Oct 272008

Mark Newton, who works for an ISP, has written a letter as a private citizen to his local member of federal parliament about Senator Stephen Conroy’s proposal to apply mandatory (opt-out only)  “clean feed” filters to the internet in Australia.

It is a well thought out, well researched letter that Mark has made available in the public domain. It is here and well worth reading in full: Mark Newton’s letter to Kate Ellis about Internet filtering and censorship .

His main points are:

  • The government has not demonstrated a need for an online censorship system
  • The government has not demonstrated that mandatory online censorship is technologically feasible
  • The government has not demonstrated that online censorship is effective
  • The government has failed to consider the unintended consequences arising from the policy
  • Senator Conroy has invalidated the government’s claim for a mandate by lying to the Australian public about the scope of the policy

If you want to find out more, you can check out the No Clean Feed pages set up by the Australian Electronic Frontiers Federation or the Somebody Think of the Children blog.  According to the No Clean Feed page, here is the current state of play:

The Government is keeping its cards close to its chest on the plan. However, we know that ISP-level filtering has been ALP policy for some time and is still being zealously pursued by the Minister. What has been confirmed so far:

  • Filtering will be mandatory in all homes and schools across the country.1
  • The clean feed will censor material that is “harmful and inappropriate” for children.2
  • The filter will require a massive expansion of the ACMA’s blacklist of prohibited content.3
  • The Government wants to use dynamic filters of questionable accuracy that slow the internet down by an average of 30%.4
  • The filtering will target legal as well as illegal material.5
  • $44m has been budgeted for the implementation of this scheme so far.6
  • The clean-feed for children will be opt-out, but a second filter will be mandatory for all Internet users.7
  • A live pilot deployment is going ahead in the near future.

What we don’t know is just as important.

  • What age level is the country’s Internet to be made appropriate for? 15? 10? 5 years old?
  • Who decides what material is “appropriate” for Australians to see? How are lists of “illegal” material compiled?
  • Who will maintain the blacklist of prohibited sites?
  • How can sites mistakenly added to the list be removed?

There are a few things you can do if , like me, you think that it is contradictory to spend heaps of money on a filter that cannot work technically and  is likely to slow down ‘net speeds – while also professing a policy to *increase* broadband speed.  You can contact your local member of parliament, look at some of the suggested actions on the No Clean Feed pages  or sign the online petition about it (8977 signatures so far around 9pm Mon 27 October 2008).

Last time I looked, the professional association for librarians in Australia, ALIA, had sent 10 questions about internet censorship to Stephen Conroy’s office for answering, back on 9 January 2008. I probably just missed it, but I don’t remember seeing the responses published anywhere on the ALIA web site, and can’t find it now.

I’m a very bad searcher tonight, as I can also no longer find the news item on the ALIA home page from 10 October where ALIA announced that Senator Conroy would be opening Information Online 2009 .  It’s not on the Information Online 2009 conference site, it’s not in my RSS feed anymore either … and I would have thought I’d imagined it if it wasn’t for the archived feed at INEZHA.com . Here’s hoping that the idea of someone with policies like Senator Conroy addressing a group of librarians at a technology conference…..just fades away too …

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  5 Responses to “Internet censorship in Australia – letter from Mark Newton”

  1. Thanks Katherine great round up of the issues… I am going to share this with my facebook friends.

  2. […] Matter: “Internet censorship in Australia – letter from Mark Newton“. 27 Oct […]

  3. Kim, Great Solid Stuff! Keep it Coming!

  4. It’s a strange feeling to get response emails from politicians that imply that they are not even aware of the possible unintended consequences that are being pointed out by those with a little more understanding of how the internet works.

    I keep encouraging all the ‘geeks’ I know to visit the nocleanfeed.com site and email/write politely to the various politicians about the situation.

    What’s really sad is that the best way to make an impression on some of them is still to stick a stamp on a piece of paper and physically post it

  5. My family moved here to get away from the increasing religious fascism in the USA. I did not move here so that one nut ball in Parliament (one with technical knowledge) could slip the wool over the eyes of the massive number of Parliamentary Ministers who are not technically adept. The man in charge of this stupidity knows perfectly well what he is dooing and the effects it will have, but he is enough of an Oligarch not to care.

    Meanwhile at the same time Australia has lost billions a year in revenue because of our poor broadband infrastructure n(and low speeds) – and the government is frantic to correct this – they are shooting themselves in the foot (and every company that uses the web).

    Since when does one person with religious insanity and a lack of resect for freedo get to destroy freedom of speech and drastically limit the web for everybody?

What do you think? (Long comments lose "post" button :( )