect of democratic government.

And I do not trust this government. They have made way too many religiously-based noises about what is and is not permissible in public. This is to my mind only the thin edge of the constant presumption of religious organisations and culture that they may rightly interfere with other citizens' behaviours, whether they are of that religion or not. That the balance of power is held by a religious political candidate in the Senate is only the tip of that iceberg.

We are a secular nation! It's in our constitution. We do not arrange our public polity on the basis of what suits pastors and cardinals and imams. We do so on legal principles of liberal democracy. For this reason, people are calling for our representatives to oppose the movement coming out of Islam to protect religions against "defamation" speech. Religions have no rights to not be offended by the behaviours of those who are not in their community (and no rights to impose upon their members by legal or other force the views of the hierarchy). And the very idea of handing to potentially religiously motivated censors the power to control what we read, see and hear is just frightening.

I'm not impressed either by the constant refrain by the minister and his allies that to oppose the clean feed is to support child pornography and abuse. Of course I do not. This is exactly the argument that George Bush's administration used to take away civil rights of thousands - if you oppose us you support terrorism. One can be vehemently opposed to child abuse, and terrorism, without wanting to grant unsupervised people unfettered rights to control us. Child porn is illegal - so use the frigging laws to prosecute child pornographers. Give the police the resources they need. There are sufficient criminal investigative powers and laws under which such activities may be prosecuted - you don't need to treat us all as criminals to do so.I think the reason why Labor are so hot for the clean feed is that they really don't want to give the police the resources and to manage them. It's so much easier to simply make other people, the ISPs in this case, stop the porn. Make it their problem and it's no longer yours.

So by all means point out the practical difficulties, but even if you have the perfect means, I am not sure the ends are justified, and I certainly want judicial, community and user oversight on what gets censored and why. And I want a redress system for those incorrectly included (which must include damages - if the authorities don't have to pay for their mistakes, then they'll be a lot less careful). And I also want prosecutorial avenues for those who do abuse this system. Put all that in place, and you may convince me of the rightness of this approach. But leaving it in the hands of Labor or Conservative party hacks who have obligations to religious figures who may have helped them get into power? No way. That takes us back to the Bad Old Days of Mannix. Learn from some history...

10 March 2009

Queensland back to being stupid

I have just left Queensland, where the weather and landscape are wonderful but spoiled in virtue of being inhabited by, you know, Queenslanders*. So I expect this kind of stupidity:

Here's a guy who has no criminal history, has done no harm to, nor promoted harm to, children or anyone else so far as we can tell. He faces twenty years in jail: for embedding on his site a video, with caveats and warnings, of a Russian man swinging a child around. This video is widely available on the internet. But some stupid fuck in government has decided that he needs to be brought to charge for child abuse.

In fact the video is not abusive - clearly the man swinging the child is the father, who loves his kid, but is a bit rougher than we now think is healthy (but when I was a kid, that would have been perfectly acceptable behaviour). So of course, put this poor bastard, whose health has suffered, in prison.

And don't surf the internet, or comment on anything that might possibly be interpreted as doing anything a witch-hunter might find offensive. Or you, too, will end up in prison.

* I'm equal opportunity. NSW is ruined by New South Welshpersons, Victoria by Victorians, Tasmania... well you get the idea. Canberra is ruined by all of them.

And they will *still* shift Dexter

09 March 2009

Filtering elsewhere

In one of those wonderful headlines, like "Fog in Channel; Continent cut off", the NY Times has noted that Europe is helpfully "test run"ning net neutrality for US providers and lawmakers...

Maybe they will thank Australia for test running censorship in general?

19 February 2009

Hamilton: Free speech has no place in a democracy

Clive Hamilton, propounder of all that is evil about the "Clean Feed", has determined that as well as not being able to shout "Fire!" in a crowded cinema, citizens of democracies also have no right to the internet. It seems that censorship, which we all thought was a necessary evil to be used sparingly and not at all for adults who are doing legal things that harm none, is in fact the foundation of civil society. Who knew? Oh, yes, the Catholic Church knew, didn't it Clive?

A response from ZeroPaid - to whom the hat tip - are not enough. This highly illiberal advocate of a closed society wants to call those who value freedoms online as "net libertarians", as if being in favour of liberty was somehow unChristian, unAustralian and unphilosophical. Hot news tip: not all who value liberty are libertarians and not all who oppose it are being honest about their reasons.

The rule is this: In a civil democracy, one can do anything one likes so long as it is not illegal, without interference from government controls or moral censors. And if you want to make something you don't like illegal, like reading pornography or advocating abortion, you had better brace for a public debate over that, not slip it in via some barndoor mechanism that enables you to house all you favourite restirctions on others without oversight or redress.

And speaking of a lack of redress, the usually liberal New Zealand is about to install a "guilt by accusation" law about internet accounts - if anyone at all, with no evidence whatsoever apart from a j'accuse, makes a complaint about copyright infringement, the ISP will be required to immediately delete that user's account and all online materials! No doubt this is driven by the fascists in the music industry who think their IP rights trump everyone else's rights.

