Opinion: Conroy's temporary filter all Australia needs

Many ISPs appear to have yet to make up their mind whether they will follow the lead set by Telstra, Optus and Primus

On Friday, three of Australia's largest internet service providers simultaneously announced they would filter some internet content from ever reaching their customers.

The news was greeted with a widespread lack of interest from an Australian population which – for almost three years now – has been steadfastly campaigning against the idea of its internet being filtered in any way. There was no outrage, no Twitter hashtag set up, no furious online debates, no calls for the Communications Minister's head – in short, a deafening silence.

The reason for this lack of outrage – the fact that the ISPs will only be filtering sites which host child abuse or child pornography material – should send Australia's politicians a strong message.

In short, most Australians concerned about the Federal Government's controversial mandatory internet filtering policy – which last week's announcement is a first, tentative step towards -- are not overly worried about the technical fact that their internet may have some sort of controls on it, although of course some, including myself, are.

Australians are, however, worried that those controls might extend too far and might start to impact on their freedom of speech and access to information.

Take the example of some of the material that Communications Minister Stephen Conroy has consistently stated will be included in the Refused Classification category of content which the filter aims to censor. Included in that category – according to Conroy – is online material which relates to detailed instruction in drug use.

Now under Australian law, several states consider use of a popular drug such as marijuana to be a criminal office. If you view matters in this light, it's not hard to see why the Federal Government would want to ban any material which would inform people how to safely smoke marijuana, for example.

However, when you widen your scope, you will quickly find that there are other states – such as the Australian Capital Territory, South Australia and so on – which have decriminalised the personal use (in small amounts) of marijuana, recognising that it's fruitless to chuck a couple of teenagers caught rolling a joint into jail, and that vast segments of the Australian population consider the occasional puff completely normal.

It's a similar situation when you consider some other material which could be considered Refused Classification. Political web sites which lobby against abortion by publishing graphic photos of aborted foetuses. Websites which give detailed instruction in what is still considered a crime – assisted euthanasia of elderly Australians in extreme pain. Archaic manuals from the 1940's which advise soldiers on how to make basic bombs. And so on.

These are all examples of content which is on the borderline between objectionable and acceptable, depending on which Australian you talk to.

What the lack of reaction towards the confirmation by Telstra, Optus and Primus last week tells us is that while it is debatable whether some categories of content should be kept from Australian eyes, there are some categories of content which we can all agree are out of line – with the most obvious one being child pornography.

Communications Minister Stephen Conroy last week appeared to have acknowledged this fact by announcing a year-long review of the Refused Classification category of content. To my mind, this is the first confirmation from the Labor Government since the election in November 2007 that its hard line on “Refused Classification” content may not be in line with Australian norms.

There is also another significant fact that we need to consider about last Friday's announcement. Conroy did not mandate that ISPs sign up to filter child pornography and child abuse material. Instead, he gave them the option by making the decision to comply voluntary.

Many ISPs appear to have yet to make up their mind whether they will follow the lead set by Telstra, Optus and Primus on the matter. And it is a virtual certainty that although many will do so, at least a few ISPs will decide that they don't want to filter the internet at all for their users, and will abstain.

What this gives Australians is options. If they are dissatisfied with the fact that an ISP filters their internet of certain content, they can complain directly to the ISP. If enough customers complain, an ISP may stop filtering the internet or provide 'opt-in' or 'opt-out' mechanisms. Or customers even have the option of switching to an ISP which does not filter content.

Suddenly, this makes internet filtering a matter of personal choice rather than a matter of draconian government control.

I am personally very much against any sort of mandatory ISP-based internet filtering. It has been demonstrated many times that such technology is incredibly easy to circumvent and as a journalist, I remain staunchly on the side of unfettered freedom of access to information in any medium. I am highly concerned that any form of imposed mandatory filter would inevitably lead to legitimate material being blocked -- a phenomenon known as 'scope creep'.

I feel that Government resources in this area would be vastly better allocated towards the police, education and making PC-based filtering technology available for those who do want it.

However, I have no real objection towards some ISPs in Australia voluntarily censoring child abuse and child pornography from the internet, especially if they provide opt-out options for those who would prefer their internet to be unfettered and for control to reside on the users' PC and not in their ISP's server rooms.

