19 December 2009


Why is it that in the second decade of the 21st century Australia is going backwards to the status of a police state?

Australia poses no threat to any country and in turn is not threatened by other countries, yet the federal government is petrified that Australian citizens may read or see or hear things on the internet which will be so abhorrent to them that they have to be protected by big brother Stephen Conroy and his religious-based colleagues.

The farce has reached such proportions that a new domain name using the Genghis
Khan-related communications (what was that dirty word?)minister's name has been summarily ordered to close down its use or face prosecution.

Fortunately, as Conroy is yet to discover obviously, there are ways to circumvent this sort of nonsense which the US governments of the past discovered during Prohibition in the 1920s and 1930s. Hard to believe this is happening in Australia in 2010!!

Just to help you with this ridiculous farce, here is the web site as it is at the moment:


Flawed idea puts democracy at risk
December 17, 2009

A MANDATORY internet filter is to be introduced under the guise of blocking access to illegal material, such as child pornography (The Age, 16/12). Preventing access to such sadistic material is a noble cause, but the Government's approach is fundamentally flawed.

A filter is technically insufficient. Those with a basic understanding of the internet know it can be easily bypassed. Even if this could not be done, the vast majority of illegal material is exchanged on peer-to-peer networks, which a filter is incapable of prohibiting.

More importantly, this sets a dangerous precedent for our democracy. Any system where hidden, nameless bureaucrats decide what we can or cannot know erodes public debate. For example, discussion of euthanasia will be eliminated, destroying any chance of future progress. What other public issues will join the Government's blacklist?

Stephen Conroy worries children will grow up being able to access illegal material. I worry that they will grow up unable to decide for themselves.

Mark Colautti, Glen Iris

Where will this stop?

AS AN adult and an Australian citizen, I have concerns about the Government's planned internet censorship.

At first Stephen Conroy wanted to ''filter'' child abuse. Some might say ''fair enough''. Then he said he planned to ''filter'' refused classification sites. Some might say ''I am an adult, I can watch whatever I wish to''. Then Conroy stated he wanted to censor websites that import R18 games into Australia, because we are the only Western democracy without an 18 rating for video games. Where will it stop?

This is not about protecting the children, or ''refused classification''. It is about the Government being scared of something it perceives as a threat and trying to control it.

Sebastian Lardieri, Mount Waverley

Saving the children

WHILE I understand the importance of retaining our freedom to choose what we access on the internet, what of the rights of the children used in child pornography? Sexual exploitation of children in any form should not be tolerated, and banning such sites on the internet is just one small step in the right direction.

Catherine Manning, Cardinia

Get thee to Beijing

I'M OLD enough to remember how we used to shake our heads at those communist countries.

They employed an army of people to eavesdrop on telephone conversations, steam open letters and follow people in the street. They said this was necessary to safeguard the people from their (capitalist) enemies. We smugly called ourselves the ''free world''.

But now that technology has made it so much easier and cheaper, Western governments are getting in on it too. We're getting internet blocking to protect us from ''unhealthy influences'', just like they do in China.

I suppose Stephen Conroy will go on a fact-finding mission to Beijing to learn how best to do it. They are the experts.

Anthony Shipman, East Burwood

Filtering threatens freedom, but won't stop net nasties
December 17, 2009

The Rudd Government should drop plans to censor the internet.

FOR some people, the boundary between the real world and the virtual world of the internet is a slippery, and increasingly porous, one. Communications Minister Stephen Conroy is avowedly not among them. Senator Conroy is crystal-clear about what's real, as he explained this week when announcing that the Federal Government would proceed with mandatory internet filtering. ''This is about taking the standards of the real world, the physical world, and applying them to the virtual world,'' he said.

But surely, Senator, those standards already do apply? Child pornography, for example, is already illegal, and those who distribute it through websites, or who seek it from them, are as liable to criminal prosecution as they would be if they had been dealing with printed texts. The same applies to the other ''RC'' (Refused Classification) content that internet service providers will be expected to block from overseas servers: material depicting sexual violence or bestiality, or which gives ''detailed instruction of crime or drug use''. What, then, does the Government expect to achieve by this foray into internet censorship?

The answer to that question was not apparent from Senator Conroy's remarks. The need for an answer, however, certainly was. The minister said it was important ''that all Australians, particularly young children, are protected from this material'', yet the Government's own filtering trial concedes that it will be possible to circumvent the filters. Whether those seeking the banned material are pedophiles using virtual private networks and peer-to-peer file sharing, or tech-savvy, inquisitive adolescents unwisely seeking sexual content online, filtering will not constitute the barrier Senator Conroy seems to think it will. Pedophiles will still have to be tracked down by the methods police use now, and the vigilance of parents will still be the best means of preventing children from calling up dubious, dangerous or corrupting online content.

