Update : The Minister followed up his attacks today, see below.

During yesterday's Question Time, Communications Minister Stephen Conroy again faced questions about the Rudd Government's highly unpopular push to introduce mandatory, nationwide internet censorship. In his answer, the Minister accused this organisation of misleading the public and international organisations. We relish the opportunity to respond and set the record straight.

The minister was asked by Senator Boyce about the reaction of international watchdog Reporters Without Borders, who have written an open letter to the Prime Minister and recently added Australia to a watch list of countries with worrying internet censorship trends.[1]

Senator Conroy, in his answer, asserted that RWB were simply misled and continued:

Senator Conroy: What we have announced is perfectly clear. Anyone in this chamber or anyone who talks to Reporters Without Borders who tries to suggest that anything other than material included in the RC classification is subject to the filter is misleading all Australians. Let me be very clear: the material under the RC classification is material like child pornography, pro-rape websites and pro-bestiality websites— material of that nature. You cannot buy it on DVD and you cannot buy it a book store.

RWB have not been misled by EFA or anybody else. (In any case, they have not had a special briefing from us.) Neither they nor EFA are suggesting that the scope of the filter is broader than what is proposed, or that the Minister is hoping to use it to block dissenting political speech. Australia has not been placed on the "Internet enemies" list with Iran or China, but has been flagged as a country of concern. That concern is simply this: That a tolerant and liberal democracy such as Australia is taking the first steps down a path of secretive and automated censorship of the Internet. Reporters Without Borders are not alone in appreciating the enormous potential of the internet in bolstering freedom of expression, a freedom under assault in many countries around the world. This struggle has recently been fully embraced by the U.S. Government. The policy being championed by Senator Conroy is exactly counter to the ideals of complete openness that are being championed by these other entities.

EFA understands very well that the filter will be targeting RC - Refused Classification - material. Asserting this does not dispel our concerns nor those of many other organisations and individuals. As the Minister likes to point out, a subset of RC content is universally unwelcome, such as the illegal (child pornography) or that depicting bestiality or extreme sexual violence. However, at the edges of the RC category lies much more controversial material. Euthanasia, information on safe drug use, and adult material depicting particular fetishes would all certainly be blocked.

Setting aside questions of the filter's effectiveness, other concerns include the opaque and undemocratic nature of a secret blacklist not open to public scrutiny, and the virtual inevitability of an expansion of the list's scope by this or a future government. EFA has never maintained that the Government intends to use the filter to stifle political debate. The fact remains that, although the filter is designed with a different purpose in mind, what we are going to get is a mandatory and secret system that could one day be used for that purpose. It is this fact that concerns Reporters Without Borders, and concerns many Australians as well.

There is a widespread impression that the Minister, in lieu of tackling the issues, has sought to frame the debate in terms of those who want to do something about child pornography, and those who don't care enough about the problem. This is something EFA has indeed taken issue with in the past. Senator Boyce followed up her question by asking:

Senator Boyce: Isn’t Reporters Without Borders right when it states, ‘Even though a true national debate on the subject is needed, Senator Conroy has made such a discussion very problematic by branding his critics as child pornography advocates’?

The Minister responded:

Senator Conroy: Once again the material that has been supplied to Reporters Without Borders comes from Electronic Frontiers Australia, who have been challenged publicly on a number of occasions to produce a quote where I have ever said that.

It should go without saying that RWB have not been coached by us or approached us for comment on this particular issue; they have come to that conclusion on their own. In any case, here are two occasions on which the Minister is on record wielding the spectre of child pornography to deflect the issue.

Firstly, in one of the first public pronouncements of the policy, the Minister stated:

If people equate freedom of speech with watching child pornography, then the Rudd-Labor Government is going to disagree.[2]

On another occasion, when answering a question on the filter put to him by Greens Senator Scott Ludlam during a Senate Estimates hearing, the Minister dodged the question using this device:

Senator Ludlam – Just let me finish. In terms of the countries that you have just listed for me, it is mandatory or is it an opt-in system that, for example, concerned parents could take advantage of?