Of course, there are many issues that would need to be debated about such a system. For starters, how do you avoid a presumption of guilt that those who 'opt-out' of having their internet censored at any level are potential criminals? And how do you ensure that scope creep doesn't see extra, borderline categories of content added to the ISPs' voluntary censorship lists as time goes on, or that legitimate sites are not censored?

Research has consistently demonstrated that Australians don't want their internet to be censored. But if the Government feels it must, let it learn a lesson from last week's experience and change its policy towards one that is voluntary and only tackles a very limited field of content. That's something we can all agree on.

Tags internet filteringSenator Stephen Conroy

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Renai LeMay

PC World

8 Comments

laura

1

I'm against the filter, but i have no issue with CP or abuse being filtered by ISPs, as long as there is a 100% guarantee that is ALL it will EVER be, and there are checks and balances to ensure this.

That said, i'm still not sure how they intend to filter it out. is it man in the middle? I'm still not convinced these methods arent asking for a serious security breach

Anthony

2

Since child pornography is illegal the world over and any actually reported URL's are taken down super fast, by the time they are added to any block list, no content is left to block. So what exactly is the filter going to do initially.... NOTHING.
However, it does of course start to get all the hardware in place and while it maybe voluntarily for the ISP, Telstra has already said that it is voluntarily for the users, they get it weather they like it or not.
How long will it take for say big media to jump up and down and get torrent sites listed, they are after all allowing illegal transfer of copyright material and on it goes...
Make no mistake, this is the thin edge of the wedge and just the start of getting Conroy's and the ACL filter in place. It's now going to take a little longer.

masealake

3

Why needs a new election that cost another $170 millions from people's money for the good payment to all politician?

$170 millions will create a wonderful "Health Olympic Australia" that directly benefits everyone in Australia within 3 years in their health creation, and wealth creation, and then benefit to everyone globally afterward?

People demands fairer resources supported of lives today, not tomorrow, and not another 3 years on and on?

There are at least five economic productivity outcomes will resulting significant GDP progressing from a “Health Olympic Australia” as follow:

1. Reductions in Australian Health Workforce cost;
2. Reduction in Healthcare cost;
3. Reduction in lost productivity cost;
4. Increase from agriculture outcome;
5. Increase from “Health Olympic Australia” creation in goods/products exportation.

Australia people will fill the miss opportunity to them should it exist today.

Ma kee wai
(Member of Inventor Association Queensland since 1993)

masealake

4

What Australia hung parliament demonstrating deep in voter’s heart?

Australia citizens now enter a very challenging political era for 70 years in the 2010 federal election, many reforms are demanding by voters are looking for a change with anger to share fairer resources supplied lives from the first term of government?

Voters handed down their decisive votes during election time are looking for an efficient, effective and economically run government. A high transparency in less mistaken caused processing under no discriminately enforced services government. A long term wealth creative vision with fast action moving forward progressing resulting value add to voters benefits in each term of governing.

Voters are crying for action right now to have improved resources support lives that suppose lead by a government in the following eight commitments:

1. What vision of prosperity voters seen?
2. Why action not enough in the past 3 years?
3. How many election promises has been fulfilled?
4. Where productivity motivation to voters?
5. What materials to speed up election promises processing?
6. Why some election promises in powerless process?
7. How far transparency in each department service voters wanted?
8. Where prioritized direction to empowerment the nation?

Ma kee wai
(Member of Inventor Association Queensland since 1993)

masealake

5

What time bombs will rock Australia democratic society?

The Australia historical hung parliament demonstrated the big gap of inequality society between the small educated elite groups who get highest pay by talk feast used mouth work controlling live essential resources of the country in every social platforms against the biggest less educated groups who get lowest pay by hands work squeezed by discriminative policies that sucking live blood from poor/less wealth off?

Voters’ voices do not hear?
Voters’ pains do not ease?
Voters’ cries do not care?