30 January 2009

What is so bad about the internet?

Even the Christians realise that internet filtering is not going to protect kids. The very conservative Christianity Canada has a piece in which it is pointed out that no filtering is a substitute for parental oversight and education. Meanwhile, Crikey again notes that the proponents of mandatory internet filtering are the Christian Right. Why is the ALP, a left wing social democrat party, trying to suck up to them? I suspect the answer is wider than mere partisan loyalties. Governments hate things they cannot control, as witness the fact that the NSA in America eavesdrops on ordinary American's electronic communications with no oversight whatsoever. I suspect the ALP just likes centralised controls, and internet filtering is a useful pretext to expand that way. And while the current opposition parties are against it, weakly, they once did put up a proposal themselves.

The real evil for governments and would-be governments is that there are things happening in their societies they don't control. Governments hate that. Bureaucrats hate not managing these events and politicians hate what a free media might do to them. It's much harder to appease an entire populace than a single newspaper proprietor. So they demonise the internet by making it all about child porn. I have been using the internet for various things since the early 80s, and in that time I have once found a child porn site by accident. I have as much chance of stumbling over bad porn electronically as I do physically in someone's trash.

26 January 2009

Filters are already being used for political purposes

Crikey reports a case in which some people whose ISPs are trialling the ACMA blacklist cannot now reach an anti-abortion site with graphic images. Whatever one thinks of prolifers, their views are not illegal, and should not be censored. If we do not stand up to political censorship now, no matter who is being censored, then we have no standing when those who administer the List (which may not at that time be our preferred set of Good Guys) add our own views.

Crikey also links to a couple of interesting pages at Liberus.Net: One on existing Australian censorship, and another on the Mandatory Filtering laws. At the same time we read that the Coalition is trying to find out why the existing scheme of "family friendly" internet filtering, which was an opt-in scheme, has been discontinued when there is nothing to replace it. If Conroy is being consistent, some filtering must be better than none, right? Not if party politics gets in the way, it seems.

17 January 2009

Filtering mania spreads to Germany, and the Demon screwup

Germany is not known as a bastion of individual freedom and rights - the interests of corporate entities like "the community" and "the state" are deeply protected there. So it comes as no surprise that Germany's Family Minister Ursula von der Leyen is working towards an internet filter (where it did come as a surprise that Australia would have one, until you reflect on the lack of protection of individual liberties here as well). Like Conroy, von der Leyen is using the Child Porn Gambit to leverage state control over what can be accessed on the internet.

Meanwhile, Demon, the ISP that filtered out the entire internet archive, has dropped its filter based on the Internet Watch Foundation's blacklist.

... Cable & Wireless - the owners of Demon Internet - now say they have resolved the problem. "We will continue to work closely with the IWF and others to ensure the safety and security of all web users and address any technical issues, should they arise, in order to deliver the best service to our customers," the statement reads. "In this instance, the technical issue, an obscure software bug brought to light by the interaction of our filtering technology and the Internet Archive's servers, has been identified and resolved."

The company did not elaborate, but a senior engineer with the company has provided an explanation on a newsgroup where users have discussed the blocking. According to this post, Demon customers were unable to access large parts of the Wayback Machine because of the way Demon's IWF filter interacted with the web cache used by the IA to speed access.

Because at least one Internet Archive page is blacklisted by the IWF, Demon uses a proxy server each time a user requests info from the IA's servers. If a user requested a page that had not been cached by the IA, Demon's proxy had a way of mucking with the caching process. When creating a url for the cached page, IA servers were inserting the proxy's name: iwfwebfilter.thus.net.

This created cache urls that did not point to webpages. And so, more often than not, Demon customers received error pages when attempting to access the Wayback Machine. And because the bogus urls remained in the IA cache, it meant that error pages appeared when surfers on other ISPs attempted to access the same content.

The Law of Unintended Consequences dictates that such snafus are going to be legion. Similar problems arose when Vodaphone tried to block porn sites for its mobile users. They ended up blocking access to technical sites in the Czech republic. Again, the Child Porn Gambit, according to Vodaphone spokesman in the Czech Republic, Miroslav Cepicky:

"Vodafone's aim is neither censorship nor any limitation of freedom," .... "The opposite. Our activities protect the freedom of children. One of the basic principles of democracy is that freedom of one individual finishes where the freedom of another begins. Child pornography, which we block on the Internet, [violates] children and limits their freedom."

Sure. The response by the EFF's Danny O'Brien bears repeating, again and again:

"We think if you're going to have these kinds of organizations, then we will fight very hard to have the rule of law and due process introduced into them," he said. "In practice, what you have then is that they'll say, 'we'd love to do that but if we publish the list then ne'er-do-wells will get ahold of it and access these sites.' If all it takes for the ne'er-do-wells to access the sites is that list then your blocking system isn't working. It's an impasse. We think systems like this are just a distraction from what we really want, which is actual criminal investigations of people doing bad things."

