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Censoring the internet

Evan Burton

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Hey, Senator - leave us discerning viewers of pornography alone

By Helen Razer

January 24, 2009

The famous maxim "I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it" was never actually uttered by Voltaire. It was the work of an upright lady named Evelyn Hall, summarising his attitudes in her book, The Friends Of Voltaire. An exacting biographer, she was aghast to find the quote misattributed. And she might rethink writing it at all in the era of the internet.

In any case, Stephen Conroy probably wouldn't let her.

In case you hadn't heard, Senator Stephen Conroy, the Communications Minister, will soon serve Australians a smut-free internet. Or, at the very least, he'll soon supervise the audition for his sanitised feed. Late last year he announced it on his now-defunct blog. Any day now, some of Australia's internet service providers - the companies you pay for your web access - will join in a pilot of the minister's filter.

It will defend to the death our right to be spared from digital filth.

Part of the Federal Government's cyber-safety plan, the initiative will block content blacklisted by the Australian Communications and Media Authority. It is claimed the blacklist will prohibit access to child pornography - and no rational person would argue with that. Not even Evelyn Hall or Voltaire. And certainly not me.

Nonetheless, rational people are arguing with a scheme that could block anything a government authority doesn't fancy.

Last November, Conroy said the blacklist would filter child-porn sites as well as "other unwanted content". How untoward those "other" sites might be is not a matter for public discussion. The authority's list is secret.

Naturally, advocates for free speech are troubled and one might say their concerns have been answered with dogged piety. "If people equate freedom of speech with watching child pornography, then the Rudd Labor Government is going to disagree," Conroy said in 2007.

According to some, this particular ministerial blogger has been nothing short of bolshie. To those who fear their speech will be stifled, or their net access slowed, he has offered a stubborn response: if you're opposed to the department's cyber-safety plan, you are opposed to the protection of children.

His evangelical logic seems lost on many, and not only civil liberties groups who are unhappy with his Reverend Lovejoy decree. Much of the IT community is adamant the clean feed will slow our connectivity. Normally moderate thinkers are horrified that we're taking cultural cues from China and North Korea. Even some child protection workers gently suggest that federal attention and funds would be better disbursed elsewhere.

Nonetheless, it remains difficult to counter the won't-someone-think-of-the-children reasoning without being branded a perve. Upright people are trying, though. They've been loud and eloquent in their censure.

It's time for the less seemly to have their say. It's time for fans of Voltaire, and his civil biographer, Miss Hall, to defend to the death the tastes of people like me. It's time to ask: "Won't someone think of the porn fans?"

I enjoy pornography. Perhaps not quite so much as I enjoy living among citizens who take an entitlement to free speech for granted. But I do like it quite a lot. And it seems that my porn is endangered.

If Conroy's clean feed works, which some tech skeptics argue that it cannot, it will prevent access to all pornography. According to the interpretation of Electronic Frontiers Australia and other advocates, the clean feed will mean that garden-variety X-rated material may not be viewed online in Australian territory. Further, R18+ content will be prohibited. And MA15+ sites hosted in Australia will probably go as well. According to the communication authority's criteria, everything saucy must go.

This will certainly save many Australian adults thousands of hours. This will possibly save a handful of unsupervised minors from harm.

But not many. As a keen internet hobbyist, I can report that one doesn't simply amble into X-rated or even R18+ material. One must actively seek it. I have become adept at this; children, presumably, have not. And if they have, clearly they are the issue of the world's most reprehensible parents and should be sent to live with Hetty Johnston forthwith.

The usefulness of the World Wide Web is threatened by Conroy. I have found the medium terribly instructive. When I am lacking culinary inspiration, I will browse a recipe database. When my writing is misfiring, I catch up with The New Yorker. And when my boudoir has become as flavourless as my writing or my food, I go to a website that propriety will not permit me to divulge.

I am very grateful for the DIY stylings of my internet teachers. And I imagine many others are grateful for the inspiration that gushes from these amateur couplings as well.

Despite the best efforts of some, there is no evidence that pornography will negatively affect me or other consenting adults.