Nor will it necessarily be the case that filtering a defined list of websites can be done ''with 100 per cent accuracy and negligible impact on network performance'', as Senator Conroy claimed. These assurances seem to owe more to spin than to an accurate reporting of the trial results, which showed that filtering wrongly blocked up to 3.4 per cent of content - in effect, many millions of web pages. Moreover, ''negligible impact'' was defined in the trial - helpfully, from the Government's point of view - as an effect on internet speeds of plus or minus 10 per cent.

The list of banned websites is to be maintained by an independent body ''at arms length from the Government'', yet the Government will add sites containing ''known child-abuse material'' obtained from ''highly regarded international agencies''. If the agency charged with this task is to be genuinely independent, why cannot it maintain the necessary content with ''highly regarded agencies'' itself? A body whose list can be topped up as and when the government of the day sees fit to do so hardly has an independence worthy of the name.

Worse, the list is to be ''compiled by a public complaints mechanism'', which raises the prospect that innocent individuals may be denounced by those with hidden agendas, or that works of artistic or literary merit may be proscribed because of agitation by activists. The Age has noted before that distinguishing art from pornography is not the simple task self-proclaimed defenders of artistic freedom, or of public morals, sometimes assume it to be. However the line between them is to be judged, it is perilous for a liberal democracy to rely in these matters on what amounts to a clamour in the street.

Senator Conroy is obviously aware of the concerns raised about government abuse of internet filtering: ''… for people wanting to campaign on the basis that we're going to maybe slip political content in - we will never support that, and if someone proposes that, I will be on the floor of Parliament arguing against it.'' As we hope he would do, if it ever came to that. The problem, however, is that he can't make promises for any future government.

The proposed internet filters would deliver to government extensive powers of censorship that are not compatible with freedom of speech and expression, and which are in any case likely to be technically ineffective. If the Government proceeds with this legislation early next year, as announced, it will do little to help fight child porn, or any other evil online. It will, however, demonstrate how little it understands the internet, and its own disregard of liberal-democratic values

Outcry on internet censorship
December 17, 2009

THE Federal Government's proposal for an internet filter faces a barrage of criticism, including from both sides of politics and a former High Court judge.

Two Liberal backbenchers, Jamie Briggs and Alex Hawke, condemned the proposal. The Opposition doubts the legislation can be workable, although it has promised to examine it.

''We are open to proposals, provided they achieve their objective without unfortunate side effects,'' Opposition Leader Tony Abbott said.

He said it made sense to try to ensure homes were not invaded with pornography.

''On the other hand, I don't want to see wider censorship [or] … the internet destroyed as a tool for people's education or … businesses,'' he said.

Mr Briggs said constituents under 25 in his electorate overwhelmingly disagreed with the plan. ''There's no way I'm supporting this. I joined the Liberal Party because I believe in individual responsibility,'' he said.

The move would give parents a false sense of security about what their children could access on the internet, he said.

Mr Hawke said while there might be valid concerns about some material on the internet, people who used it as their primary network for information and social interaction were ''highly suspicious of the Government censoring this medium in a blanket fashion''.

Former High Court judge Michael Kirby warned the filtering risked jeopardising free ideas and could lead to a global tightening of internet controls.

''I understand the problem that is being addressed, but it is an entirely different approach than the approach taken elsewhere in the world,'' he told Sydney radio station 2UE in an interview to be aired today.

The proposal was opposed in some circles as ''the thin end of a wedge of the Government moving into regulating the internet. And once you start doing that you get into the situation of Burma and Iran where the government is taking control of what people hear and what information they get,'' he said.

A LaborNSW Government parliamentary secretary, Penny Sharpe, said mandatory filtering would be ''a triumph of fear and false promise over what works and good sense''.

Communications Minister Stephen Conroy said this week he would introduce legislation to make service providers block websites that had been ''refused classification''. The sites would include material such as child sex abuse and sexual violence.

The blacklist would be produced using a public complaint mechanism, government censors and information from international agencies.

Fighting Australia’s impending web censorship farce
Published by
Antony Loewenstein
19 December 2009

An important letter sent by Reporters Without Borders:

The Hon Kevin Michael Rudd Prime Minister Parliament House Canberra ACT 2600 Australia

Paris, 18 December 2009

Dear Prime Minister,

Reporters Without Borders, an organisation that defends free expression worldwide, would like to share with you its concern about your government’s plan to introduce a mandatory Internet filtering system. While it is essential to combat child sex abuse, pursuing this draconian filtering project is not the solution. If Australia were to introduce systematic online content filtering, with a relatively broad definition of the content targeted, it would be joining an Internet censors club that includes such countries as China, Iran and Saudi Arabia.

