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Thread: Internet Freedom/Filtering

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The Internet Filter Wedge


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Date: Sat, 22 May 2010 14:36:10 +1000

The Internet Filtering proposal might be building as a potential political issue. A recent edition of "Four Corners" illustrates how, as the mainstream media begins to pay attention to the issue, Senator Conroy's position is being steadily eroded. The big thing going for the government was the seemingly bottomless well of ignorance about all matters concerning communications and IT. But there is a danger for the government, that the well may be drying up. Especially when there is more informed comment about the issue. If a large enough portion of voters actually wise up about computing and the Internet, the fear-mongering that proponents have relied on may become less effective. The Labor government may then have to justify the policy.

Note: This was one of several posts about The Great Internet Rabbit-proof Fence -- Click here to return to the Index page. And if they had to justify it, rather than run a simple campaign of fear and misinformation, the whole unworkable, unmanageable and unaffordable edifice could become a vote loser ...

Over the past few months, there has been a steady deterioration in the public perception of this government policy.

In March, the Paris-based media rights group "Reporters Without Borders" added Australia to a list of countries that pose a threat to Internet freedom. Other countries in the list include Iran, North Korea, United Arab Emirites, Belarus and Bahrain. Rather inauspicious company for a so-called democratic country.

At the time, Senator Conroy used question time to strenuously deny this. In response to a question from (Liberal) Senator Sue Boyce, he said:

Reporters Without Borders have been seriously misled, much like many people in this chamber, about what the government is actually proposing ... It is wrong in both the facts about what the government is proposing and it is wrong in terms of its comparison with other countries.

Since then dear reader, some heavy weights have added their voices to the growing tide of criticism. Senator Conroy can no longer claim that the dissent originates from a small group of bitter, twisted ratbags, deviants and fringe groups ... Senator Conroy and his small band of proponents have tried to imply that organisations such as Electronic Frontiers Australia (EFA), who advocate an "Open Internet", are "extremists" ... And there was always the implication that only "sex perverts" should really be concerned. But that hardly applies to entities like Google and the US State Department, who have joined the ranks of detractors.

There has been a gradual cooling in mainstream sentiment. Not that there was ever a really enthusiastic response to the proposal. Recent articles in broadsheets such as The Age and The Australian, have been more sceptical about the proposed mandatory filter.

To add to this there was the recent Four Corners program, which had very little praise for the Internet Filtering proposal. In an effort to appear "balanced" the producers of Four Corners made sure that proponents had equal air-time. But they were a sad bunch, misinformed and barely articulate. It is becoming more difficult for the few ACMA talking heads willing to make a public appearance, to put a positive spin on the Internet Filtering scheme.

On the Four Corners Program, the filtering cheer squad seemed to consist of a rag-tag coalition of political opportunists, the computer illiterati, the moral minority, wowsers and fear-mongers ... It was an alliance forged in hell ... And considering the confused and self-contradictory statements they were making, it would seem to be an alliance that is not long destined for this world. It now appears that the extremists are on Senator Conroy's side of the debate. But not for long.

Technically pornography is still illegal on the Internet. And technically a lot of websites would be "refused classification". So will pornography be banned or will it only be child pornography? The confused utterances simply don't make a lot of sense.

And it seems that nobody had an answer for the criticism that it might be better to spend money on actually apprehending and prosecuting paedophiles rather than spend a gargantuan amount of money preventing them from posting evidence of their crimes on the Internet ... Which still, nobody can find anyway!

The best example of the hysterical moral minority would have to be Jim Wallace from the "Australian Christian Lobby" who stated that he ... "found it quite amazing that anyone could oppose this!" ... So for the benefit of Mr Wallace and the other dimbulbs who still say they don't understand why, your blogger will once again submit the reasons for the growing opposition to the Filter ... Of course that demographic is less likely to read this humble blog ... There are a couple of big words in the following paragraph ... So take a deep breath ... And concentrate deeply ...

Duh! ... We don't want it because:

  1. It will slow down the Internet!
  2. It will cost too much!
  3. It won't work!
  4. It is a "secret list" ... That will be misused and abused by bureaucrats who are not accountable!

Which one of those reasons did Mr Wallace not understand?

Come to think of it, dear reader, which one of those reasons does Senator Conroy and his boss Kevin Rudd not understand?