The only lasting effect of my access to porn is a reflex giggle when the pizza delivery man knocks on my door.

Helen Razer is an author and broadcaster.



You can e-mail the Minister for Broadband, Communications, and the Digital Economy, Senator the Honourable Stephen Conroy at:


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Labor's 'deafening silence' as web censorship trials delayed

Asher Moses

January 30, 2009 - 4:00PM

* Fatal flaws in website censorship plan, says report

One of the largest ISPs signed up to participate in Labor's ambitious internet censorship trials has said its application has been met with "deafening silence" from the Government, raising questions over the workability of the proposed scheme and the effectiveness of the trials.

The Government originally planned to trial the mandatory internet filters before Christmas but the timetable has been pushed back considerably and the Communications Minister, Stephen Conroy, has still not released details of which ISPs have signed up to take part in the trials or when they will begin.

Mark White, COO of iiNet, said the ISP put in its submission to be part of the trial on December 6 and was told that the Government would come back with more details by the middle of January, but all it had heard was "deafening silence".

"I can't for a moment speculate what's going on but it certainly doesn't seem to be running as a project on time and they're certainly not communicating with the people that they need to - that is, the ISPs that have offered to test this thing," said White.

Senator Conroy - despite his promises before Labor was elected that people would be able to opt out of any internet filters - has said the first tier of the Government's censorship policy will be compulsory for all. This would block all "illegal" and "inappropriate" material, as determined in part by a secret blacklist administered by the Australian Communications and Media Authority.

A second tier would filter out content deemed harmful for children, such as pornography, but this would be optional for internet users.

Australia's largest ISP, Telstra, and Internode have said they will not take part in the trials. The second-largest ISP, Optus, will run a scaled-back trial of just the first tier, while iiNet, the third-biggest provider, has also said it will only trial the first tier, simply to show the Government that its scheme will not work.

The Government said this week it had received 16 applications from ISPs looking to take part in the trials and more details would be available within days but the lack of participation from the major ISPs indicates that the trial participants will be small players with few users.

This may mean the trials will not provide much useful data as to the effects of internet filtering in the real-world.

Cooperation from the large ISPs has been so poor that makers of internet filtering hardware - mindful of the revenue they could generate if the internet censorship plan goes ahead - are petitioning small ISPs, offering to provide them with all the equipment they need to take part in the trials.

"I know that some vendors have been approaching ISPs and saying we're happy to support your participation in the trial and then on that basis they put in an application," said Peter Coroneos, CEO of the Internet Industry Association.

Greens Senator Scott Ludlam, who has long campaigned against the censorship plan, said the delays in starting the trials indicated the Government may have hit the wall of technical impossibility that the industry had been warning it about for 12 months.

"Considering the intention was to launch a live trial before Christmas, we've got a six week delay and no commitment to testing on actual people," he said.

"This isn't a great advertisement for the workability of any large scale scheme. The proposal has always been unpopular, now perhaps the Government is starting to come to grips with what the industry has been saying all along: if your policy objective is to protect children online, this is not the way to go about it."

Ludlam posed a series of questions to the Government about the web censorship scheme late last year and responses were received this month.

Asked to provide evidence to support the claimed public demand for filtered internet connections, the Government said the plan was an election commitment.

"I don't think it's good enough to refer back to an election promise that no one even knew existed ... they certainly didn't campaign on it," Senator Ludlam said.

"You get a sense of the degree of public demand by the fact that the voluntary opt-in [NetAlert] scheme [that was started by the Howard government and provided free software filters] was so barely subscribed that they closed it down."

The Government also admitted that any internet filters it would introduce could be bypassed using easily available technological tools.

And despite Senator Conroy claiming that most of the content on the ACMA blacklist was child pornography, the Government revealed that only 674 sites out of the 1370 sites currently listed related to depictions of a child under 18.

506 sites would be classified R18+ and X18+, which is legal to view in Australia but would be blocked for everyone under Labor's mandatory censorship scheme.