1. Poverty will not be phase out if no fairer resources to share;
2. Illness will not be reducing if no preventive measurement in real action;
3. Agriculture will not be revitalize if urbanization continuing its path;
4. Housing affordability will not be reach for young generation if government continues cashing from young generation debt by eating out the whole cake of education export revenue without plough back;
5. Manufacture industry will shrink smaller and smaller if no new elements there to power up to survive;
6. Employability will not in the sustainable mode for so long as manufacture and agriculture not going to boost.

Ma kee wai
(Member of Inventor Association Queensland since 1993)

masealake

6

Why believe coalition Supporting Local Communities?
It’s all about power and money most Politicians and parties wanted above all and after all election?
Just listen how Barry O'Farrell convincing voters: “Over the last four years I announced positive and practical policies which will help support local communities……..” .
Take a look below the link subject: “Time for Action” in “Healthy Active Life” program that convert Broken hill into a Healthy Las Vergas Broken Hill economy? Link with http://www.streetcorner.com.au/news/showPost.cfm?bid=20747&mycomm=ES
... , will you then still believe Barry O'Farrell’s announced positive and practical policies which will help support local communities……..” ?
Will you also believe there were only 1-2 Politicians responding to this greatest “Healthy Las Vergas Broken Hill economy model”?
Why the most Politicians do fail their own test in support community health/economic development who with$1.65 million Tax payer’s money each annual spending for?
Masealake (Member of Inventor Association QLD)

masealake

7

Why believe coalition economic plan works without revitalize agriculture and manufacture industries??
It’s all about power and money most Politicians and parties wanted above all and after all election?
Just listen how Barry O'Farrell convincing voters: "People are our asset. They are our greatest wealth and they should be given the opportunity to pursue their dreams?" On the issue of economic management, Mr O'Farrell was asked what he thought was the state's greatest source of wealth, given NSW lacked a resources industry.
Take a look below the link subject: “Time for Action” in “Healthy Active Life” program that convert Broken hill into a Healthy Las Vergas Broken Hill economy? Link with http://www.streetcorner.com.au/news/showPost.cfm?bid=20747&mycomm=ES
... .
When we look at what today’s shrinking industries, such of agriculture (34% of fruit and 19% of vegetables imported); manufacture (10.5% by 2005–6) destructed by John Howard’s coalition government.
Will you then still believe Mr Barry O'Farrell’s coalition opposition announced positive and practical policies which will help revitalize agriculture and manufacture industries for create more sustainable jobs, and innovative export products?
Remember, it’s not one person to construct or destruct the whole lots of industries, it’s the matter of whole political party/government?
Will you also believe there were only 1-2 Politicians responding to this greatest “Healthy Las Vergas Broken Hill economy model”?
Why the most Politicians do fail their own test in spend little brain work to revitalize agriculture and manufacture industries who with $1.65 million Tax payer’s money each annual spending for?
Masealake (Member of Inventor Association QLD)

masealake

8

Why believe coalition committed to health reform without implementing the Preventive Health?
It’s all about power and money most Politicians and parties wanted above all and after all election?
Just listen how Barry O'Farrell convincing voters: “The key to our program is giving medical professionals a bigger say in how health services are delivered in their area. These are the people who know what their patients need…so we will be listening to them”.
Take a look below the link subject: “Time for Action” in “Healthy Active Life” program that convert Broken hill into a Healthy Las Vergas Broken Hill economy? Link with http://www.streetcorner.com.au/news/showPost.cfm?bid=20747&mycomm=ES
... .
When we look at what Kevin Rudd’s labor government has expend John Howard’s coalition government endorsed Preventive Health program into “Healthy Active Life” program phase 1-2 before being oust, where the Preventive Health program has spent millions dollar in 5-6 years only produced a book for sale under coalition government.
Will you then still believe Mr Barry O'Farrell’s coalition opposition is committed to health reform (put some money in some hospital if you liked)? Then call it rebuild the hospital system through Better Hospitals and Healthcare program? The coalition opposition put it up simply as a truly health reform that would fix all health problems?
Will you also believe there were only 1-2 Politicians responding to this greatest “Healthy Las Vergas Broken Hill economy model”?
Why the most Politicians do fail their own test in spend little brain work to come up some innovative idea that truly achieve the health reform materialized benefits to all voters?
Masealake (Member of Inventor Association QLD)

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