Basically, filtering is an alternative to law enforcement. It's cheaper, makes people happy, and in the end achieves precisely nothing.

Oh, and on unintended consequences, here's a neat list of six really bad screwups by well-meaning authorities, including the US government, Pakistan, ICANN itself, a Malaysian ISP and a Turkish ISP. Only one of these six was done by hackers or spammers, and the damage was done by ISPs using blacklists.

15 January 2009

While we're thinking of the children, don't worry

The Minister for Clean Feed Censorship has closed down the "opt-in" filtering scheme actually in place, which was established by the previous (Coalition) government. So now while we wait for the mandatory filter to fail its tests and get implemented anyway, parents relying on the prior scheme will find their kids are not "protected". Quelle surprise!

Derek Bambauer of the Brooklyn Law School lays out the conditions that one should assess filtering in a democracy:

First, is a country open about its Internet censorship, and why it restricts information? Second, is the state transparent about what material it filters and what it leaves untouched? Third, how narrow is filtering: how well does the content that is actually blocked - and not blocked - correspond to those criteria?

Finally, to what degree are citizens and Internet users able to participate in decisionmaking about these restrictions, such that censors are accountable? Legitimate censorship is open; transparent about what is banned; effective, yet narrowly targeted; and responsive to the preferences of each state's citizens.

By my reckoning, none of these conditions are being met by Conroy. There is a hidden agenda here that the ALP is not being open about. The public may not know what is being filtered and why. It is necessarily going to give false positives and false negatives. And we cannot participate in the setting of the conditions under which censorship is imposed - that, it seems, is something only the religious originators of this view, mostly Clive Hamilton, a Catholic apologist, can contribute to.

Meantime, the Australian Sex Party actually puts forward some very good arguments against the filter.

According to the Sex Party, there is a clear distinction between X-rated (18+) content, which can be legally traded on DVDs, and child pornography and sexual violence, and the government should not attempt to lump them together in one blacklist.Link

Hear, hear. Look who argues for filtering on the basis of "thinking of the children": Yemen. The only difference appears to be the religion on which it is based.

Moreover, it turns out that in fact the internet is not the vast dangerous place where children are exploited, or at least, no more than anywhere else. The New York Times reports a study [available here] that shows that people are demonising the internet because it's new and unfamiliar and that the evidence is not there to support it. They did the same thing for printing, if I recall my history.

And finally, at least one UK ISP is blocking access to the entire archive of the internet. Why? [Late note: see explanation here]

06 January 2009

Update on filtering

A nice critical essay by David Kennedy at Ovum here gives some of the history and context of moves to filter the internet by governments. He notes that the original proposal the Clean Feed Party - sorry, the ALP - actually took to the election was merely a proposal for a trial, not a mandatory filtering.

In the meantime, the ALP's model of Clean Feeds - PRC China - has vowed to clean up the internet, which means anything the apparatchiks do not like, including pornography, bad taste and mentions on Tienanmin Square, will be removed by legal fiat and punishment for ISPs.

And the US FCC, not exactly a model of internet savvitude, has dropped the proposal to have a mandatory filter on the free broadband proposal. FCC Chair Kevin Martin was pushing it until it became obvious the Obama administration would not support it, nor the Congress:

Despite widespread concerns and public protests, broadband minister Senator Stephen Conroy has yet to acknowledge the apparent contradiction between promising faster Internet access and at the same time trying to filter everything that travels down those pipes. Indeed, the plans have been expanded to include P2P transmissions. Perhaps Kelly could give him a call and explain the benefits of an open Internet infrastructure.

Oh, and the minister's blog has closed comments. 1984: Are we there yet?

04 January 2009

The Great Wall of Australia update

Just to keep up to date, the international media are expressing their incredulity that we'd do this, just as similar moves appear in limited form in the UK and USA:

Here's an example of the identification of internet freedom with being pro-kiddie-p_rn reported by Zero Paid: Australian Internet Filtering Plan Will Be Mandatory for Everyone - No Opt-Out. PC Mag has a short piece about Burnham's "Internet Ratings" proposal, making some very good points:

Now, let's look at Burnham's target—the Internet. It's just like movies, TV, and video games, right? Some content, some access points, and a bunch of unsuspecting consumers who need ratings help. Not quite.

The Web is to movies and TV as a Boeing 767 is to a toy plane. Movies and TV have a relatively small amount of content coming through a fixed set of venues (networks, movie theaters, and the like). There are billions of Web sites, and it's just as easy to access the first one as it is the billionth—from any connected location in the world.

What Burnham (and Conroy) fails to realise is that the internet is not broadcasting or publishing in the traditional sense. There is no single transmitter, but hundreds of thousands, and there is no single market, but thousands, with millions, indeed billions of users. For a rating scheme to succeed, or the Great Wall to work, you have to force fit the internet into the traditional publishing model, which effectively means, controlling the transmitters. And since there are none, the common carriers, the ISPs, are the only point of control. So we should expect to see more government attempts to do this sort of thing via the ISPs.