The Rudd Government's mandatory ISP filtering bill will soon be introduced into Parliament, and we can only hope that the debate there will focus more on the real merits of the scheme - which are few and far between - than empty rhetoric about protecting children. When the debate happens, here are some questions the Government needs to answer under the glare of public scrutiny.

1. Given the trouble and expense of this policy, you must have some pretty convincing evidence that children are being constantly exposed to RC material. How was your research conducted and will it be released to the public?

(In fact, research indicates that of all the threats kids face online, accidental exposure to disturbing content is about the least significant.)

2. Two-thirds of Internet-connected households don't have school-age children. Isn't forcing a filter onto them as well as businesses unnecessary?

(We have never heard a cogent explanation why the filter should be mandatory and not opt-in, or why it's a better solution than more comprehensive and customisable PC-based filters.)

3. Given the reasonably poor uptake of filters by parents in the past, what makes you so sure the Australian people want a filter at a national level?

(Survey data shows that parents who don't install filters do so mainly because they consider them unnecessary or too restrictive, not for technical or cost reasons.)

4. Why did you meet with the Australian Christian Lobby before making the last announcement? Have you met with groups opposed to the filter?

(Conroy's office ignores our polite requests to make our case.)

5. In targeting child pornography, isn't the blacklist mechanism, which relies on the media regulator and the Australian public, a poor way to track down this material compared to investigations by law enforcement professionals?

(Illegal material is not typically published on the open web, and when it is, is usually taken down quickly.)

6. In the past you have indicated that the blacklist will include material imported from overseas groups like the Internet Watch Foundation. Is it still the case that lists prepared by unaccountable third parties overseas might be part of Australian censorship?

(The Internet Watch Foundation's list caused controversy in Britain when it added a Wikipedia page to its list in 2008.)

7. The Enex trial indicated tests at speeds far below those promised by the new National Broadband Network. Won't the filter interfere with the rollout of this much more important project?

(We can't understand why the Government is pursuing the filtering policy so zealously when the $43 billion NBN is so clearly a higher priority for the country.)

8. Experts say than an ISP filter is easy to circumvent by anyone who wants to. Doesn't that undermine the usefulness of the entire enterprise?

(It's inevitable that getting around the filter will be easy. Therefore, it only prevents accidental access to any site on the list.)

9. When they reach banned websites, will Australians see a message from the government informing them why the page was blocked, or will the page just refuse to load?

(We have many more worries about transparency in the system, especially concerning the oversight of the list itself.)

10. What would stop some future conservative governments adding to the blacklist in a campaign against dangerous or immoral content?

(Of course, this question only has one answer: Nothing. Once the blacklisting has begun, it's hard to imagine it will never expand, let alone ever be rolled back.)

Sadly, EFA suspects that if these issues have been considered at all by the Government, they do not have good answers ready. We maintain that until all of them can be addressed satisfactorily, mandatory ISP filtering amounts to nothing more than a political stunt designed to wedge the opposition and garner some easy votes.

25 comments

  1. Quick expansion on the notes for that last question: the Parliament might try to argue that "legislation" would stop the expansion of the blacklist.

    Legislation which is controlled by Parliament...

    Comment by Toejam on 20 January 2010 at 19:32
  2. Some excellent questions there. I don't suppose much of this information is accessible via Freedom of Information Laws.

    Comment by iain on 20 January 2010 at 21:31
  3. Excellent list. Concise and just right. No nonsense about performance. Well done.

    Comment by Anthony on 20 January 2010 at 22:31
  4. great list ... as mentioned concise and reasonable. Of course none of our politicians has the beans to grasp it ...

    Comment by Chris on 21 January 2010 at 03:53
  5. This is great, thanks. :)

    Comment by Laurenski on 21 January 2010 at 04:24
  6. A couple of other points,

    -- In a democracy, why would people vote for something to be censored? Either they had no intention of viewing the content, in which case the censorship is a waste of time and taxpayer money, or they did wish to view the content, in which case the censorship goes against the public will.

    -- How can viewing content be an offence to the public order? What harm does viewing content do to any person other than, perhaps, the person viewing the content?

    -- If a person chooses to injure himself by viewing degrading content, isn't that his own choice, and aren't the consequences of this voluntary action a sufficient deterrent for any reasonable person?

    -- If someone views child pornography and is disgusted by it have they committed any crime? But if someone views child pornography and fantasises about have sex with children, what is the difference? The only difference is the thought inside the person's head. How can a person's thoughts be made subject to the law?

    -- people have been abusing each other for thousands of years; does the government believe it can ever stop this?