The policy has attracted opposition from online consumers, lobby groups, ISPs, network administrators, some children's welfare groups, the Opposition, the Greens, NSW Young Labor and even the conservative Liberal senator Cory Bernardi, who famously tried to censor the chef Gordon Ramsay's swearing on television.

A recent survey by Netspace of 10,000 of the ISP's customers found 61 per cent strongly opposed mandatory internet filtering with only 6.3 per cent strongly agreeing with the policy.

An expert report, handed to the Government last February but kept secret until December after it was uncovered by the Herald, concluded the proposed scheme was fundamentally flawed.

It says the filters would slow the internet - as much as 87 per cent by some measures - be easily bypassed and would not come close to capturing all of the nasty content available online.

They would also struggle to distinguish between wanted and unwanted content, leading to legitimate sites being blocked. Entire user-generated content sites, such as YouTube and Wikipedia, could be censored over a single suspect posting.

"It's definitely not going to be workable to get a very significant reduction in access to this [unwanted] content that is available out there - it's fundamentally just not viable," said one of the report's authors, University of Sydney associate professor Bjorn Landfeldt.


Edited by Evan Burton
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  • 10 months later...

Despite a massive failure of the trial, the Australian Government is planning to censor what Australians see on the internet.

Want a conspiracy? This is a real one. Despite overwhelming evidence that it is flawed, the Australian government is planning to censor what Australian's will see on the net.


Take what action you believe is appropriate. I hope people - from any nation - will choose protest.

The Minister's email is:


If anyone has his personal phone numbers, I would hope they would post it.

Evan Burton


New North Korea

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  • 4 months later...

Despite being told by the various ISPs and IT companies that this system would fail, despite being told by Google and others that it won't work, despite being told by the US ambassador that this is a bad idea, Herr Conroy still wants to try and control what Australians see on the internet.

Doesn't that just stink of some type of conspiracy? I wonder if Conroy has some type of financial interest in establishing this abortion?

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It's already happening, Evan. The degradation has been under way for some time. Global regionalising, very small number of in-out nodes. 3 IS providers providers, lots of ISP's ie near monopoly of the backbone, Telstra, ATTP and another?. More datamine flavours, directed searches and loss of functionality in various areas. They have to do it in order to cement control. Free speech is not desirable to some. (Solidarnosc was largely defeated by the cutting of north south telephone contact.)

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  • 2 months later...

Internet freedom in 2010 looks like 1984

Any Australian government of any persuasion that attempted to construct in secret a surveillance scheme for monitoring the day-to-day activities of its citizens would almost certainly be destroyed the next time its citizens were allowed near a ballot box. Assuming, of course, it planned to allow them near the ballot box ever again.

The Hawke government got a small taste of what could happen when it tried to push through its risibly-named Australia Card early in its term of office. That national ID scheme – which has been quite effectively replicated by subsequent governments' data-matching programs – fell apart on a legal technicality. But before that happened Hawke and his inexperienced ministers managed to unite against them a mass campaign which covered the full spectrum of political belief from left to right. People just do not like Big Brother.

The fate of that scheme, and the much more successful subsequent introduction of a de facto surveillance regime based on the regular, systemic, but largely invisible matching of vast amounts of personal data held on each and every one of us by the federal bureaucracy, probably explains the Rudd government's decision to construct in secret a similarly vast domestic intelligence gathering machine targeting every single internet user in Australia. While communications minister Stephen Conroy has suffered (and rightfully so) continuous and scarifying attacks on his competence and integrity because of his desire to filter the web, he hasn't had to endure much in the way of criticism for the government's plans to monitor every aspect of our online lives.

Do you have any idea what I'm talking about yet? Long story short, the Rudd government is crafting an Orwellian scheme that may well require Australian ISPs to log and retain details of all your online communications and Web browsing activity. The Attorney-General Robert McClelland – not one of the brightest stars in the firmament of federal cabinet – denied this week that ''browsing histories would be stored'', saying the government was only seeking to identify ''parties to a communication'', such as senders and receivers of emails and VoIP calls.

