PGTS Blog Archive
Thread: Internet Freedom/Filtering
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You Just Can't Keep a Bad Idea Down - The Great Firewall of Oz (1)
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Date: Thu, 03 Jan 2008 18:24:31 +1100
It seems you just can't keep a bad idea down.
Note: This was one of several posts about The Great Internet Rabbit-proof Fence -- Click here to return to the Index page.
But the cat came back the very next day,
The cat came back, we thought he was a goner,
But the cat came back.
No, he wouldn't stay away ...
-- Trad Folk Ballad
I recall the old Irish drinking song, The Cat Came Back which was played often in the sixties on the airwaves in Darwin, where I grew up. The song, sung by an American folk singer with a Southern accent, describes the (rather ghoulish) extremes that a farmer resorts to in order to rid himself of an old yellow tom cat. As each verse describes a more extreme cat extermination technique, the listener should suppose, "Well that's the end of that old cat -- for sure!" But the chorus just keeps repeating ... about how the cat keeps on coming back. He always comes back! It seems that there are some bad ideas that are so bad you just can't keep 'em down either. Like farmer Johnson's old yellow cat they just keep on coming back. Ideas like turning all of Australia's rivers back inland, in order to solve our water crisis (if you don't understand thermodynamics). Or invading Russia (if you are Napoleon or Hitler). Or invading Iraq (if you are a neo-con). Or forcing ISPs to censor our Internet content so that we don't have pornography (if you are an unimaginative Australian minister for communications).
During the recent election campaign our previous prime minister promised an additional 70 megabucks to clean up the Internet. At the time he was wildly flinging money around like a drunken sailor. He was going to clean up the Internet, fix up the hospitals, solve the water resources problem, investigate petrol prices and still give us tax-cuts! The money was flowing free and fast. Roll up folks! Everything must go! It was a genuine going out of business sale! Those of us with longer memories, recalled that The Libs had already tried to introduce a Net Filter program (that also cost several megabucks). And it was truly underwhelming even by the amazingly low standards the Howard drongos had already set in IT and communications.
And even though it sounded like a lot of money. It was a paltry amount, never intended to be more than window-dressing. An effective ban on pornography (i.e. one that actually works) would be orders of magnitude more expensive. And a considerable amount of the cost would be borne by the private sector, who would (sic) pass it on to their customers. It would also have a deleterious effect on the speed of the Internet connection (as if we needed to slow it down any more?). The problem is that the Internet is decentralised and an attempt to impose control from on high is cumbersome and inefficient. And even when a central governing body is prepared to throw serious money at the attempt (e.g. the Great Firewall of China), it is destined to fail.
The best defence against offensive and undesirable content on the Internet is a large pool of well-educated and empowered users. Such users can actively block such content. However, people who don't understand computers or the Internet, people who are still living in the previous century, cannot imagine this. They can only envisage a broadcasting paradigm. They can only imagine a model where consumers sit mutely in front of their computers and passively absorb the content broadcast from remote central hubs. During the years of the Howard government we have had ministers in the important folio of IT and communication who were only capable of thinking in this paradigm from ye olde twentieth century. They were yesterday's men (and women).
It seemed as though the most important qualification for being in charge of IT and communications was a deep, undisturbed but profound ignorance of the technology and a determination to do as little as possible while giving the impression of doing something.
And so we went to the polls, and in the final wash up, John Weasel Howard, the great Wedgemeister of Oz, although he had ably demonstrated that he was competent at fooling all of the people some of the time, and truly excelled at fooling some of the people all the time, was unable to fool all the people all the time. As we now know, voters rightly dismissed the Howardites for their lack of vision. Although this issue of Internet filters did not figure in the election, a well informed voter could ask this: If a government really did have gigabucks to spend on Internet filters, why not spend it on education, training and improving our bandwidth? In these areas, the investment would return much better dividends! Not only would it yield sustainable, self-regulated protection of kiddies, it would also provide a better educated workforce and a more robust economy.
And so now we meet the new boss ... Same as the old boss, it would seem ... Our new Minister for Telecommunications has announced plans to introduce mandatory Internet filters, to protect our children. It seems that this idea, has more lives than a cat. Even Farmer Johnson's old yellow cat. Rather than a cat, on closer examination this little brainstorm resembles something the cat dragged in. Now, I do have a few little questions ...
Which children? What age-group? It seems that the ones under eleven are barely (if at all) interested in pornography and the ones over fifteen are interested in nothing but pornography, and are just as capable of finding ways to bypass filters as their counter-parts in China. How will the software cater for this? How will it be able to protect kiddies ranging in age from seven to seventeen, and give due consideration to the vast difference in competence and sophistication between these extremes?
And where are the adults when all these poor little kiddies are being exposed to that naughty pornography? That is, when they're not asking their kids how to use the computer? Are they just standing mutely in the corner? Or are they busy working their butts off to pay those mortgages that the previous government did such a good job of inflating?
And if it is really going to be effective, who is going to pay for it? And if it is going to be the sort of dim-witted silly window dressing the previous government gave us, won't it just be a waste of time and space?
Is the new boss, Stephen Conroy, determined to prove that no matter how low his predecessors set the bar he can lower his standards accordingly?
Over the next few months, I will keep track of these questions, and look for answers.
Umm Minister, If you ever actually used a computer to search for information ... and you happened across my humble little website, can I say that you have made a very courageous decision. Can I also point out that the distribution, downloading, uploading, dissemination or manufacture of Child Pornography is already a criminal offence in this country. Check with our new Attourney General, and I am sure that he will back me up on this one. It is definitely against the law ... if you're not sure how to spell that word (law), check with your colleague, Mr Keating, one of our legendary former prime ministers ...
Oh and if this little scheme was actually your boss' idea, can I suggest that he should have started with something a bit easier ... like turning the rivers back inland ... or invading Russia?
Oh yeah, and ... I guess this means that the honeymoon is over? Right?