    -- has the level of child abuse in the community increased with the advent of the internet?

    -- why can't the government focus on assisting law enforcement in apprehending child abusers, rather than to invent imaginary crimes such as possession of illicit material?

    -- since, by definition, people who take pleasure in things that are abhorrent to the average person will be a minority, what threat do these people pose to the greater part of the population? Since common sense would suggest that the threat is small to non-existent, what is the point of censorship if it can achieve no public good, and why should anybody support it or voluntarily abide by it?

    Comment by A H on 21 January 2010 at 06:40
  7. 8. Experts say than...

    "then" should be "that"

    Comment by SP on 21 January 2010 at 08:16
  8. lol oops, i mean "than" should be "that"

    Comment by SP on 21 January 2010 at 08:17
  9. what is offensive content? And does it exist?

    As someone who has never been offended by anything, ever. I have to ask this all important question.

    Comment by Dan on 21 January 2010 at 18:45
  10. Mr Conroy argues that the “filter” will only be used to filter Refused Classification sites.

    This may be true at first, but seeing it is a Government controlled filter there would be nothing to stop the next Government from adding to what this filter can do, or maybe the Government after them or the next and I feel that due to pressures inside the Government and from minority groups I fear that such a power would be too tempting leave alone for it’s original intended purpose.

    Yours,

    Cry Freedom

    Comment by Cry Freedom on 22 January 2010 at 05:27
  11. Comment by RMT on 22 January 2010 at 15:35
  12. Great list.

    There is also the question of process. How will the list operate? Most objections to the proposal have looked from the internet users point of view. What about site owners/operators? I in my letter to Conroy I raised the following points:

    As a web site owner what will be my rights if my site is blocked, as what happened in the case of the infamous Queensland dentist? It is all very well to say that the site was hacked by the Russian mafia; as the 'black list' is secret, if this happens to my site how will I know? How will I get my site unblocked once the offending material has been removed? And if my site is blocked in error who will I appeal to, what compensation will be made and how will this be determined?

    Comment by PS on 22 January 2010 at 19:14
  13. I wonder if that bill of rights charter with a

    Comment by Brendan on 22 January 2010 at 21:31
  14. I wonder if that bill of rights charter with a freedom of information clause would stop this kind of legislation.

    Comment by Brendan on 22 January 2010 at 21:32
  15. -----BEGIN PGP SIGNED MESSAGE-----
    Hash: SHA512

    I would have included:

    11) Will it be an offense to circumvent any blocking or filtering?

    12) Will it be an offense to discuss (either online or elsewhere) methods of circumventing the blocking or filtering, or technology which is or could be used to circumvent the blocking or filtering?

    Actually, I've got more questions than just that, but I can ask them elsewhere if that's not banned too (I'd admit to exaggeration here, but since there's no legislation to peruse I don't know whether or not I really am exaggerating).

    -----BEGIN PGP SIGNATURE-----
    Version: GnuPG v1.4.9 (Darwin)
    Comment: Use GnuPG with Firefox : http://getfiregpg.org (Version: 0.7.10)

    iEYEAREKAAYFAktZVewACgkQNxrFv6BK4xND5gCg8r/CqboXd7GYWjnP0gotB8vo
    t5cAoIQ9zt8VyvxYQXtw/fB8o+DQQLlv
    =0R9u
    -----END PGP SIGNATURE-----

    Comment by Ben on 23 January 2010 at 03:39
  16. @Ben -- Your questions are actually important, and one that people have not thought about. It is easy to imagine that the Child Pornography Act 2011 requires all corporate VPNs to be registered, with draconian penalties for cirumvention.

    I'd replace question 7 with it. It is obvious that a crude ip based filter will not slow down the internet very much. Could be implemented in router tables.

    Comment by Anthony on 23 January 2010 at 05:29
  17. PS. It should be kept to just ten questions.

    Comment by Anthony on 23 January 2010 at 05:30
  18. Check out the Department's website for the latest info. They have a list of FAQs
    http://www.dbcde.gov.au/cybersafetyplan under Related links.

    There are so many opinions! It looks like the filtering isn't as bad as a lot of ppl make out. R18+ content is still going to be available, as well as controversial political websites.

    I can confirm that there are no penalties for circumventing the filter (VPN, proxy server etc) The only content to be filtered will be Refused Classification material. ie. Child sex abuse material, bestiality, inciting violence.. worst of the worst stuff. I wouldn't want to see it anyway.

    MA15+ and above filtering will be optional for families. The Gov.t is going to give grants to ISPs to help them do this for those who want it.