Communications minister Stephen Conroy announced on 15 December that, after a year of testing in partnership with Australian Internet service providers (ISPs), your government intended to introduce legislation imposing mandatory filtering of websites with pornographic, paedophile or particularly violent content.

Reporters Without Borders would like to draw your attention to the risks that this plan entails for freedom of expression.

Firstly, the decision to block access to an “inappropriate” website would be taken not by a judge but by a government agency, the Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA). Such a procedure, without a court decision, does not satisfy the requirements of the rule of law. The ACMA classifies content secretly, compiling a website blacklist by means of unilateral and arbitrary administrative decision-making. Other procedures are being considered but none of them would involve a judge.

Secondly, the criteria that the proposed law would use are too vague. Filtering would be applied to all content considered “inappropriate,” a very slippery term that could be interpreted very differently by different people. In all probability, filtering would target “refused classification” (RC) sites, a category that is extremely controversial as it is being applied to content that is completely unrelated to efforts to combat child sex abuse and sexual violence, representing a dangerous censorship option. Subjects such as abortion, anorexia, aborigines and legislation on the sale of marijuana would all risk being filtered, as would media reports on these subjects.

The choice of filtering techniques has not been clearly defined. Would it be filtering by key-words, URL text or something else? And what about the ISPs that are supposed to carry out the filtering at the government’s request? Will they be blamed, will they be accused of complicity in child sex abuse if the filtering proves to be ineffective, as it almost certainly will?

Your government claims that the filtering will be 100 per cent effective but this is clearly impossible. Experts all over the world agree that no filtering system is effective at combating this kind of content. On the one hand, such a system filters sites that should not be affected (such as sites about the psychology of child sexuality or paedophile crime news). And on the other, it fails to filter targeted sites because their URLs contain key-words that are completely unrelated to their content, or because their content (photo and text) is registered under completely neutral terms. Furthermore, people who are determined to visit such sites will know how to avoid the filtering by, for example, using proxy servers or censorship circumvention software or both.

The Wikileaks website highlighted the limitations of such as system when it revealed that the ACMA blacklist of already banned websites contained many with nothing reprehensible in their content. According to Wikileaks, the blacklist included the Abortion TV website, some of the pages of Wikileaks itself, online poker sites, gay networks, sites dealing with euthanasia, Christian sites, a tour operator’s site and even a Queensland dentist’s site.

The US company Google has also voiced strong reservations. Google Australia’s head of policy, Iarla Flynn, said yesterday: “Moving to a mandatory ISP filtering regime with a scope that goes well beyond such material is heavy handed and can raise genuine questions about restrictions on access to information.”

As regards paedophilia, the most dangerous places on the Internet are websites offering chat and email services. So if this project were taken to its logical conclusion, access to sites such as Gmail, Yahoo and Skype would also have to be blocked, which would of course be impossible.

There are more effective ways to combat child pornography, including tracking cyber-criminals online (by means of cookies, IP address comparison, and so on), combined with police investigation into suspects and their online habits. Why did your government end the programme launched by the previous government, which made free filtering systems available to Australian families? This procedure had the merit of being adapted to individual needs and gave each home the possibility of shielding its children from porn.

A real national debate is needed on this subject but your communications minister, Stephen Conroy, made such a debate very difficult by branding his critics as supporters of child pornography. An opportunity was lost for stimulating a constructive exchange of ideas.

We also regret the lack of transparency displayed by your government as regards the tests carried out in recent months using procedures that have been kept secret. Your government paid some 300,000 Australian dollars to ISPs to finance the tests. Australian taxpayers have a right to be given detailed information about the results.

Finally, you must be aware that this initiative is a source of a concern for your compatriots. In a recent Fairfax Media poll of 20,000 people, 96 per cent were strongly opposed to such a mandatory Internet filtering system, while around 120,000 Australians have signed a petition against Internet censorship launched by the online activist group GetUp. The withdrawal of this proposal would therefore satisfy public opinion as well as prevent a democratic country from introducing a system that threatens freedom of expression.

I thank you in advance for the consideration you give to our recommendations.


Jean-François Julliard

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90 years old, political gay activist, hosting two web sites, one personal: http://www.red-jos.net one shared with my partner, 94-year-old Ken Lovett: http://www.josken.net and also this blog. The blog now has an alphabetical index: http://www.red-jos.net/alpha3.htm