Even this limited scheme would be considered by most Australians to be entirely unacceptable, but because the government has imposed secrecy provisions on all the parties with which it is negotiating in this matter, the process remains completely opaque and we are being asked to agree to the imposition of a generalised surveillance regime with nothing but the vaguest reassurances about its scope, intent and the potential hazards of abuse, misuse, maladministration and outright oppression. (Well, actually, we're not being asked at all. It's just happening).

There is an excellent article by Fairfax's tech writer Asher Moses here, which you should read.

It makes clear the very real fears of the real people in the real telecommunications sector that something quite profoundly wrong and loathsome is being planned. It is a scheme on par with any number of other Rudd government initiatives - obsessed with image management and controlling activities over which it should rightly have no control.

It is more serious by an order of magnitude than Conroy's amateur hour efforts with the net filter and arguably more aggressive in its collection activities than the huge, but little known datamatching programs which run, day in, day out, without most people's knowledge.

Indeed, today's revelation that Rudd intends to link the information gathered from monitoring your internet activities to identifiers such as your passport number open up the real possibility of mashing together all of the personal information available in your data matching matrix to (your income, your tax history, you bank account details, your medical records for starters) to your online life - your tweets, your Facebook account, your email, your Chatroueltte history, your 4square tracking data, your blog entries, the link you clicked not realising it was taking you to a snuff porn site, the link you clicked knowing it was taking you to a celebrity porn site, the comments you leave here today, all of it.

That's why today's column is written without jokes or even sarcasm.

This is not about having fun. This is not a joke.

This is about a government which needs to be taken apart.


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Unfortunately in the major league Labour is a preferred option to the Liberal party no matter what for now. However, there is a surge to the greens and other factions rather than necessarily to the Liberals though it may seeem so at times. The two major parties in many ways have a stranglehold partly because of the way the pref voting system is set up, partly because they can bend to do the bidding of major finance. I don't think the governement needs dismantling but that the way the wishes of the people are expressed through the way government members are choosen. The rest would follow.

Remember Gough and Moss, Cairns...?

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Labor is on its way out. State Labor has suffered a backlash as well, with a 25% swing against them in the Penrith by-election. Penrith was a Labor stronghold and this is only the second time in 37 years that a Lib has gained the seat.

The backlash against Federal Labor will be much the same, having shown themselves incapable of governing and with a hidden agenda. Comrade Rudd won't survive the next election; he might not even be the Party Leader next week if rumours of a leadership spill are correct!

I suspect the result of the next federal election will be a coalition government but with far more powerful Greens.

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Comrade Rudd won't survive the next election; he might not even be the Party Leader next week if rumours of a leadership spill are correct!


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It is virtually impossible for any government to survive the recession. That is why the Labour Party lost last month. However, as the governor of the Bank of England said before the election: "The party that wins the election will be removed next time and will not serve again for a generation." After the Conservative/Liberal Democrat budget yesterday, I am sure he is right.

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Comrade Rudd won't survive the next election; he might not even be the Party Leader next week if rumours of a leadership spill are correct!


Comrade, huh? Still, immensely historic. I wonder if Obama will visit now.

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Jim McIlroy

Published by Resistance Books

2004, 60pp, ISBN 1876646497, Pamphlet


''The Australian Labor Party is the single biggest block to the development of the socialist movement in this country. It has held the great majority of the working class in the straitjacket of parliamentarist reformism for the last 100 years — although today this hold is increasingly being called into question.

Under the slogan "Socialism In Our Time", radical and socialist elements played an important role in the initial push for a Labor Party, but were defeated by a combination of the parliamentarians and the trade union bureaucracy.

By the early 20th century the ALP had become entrenched as a reformist, parliamentarist party, accurately described by Lenin in 1913 as a "liberal capitalist party" — a political agency of the capitalist class within the labour movement.

Yet despite the clear record of the past century and the ALP's ever-more rightward trajectory today, some sections of the left continue to mistakenly regard Labor as some sort of workers' party, albeit with a procapitalist leadership.

Jim McIlroy's Marxist analysis of the ALP's formation shines a bright light on the party's real nature and helps illuminate the way forward for the socialist movement.''



Edited by John Dolva
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