    Comment by Ss21 on 23 January 2010 at 05:45
  19. "It looks like the filtering isn’t as bad as a lot of ppl make out."

    The goal is to block legal material. If it were otherwise, they'd come straight out and declare "We're going to block illegal material," rather than "We're going to block Refused Classification" followed by assurances that RC "includes" this and that and oo-er, and um-mah.

    The goal is to block legal material. That's bad enough for me.

    Comment by Toejam on 23 January 2010 at 10:48
  20. -----BEGIN PGP SIGNED MESSAGE-----
    Hash: SHA512

    Anthony, the IP based filtering has apparently been considered, but won't be used due to the propensity for over blocking. Having said that, there were IP addresses listed on the alleged ACMA blacklists which were posted by WikiLeaks last year.

    Ss21, there's already legislation which covers illegal material (e.g. child pornography and terrorist material) in other legislation. The filtering is an unnecessary addition which Toejam rightly indicates is aimed at targetting material which it is not currently illegal to view or obtain.

    I was however amused by the outage of the DBCDE website last night when I went to double check the FAQ (it's back now). They managed to lose their name servers and their web server caches.

    -----BEGIN PGP SIGNATURE-----
    Version: GnuPG v1.4.9 (Darwin)
    Comment: Use GnuPG with Firefox : http://getfiregpg.org (Version: 0.7.10)

    iEYEAREKAAYFAktaRsQACgkQNxrFv6BK4xNXWQCdEBlV12zvL8vl+UFVPvXfJJpD
    tfwAoIqX39EdlsRw4Z8tTMHfrisB199i
    =s+ct
    -----END PGP SIGNATURE-----

    Comment by Ben on 23 January 2010 at 20:47
  21. Oh give me a break Ss21,
    That's like saying that it's only handcuffs and not a full straight jacket.
    Letting the government put this filter in place is like giving a dog a bone and not expecting it to eat it.
    As I have stated before, there is no guarantee the next Government, or the one after that or even the next, will not change what the filter does to further their own objectives.

    Comment by Cry Freedom on 24 January 2010 at 00:57
  22. definition of the word election...good guy bad guy media spin routine 2007...news flash, Australia is now a police state because the government seizes on every opportunity that is played up by the media to subjugate the people all done in the interest of deterring 'terrorISM' or 'climate change' or in this case 'disturbing content'.
    a terrorist could be anyone (including the government itself just look at Iraq)
    all the info on climate change is disinformation (made up of lies and truth)
    and who decides what is 'disturbing content'?
    oh yeah that's right the government
    see told ya police state.

    Comment by C V on 25 January 2010 at 00:54
  23. What I don't understand is why the senator hasn't told me what benefit will it have for me, considering that the senator doesn't know me at all, what benefit is this filter to me?? I can guarantee that some of the sites I look at the senator would be offended by them and I don't have kids at home, so why is there a filter I can't opt out of and a filter I can opt out of?? What is the benefit to me Senator Conroy??

    Why is the senator so determined to bring this draconian filter down on all of us?? Is the Lord telling him to do it or is it the devil??

    Can Senator Conroy tell me why the "Live testing" of the filter was only done by small ISP's?? Was it because the biggest ISP in the country told him to stick where the sun don't shine fully realizing that it wouldn't work and is this why this particular ISP is being threatened with being split up??

    Anyone who thinks this filter is for the national good is truly delusional, I for one think it's the biggest act of bastardry to happen in this country, right up there with the ETS.

    Comment by Ross on 29 January 2010 at 08:48
  24. The thing I find most amusing (well, outrageous is probably a better word) is that in their FAQ the government refers to other "western democracies" who have such filters, and then go on to list several countries who have ISPs that voluntarily implemented filters. Key word is VOLUNTARILY. Trying to compare this scheme to other countries is preposterous since this legislation is forcing compliance rather than giving the option.

    By their own admission there are less than 35% of parents who use PC based filters. That's a minority by my count. They also state that they stopped providing the free PC based filters due to low-take up and low ongoing use.

    What confuses me most is the FAQ states that the government wants to "encourage" the industry to offer a wider range of filtering. Mandatory implementation is not encourgament. It's an order. They then go on to say ISP filtering gives Australians an easier option to filter content without the "complexities" of handling PC based software. Again, there is no OPTION here. The word implies we can choose to use it or not.

    Comment by Grim on 1 February 2010 at 19:19
  25. The fact there is no choice involved here condemns it.

    It's easy to look at China and see some of the results of censorship.

    No one wants that.

    Comment by Libelle on 3 February 2010 at 19:38