05 January, 2010

Welcome to Eternal Digital Purgatory

It’s an unwritten law about politicians: it’s expected that they be hypocrites and be able to disguise (so they think) by using gobbledegook or nonsensical technocrat jargon.

Senator The Honourable Stephen Conroy, Minister for Broadband, Communications and the Digital Economy is today’s subject.  Well, not so much a subject as a lesson.  In not how to be a minister.

What Conroy is trying to achieve is nothing short of total censorship of the internet within Australia.  Many commentators have already spoken about this, commentators far more qualified than I am.  However I will add something that no commentator to my knowledge have spoken about.

I wrote to the Senator about his plans for a compulsory internet filter for all Australian ISPs.  He finally replied with an nonsense letter (in PDF form), republished here;

(I apologise for the poor quality of the images.  One could say it represents the quality of the answers Conroy gave.)

There are some answers that amuse me.  For example Enex TestLab tested the filter, but no IT group, journalist or editor accept the findings, particularly at ADSL2+ speeds.  Mainly because the Minister reneged on his promise to publish the full results.  Instead we have to take the Minister’s word and Enex’s report as gospel.  No surprise, then, that Enex “found that a defined list of URLs can be delivered with 100 per cent accuracy.”  Of course it can, because that’s like saying parsing a text file for the word “the” will succeed 100% of the time if “the” is in the defined list.  What Senator Conroy or Enex don’t say is what the defined list is.  In other words it’s easy to pass with 100% any test when you know what the answers are beforehand.  If it were a statistical study or basic science at year 11/12 level, then quite rightly the examiners would fail the student.

Of course, this “one hundred per cent accuracy” is spin.  At least three websites were erroneously added to the the banned list, if this news article is to be believed.  And even though I don’t trust News Ltd or the Courier Mail 100%, I trust that report 100% more than Conroy’s statements.  Especially since Conroy threatened to have the Federal Police, which was never followed up, investigate the leaking of the list held by AMCA.

There are, at best, deliberately misleading errors, or at worst, lies, by Conroy.  The claim that Germany has already legislated ISP filtering only relates to child abuse.  Italy’s Ministerial Decree only relates to child abuse and illegal gambling sites.  Neither are close to the scope Conroy and the Government want to implement.  Misinformation, spin or lies.  You decided.

Much more amusing is the quote “Some opponents of the policy are trying to misrepresent the figures in the Enex Testlabs report by suggesting that a figure if of less than ten per cent is substantial.  To put that into context of real time, Australia’s largest ISP, Telstra, undertook its own testing that showed the impact on internet performance would be less than one seventeenth of the blink of an eye!”  Now, I don’t know about you, but I’m pretty certain a “blink of an eye!” isn’t a standard measurement of time, let alone one seventeenth of a blink of an eye.  It’s a claim made more absurd when neither the government nor Telstra will release how they tested the filter to arrive at this ‘figure’.

Who are these opponents?  One is a influential body, Save the Children, an NGO that pushes for some radical rights for children.  But even they are against Conroy.  Why?  Adviser Holly Doel-Mackaway when interviewed by the Sydney Morning Herald said:

The filter scheme [is] “fundamentally flawed” because it failed to tackle the problem at the source and would inadvertently block legitimate resources.  Furthermore there was no evidence to suggest that children were stumbling across child pornography when browsing the web.  Doel-Mackaway believes the millions of dollars earmarked to implement the filters would be far better spent on teaching children how to use the internet safely and on law enforcement.  “Children are exposed to the abusive behaviours of adults often and we need to be preventing the causes of violence against children in the community, rather than blocking it from people’s view.”

    Even Google Australia’s Head of Policy, Iarla Flynn, wrote in an official Google Blog:

    At Google we are concerned by the Government's plans to introduce a mandatory filtering regime for Internet Service Providers (ISP) in Australia, the first of its kind amongst western democracies.* Our primary concern is that the scope of content to be filtered is too wide.

    We have a bias in favour of people's right to free expression. While we recognise that protecting the free exchange of ideas and information cannot be without some limits, we believe that more information generally means more choice, more freedom and ultimately more power for the individual.

    Some limits, like child pornography, are obvious. No Australian wants that to be available – and we agree. Google, like many other Internet companies, has a global, all-product ban against child sexual abuse material and we filter out this content from our search results. But moving to a mandatory ISP filtering regime with a scope that goes well beyond such material is heavy handed and can raise genuine questions about restrictions on access to information.”…

      This is not enough for Conroy and his cronies.  In justifying the filter, Conroy concedes that “it is possible that filtering may be circumvented by a technically competent user”.  That is a lie, Conroy.  A user need not be technically competent to circumvent the filter.  A user only needs to see what other users are doing to circumvent the the filter, and apply it to their own situation.  A user doesn’t need to know the hows and whys of various methods to work around the filter.  The user merely only needs access to the information.  Such as a WikiPedia page or a forum with the instructions.  A user doesn’t need to know how an OS like Windows 7 or Mac OS X work, so sure as eggs break when thrown at brick walls, the “technically competent” will be able to show even the most casual user how to circumvent the filter.