Here is the problem for Senator Conroy! When he tells the public ... No! It's ok! We are not going to significantly block anything! ... Just that itsy bitsy little one trillionth of a percent of internet pages like kiddy porn! ... Then some may wonder ... Well why spend hundreds of millions of dollars on slowing down the Internet in order to do that -- Since nobody can find those pages anyway? ... The fear and consternation about the entire Internet being awash with child pornography, doesn't stand up to even casual scrutiny. Even some of the (more moderate) Filter proponents will concede that such material is distributed by secret means that the filter would not detect. To add to the difficulty of his position, Senator Conroy must try to send messages to the small band of hard-liners like Jim Wallace, using only the dog-whistle ... Stay on board! We really are going to block the thirty percent of naughty Internet traffic that offends you so deeply and is an engine for the global Internet economy ... But shh! Don't tell anyone! ... But must communicate this in ultra-sound which is only audible to the Christian right!

Ahh dear reader ... Contemplate this difficult balancing act and the necessity of keeping abreast with developments in technology and you can appreciate the magnitude of Senator Conroy's problem ... Is it any wonder he is beginning to appear a little frazzled?

Which is why the alliance between the fundamentalist anti-porn groups and their less idealistic political brethren cannot last. It now seems that the government is not going to even attempt to block adult pornography ... The sad truth is dear reader, the online porn industry is just too big to fail!

The point has been made quite adequately. If one wanted to filter the Internet, the filter would need to be applied at the workstation not at the source! Because at the workstation, users can choose what type of filtering might be appropriate for their household.

Of course there still is a large segment of the population that just don't get it. They don't understand that the Internet is a complex, decentralised, co-operative and interactive network with built in redundancy ... And the only filter that might work is a filter that is ... Yep, you guessed it! ... A filter that is configured, run and maintained by Internet users themselves.

So why is the Australian government attempting to mandate a dumbed-down, centralised filter ... One that is non-cooperative, non-transparent, secretive and bureaucratic?

The Four Corners program did explore some of the history of the Internet Filtering scheme. And surprise, surprise! It's all down to politics.

Four Corners explained that our old friend John Howard, the "wedgemeister" of Oz, had examined the issue and wisely decided to just waste only a few millions of dollars on a hastily conceived but relatively inexpensive government endorsed package for Windows PCs. It was the Labor party's desire to "wedge" the old wedgemeister, that inspired them to declare that they would go one better and mandate a filter at the ISP level ... And in the heat of pre-election campaigning, it forced Howard to match them. (So in that regard at least the "wedge" was effective).

Of course many of you remembered that from the last election campaign, but it was heartening to hear it explained again on one of our National network's most prestigious investigative current affairs programs.

And we should give John Howard his due. He did have an uncanny instinct for "the wedge" ... Admittedly he eventually "wedged" himself ... On the issue of "Work Choices" reform ... Thus proving that those who live by the wedge, die by the wedge. But Howard's instincts about Internet Filtering were spot-on. He had listened to the advice of the people he commissioned to study the issue, and his initial response was the most pragmatic and least expensive way of appealing to "family values"

Ironically one of the players who contributed (indirectly) to Howard's downfall was the current leader of the opposition. Even though he was a fellow right-winger and a supporter of Howard, it was the enthusiastic support that Tony Abbott's faction lent to the "Work Choices" legislation that finally brought the Liberals down ... By driving a wedge deeply through Howard's "battler heartland".

And here it seems that the Internet Filter still offers the Liberal party an opening, if they were willing to grasp it. The remarkable decline in Kevin Rudd's popularity has not been matched by an equally remarkable improvement in the Liberal party's popularity ... Much of the support seems to have gone to the Greens, and since voting in Australia is preferential, and Green voters are notorious for not paying a lot of attention to how-to-vote cards, that second choice will probably determine the outcome. By declaring that they would not support the Internet Filter, the Liberal party would be adopting a policy that is more "liberal" and actually presents them the opportunity to shave off a another small wedge of that second vote in the next election ... Or at least to force the government into another embarrassing political back-down.

Although your blogger suspects that this would never happen while Tony Abbot is leader of the opposition. Unfortunately for the Liberals, they actually ditched Malcolm Turnbull for being "too green". When faced with the choice of either deploying a "green" wedge to get some of that crucial second vote, or turning further to the right and consoling their heartland ... They turned decisively to the right!

Nevertheless, the old "protecting our kids" mantra is failing to make traction for Labor, as it did when Kevin Rudd first included it in their official platform. The argument just doesn't hold up to careful scrutiny. So even if there is no effective political challenge, it could be damaging for Senator Conroy and Kevin Rudd if the public perceived that they genuinely believe in the efficacy of an Internet Filter!. By now the public is almost as cynical as their political masters. Voters might reluctantly tolerate the devious wedge politics of the main parties, but a strongly voiced conviction about the benefits of a Universal Internet Filter, that appeared too deep and heart-felt, might only end up looking foolish.

Either way the good Senator (and his boss) are descending into a deep, deep hole and there is not much light filtering down from above.

Perhaps it's time to stop digging?


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