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Thread: Internet Freedom/Filtering

I didn't sign up for this s**t!

Conroy's Clean Feed

Chronogical Blog Entries:

Date: Sun, 15 Mar 2009 17:26:11 +1100

According to a New York Times article published earlier this year, a US Internet Safety Technical Task Force, created by US state attorneys general to examine "Threats to children online", had at last, completed their deliberations. This committee had focused on the potential for sexual solicitation of minors by adults because it was one of the most widespread fears about the Internet.

Note: This was one of several posts about The Great Internet Rabbit-proof Fence -- Click here to return to the Index page.

The conclusions of the committee were that these fears were unfounded. The allegations about online sexual predation by adults were mostly exaggerated and over-blown. Actual incidents, when examined, turned out to be mostly due to cyber-bullying and hoaxes perpetrated by other minors often from the victim's own peer group.

Nevertheless the widespread agitation about the Internet continues unabated. In the USA some of the officials who because of the concerns about online safety, commissioned the task force in the first place, were still trying to quote the same tired old rumours and innuendo that their very own task force had just comprehensively discredited.

In Australia, we have, traditionally, not had a lot of time for God-botherers and wowsers, and yet we seemed to have allowed those who wish to censor the Internet to form an unholy alliance with vested interests and to proceed to whip up an extraordinary degree of moral panic about "child pornography". This has been done in order to gain support for a lame, half-baked Internet filtering scheme proposed by ACMA, mostly at the behest of the Minister for Communications. The most exaggerated claim made by this coalition is in regard to the efficacy of the "ACMA list" The filter lobby claims that the list contains details of web sites that display "child pornography", and that furthermore the proposed filtering technology can block such content.

Last year it seemed that almost every time the words "Internet Filtering" left the minister's lips, he strove to weave into the same utterance words and phrases such as "child pornography", "child safety" or "keeping it out of our children's bedrooms" etc. This was an unsubtle and disingenuous attempt to form a lingering association in the minds of voters between the government's Internet filtering proposal and the prevention of child sexual abuse.

And the promise of a "clean feed", was at first, welcomed by many groups, some of whom had pet-hates about certain material on the Internet that they found objectionable. It also pandered to the wide spread unease that many parents feel about their children so eagerly adopting a technology about which many of them (the parents) have only a vague and/or superficial understanding, and which some of them are fearful of.

However, although they have generated considerable alarm and sensational headlines in the mainstream media during the initial phase of their campaign, it seems that the pro-filtering lobby protesteth far too loudly about child pornography. Their real agenda has more to do with filtering "XXX-rated content", then it has to do with stamping out the abomination of paedophilia.

The persistent attempts to link the topics of filtering and paedophilia are a smoke-screen to avoid a more difficult discussion. Child pornography is the one category that almost everyone agrees should be prohibited. And it is a cunning ploy to muddy the waters for proponents to claim that this is their main concern. Because the issue of "explicit sexual content" or adult pornography is more complex. And the pro-filtering coalition don't really want to discuss it or the questions surrounding filtering of "unwanted" content. Just who decides if it is "unwanted"? And by whom is it not wanted? And what exactly is unwanted anyway?

Last month, your humble blogger undertook a search for child pornography on the Internet. It was something that yours truly embarked on with a degree of trepidation. Because, of course, it is against the law. Not being a lawyer I cannot say for certain that it is a crime to search for it. But it is certainly prohibited to view, keep or trade images or depictions of explicit acts of paedophilia. However, in the interest of science and a quest for truth, your humble blogger took the risk, and did indeed, search for this material, using only Google, the most awesome Internet Search tool in the known universe, and half a lifetime's experience using computer searches.

I have summarised my findings in the table below:

Qty Category (Description)
11% Discussion of digital counter-measures and the combating of child pornography, including taking down sites and filtering.
12% Explanation of the clinical condition of paedophilia, possible causes, methods of treatment and prevention (including conferences).
16% Stories about the arrest, prosecution and/or conviction of offenders or alleged offenders.
30% Details about sentencing, law enforcement, legislative response and/or legal opinions concerning child pornography.
31% News about child pornography, debate or commentary concerning child pornography (including political debate).
100% Total

Figure 1. Summary of result of search for child pornography.


Now, have you noticed that something is missing? I invite you to look again at the above list! You will see that, although I found a lot of material about child pornography, I did not actually find any child pornography! So fortunately dear reader, I didn't break the law after all.

Altering the search terms in an attempt to search for explicit sexual content, also proved fruitless. Or at least it was as far as finding child pornography. However it did yield an impressive quantity of (mostly amateur) adult pornography. It seems that online porn has flourished considerably, since I last researched the topic in 2004 (see the Further Reading below). In fact many of the predictions I made in that essay seem to have come about. However, in this recent investigation, the only reference I could find to children were emphatic disclaimers that all the participants were over 18 and/or warnings that minors should not view adult content.

This all left me wondering dear reader ... Just where is the child pornography that the minister warns us of? Surely, if the Internet is a cesspool awash with immorality and evidence of child-abuse as the pro-filter lobby might have us believe, then a simple Google search will reveal it!

Now I haven't employed sarcasm tags in that previous paragraph, but perhaps I should have, because I must confess, dear reader, that even though I tried to keep an open mind during this experiment, I wasn't truly expecting to find child pornography. And if there was any such material easily available on a publicly listed site, almost every mainstream media outlet in the world would pick up on the story. Some tabloids would feast on the news for at least a month (and ironically boost the offending site's page rank even further).

However this did confirm what is already well known about online paedophiles. After all, it is hardly surprising that the perpetrators of these crimes do not often use publicly listed web-pages to display child pornography. Even the vilest, most depraved pervert possesses an instinct for self-preservation. And anyone who had a high page rank in the virtual world displaying such material, would not survive for long in the real world. No, dear reader, paedophiles make use of non-public, password controlled sites, encryption, private networks and various other techniques to avoid detection. And when your humble blogger reads the news items about actual prosecutions, invariably such stories contain reference to surveillance, undercover investigations, network tracing, coordinated raids, seized computers and disks, etc. And that is, of course, how paedophiles who use the Internet are apprehended.

It is a cruel twist of irony that the extreme (and mostly phony) hysteria about child pornography is probably making it more difficult for such law-enforcement. Because it draws attention to the techniques police really do use to catch offenders and thus forewarns paedophiles to be more cautious and to employ better computer security, when they engage in online activities.

And yet the proponents of Internet Filtering persist in asserting that there is lots of child pornography on publicly listed pages, and that such content can be blocked by means of a simple filter that blocks those pages. And that ACMA has a list of those sites (but won't let us see the list).

I conducted my "experimental" search for child pornography a month ago. However, I had only just collated the figures, when I heard a timely report, this morning, on the ABC radio program, "Background Briefing", about the topic of Internet Filtering. It was a thorough and thoughtful analysis of the many traps, pitfalls, false positives, false negatives and other known failures of filtering technology. (see The Further Reading below).

This program also highlights something that may have been over-looked. Senator Conroy admits (in so many words) that even though child pornography cannot be blocked with a filter such as they propose, the plan is merely to test the feasibility of the technology!

So in other words, dear reader, it's just a proof of concept! If it is feasible, then they'll find something to block ... Because they do understand that filtering cannot block child pornography!. Should we be concerned dear reader?

Well yes, we should!

If they aren't really planning to block child pornography (because it's not possible), what exactly do they plan to block? Shouldn't they tell us?

Well yes, they should!

Oh, and we're still waiting for the debate, minister! So bring it on! Please!

Further Reading

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