      The filter doesn’t address peer-to-peer connections or proxy servers or VPNs.  In short AUD$126 million and counting is being wasted to catch the 11 or 12 kiddy porn downloaders out of the 22 million Australians.  Wow that’s outstanding value, Conroy.  Pity it won’t catch the thousands using peer-to-peer networks or those grooming on chat channels and the like.  Police agencies will still have to work as hard as ever to catch these offenders, and the “smartest” of these offenders will escape being caught.

      It’s as stupid an idea to waste money to target the drug mules carrying illicit drugs in their hand luggage instead trying to nail the source.  Or ignoring illegal drug labs and targeting the one or two drug-fucked that sell a few grams of low-quality marijuana to undercover police officers.

      So why is Conroy equally obsessed with a mandatory filter and refusing to answer questions by the public or the media about it, except on his terms to spruik it?

      This will help answer that question.

      Conroy, despite being a Senator for the Australian Labor Party, is a conservative right-of-centre politician.  Since leaving university he has been working for, or understudy to some of the ALP’s biggest king-makers and head-kickers.  He has been implicated in the plot to removed former ALP leaders Mark Latham and Kim Beasley to stall current hypocrite, PM and master of double-speak Kevin Rudd.

      Conroy’s also religiously a conservative, fundamentalist Catholic, having voted against the “morning after pill” RU486 (the bill passed, and RU486 is legally available in Australia), and voted to overturn the Northern Territory’s euthanasia laws.  Not so ironically, abortion and euthanasia will be banned subjects once the filter is imposed in full.  We’re not talking about pro-abortion or pro-euthanasia, the filter will block any site that discusses these issues.  Potentially sites that carry information about safer drug use, or safer sexual practices, will also fall foul of the filter.  It’s conceivable that people will die because information Conroy perceives as dangerous will be filtered, or if a domain within Australia, be given a “take down notice” by ACMA without AMCA having to explain why such an order is issued.

      Separation of church and state, anyone?

      Despite his conservative, fundamentalist Catholic views, and right wing conservative political views, he and his wife arranged to have a surrogate mother by egg donation, with the procedure performed in New South Wales.  Such surrogacy arrangements were illegal in his home state, and the state of his Senate Seat, Victoria.  Not to mention that such a procedure anywhere goes against the Papal decrees of John-Paul II and Benedict XVI.

      This man wants censorship based on an ill-informed won’t-someone-think-of-the-children mentality, justifying it on the thinest of premises.  The very same man who has, despite the deep conservative fundamentalist Catholic beliefs, evaded one set of laws by having the procedure done in another state and yet use his vote to overturn the wishes of the Northern Territory because euthanasia is a “dirty” word in fundamentalist Catholicism.

      For now, Conroy wants to protect children from seeing images that have been refused classification, and yet there is no transparency as who decides this or exactly how it is to be done.  Even the “list” of URLs which have been deemed to contain material which is Refused Classification is to be kept secret.  Despite what Conroy wants, the horrible truth is that children will continue to be abused - with the Catholic Church still being the biggest institution offending, and protecting offenders).  Internet content that is currently available with a classification will inadvertently be reclassified as RC mostly due to some fundamentalist viewpoint objecting for no other reason than their belief that it should be offensive, or because a site has been hacked and redirects to a site that sells sex toys or R18+ DVDs.

      How long is it before ideology or political or social commentary is deemed to be “Refused Classification”, with the author or authors none the wiser as to who complained and under which grounds the complainants believe the material is RC?  This has already been done.  The parody site StephenConroy.com.au has been removed by auDA and has the strong stench of political interference.

      We can only hope that the bill, and Conroy’s and the Government’s plans are scuttled.  And then hope Conroy doen’t introduce it as policy as a back-door method to get around the law.

      There is something you can do.  Write to your local MHR (you can find your member here), and cc Senator Conroy either by senator.conroy@aph.gov.au or minister@dbcde.gov.au

      Don’t restrict your questions to the filter.  Ask about the NBN, AustraliaPost, the ABC and SBS.  Anything and everything that is in his portfolio.  That way you won’t get an automatic, computerised letter that says nothing.  When you do get a response, question the answers, and ask again.  This is where asking your MHR is important.  You MHR is obliged to ask questions of the Minister on your behalf and the Minister is obliged to answer.

      As it currently stands, on-line petitions are being ignored.  Conroy doesn’t have to respond, and given the outrage and lack of intestinal fortitude, he won’t.

      It’s time Conroy had a decent kick in the balls, or his head kicked in instead of being the head-kicker.

      1 comment:

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