Senator Conroy – Illegal material is illegal material. Child pornography is child pornography. I trust you are not suggesting that people should have access to child pornography.[3]

We maintain that these remarks do not reflect well on Senator Conroy. Nobody, including EFA, have ever argued that the filter is a bad idea because child pornography is not worth combating. Our argument is and has always been that the filter will be ineffective in doing so yet comes at enormous cost. To rail against "people" for equating "freedom of speech with watching child pornography" is simply a cheap rhetorical trick. We trust that with legislation imminent, we can move past such distractions.

Senator Conroy minced no words in singling out EFA and criticising our campaign against his policy, saying that "Electronic Frontiers Australia have run one of the most disgraceful misinformation campaigns and have misled Australians." We are aggressive in educating the public on the drawbacks of this and other policies that threaten our online freedoms, but take great pains to provide factual information and analysis to the Australian public. If we have erred in any particular instance, then we welcome a correction. That said, we have carefully considered the legalities and technical issues surrounding the policy and unreservedly stand by our assessment. It will achieve nothing for parents and police, it will cost enormous amounts of money, and presents a real threat to our freedom of speech. For the Government's part, we have heard many  frightening statements about internet bestiality, but are still awaiting a solid defence of this policy that references any evidence, study, or reputable expert that demonstrates this filter will help Australian children. We challenge the Minister to produce such evidence.

For our part, EFA intends, as always, to stick to the facts. The many flaws of this policy require no exaggeration.

Update: Today in question time the Minister also took the opportunity to further the attacks on EFA and its board, naming myself (Colin Jacobs), Chair Nicolas Suzor and board member Geordie Guy as those chiefly responsible for a misinformation campaign being waged against the Australian public.

The specific charges stem from an article written by me for Crikey reporting on Reporters Without Borders open letter to the Prime Minister, and our supposed assertion that no child pornography is traded on the open internet. These issues have been addressed comprehensively elsewhere. Our argument is not that there is no child pornography on the web, but that the blacklist filter will not be effective in stopping it. As for supposed inaccuracies being promulgated about the scope of the blacklist, this is largely due to a lack of policy clarity from the Government; at its inception, the filter was to implement the current ACMA blacklist (which is much broader than RC, including R-18+ content), and it has only gradually changed. A year ago, the Minister was still referring to "almost exclusively RC" before finally settling on RC. Given the lack of a solid policy document, it's no surprise there has been confusion amongst the public and international organisations. Nevertheless, since this change we have been clear in our message - RC is broader than the Minister likes to let on, and he cannot guarantee that the scope will never increase any more than he can guarantee he will remain Minister forever.

[1] The report reads: "Among the countries “under surveillance” are several democracies: Australia, because of the upcoming implementation of a highly developed Internet filtering system, and South Korea, where draconian laws are creating too many specific restrictions on Web users by challenging their anonymity and promoting self-censorship."

46 comments

  1. is there a typo?
    "You cannot buy it on DVD and you cannot buy it a book store."
    I don't want to buy it a book store..

    Comment by Smart Arse on 16 March 2010 at 6:40 pm
  2. Thanks for pointing that out. The text is copied from Hansard, so either it's a typo in the official record, or Conroy really said it that way.

    Comment by Colin Jacobs on 16 March 2010 at 6:51 pm
  3. Hooray for Conroy, who raised the profile of EFA and will no doubt drive many people to this site where they can appraise themselves of the facts around the blackwall.

    Comment by SkepDadBlog on 16 March 2010 at 6:55 pm
  4. "RC classification is material like child pornography, pro-rape websites and pro-bestiality websites— material of that nature"

    Errr...NOOOO...actually Mr Conroy...the term "Refused Classification" can also include political websites, news websites, medical websites, poker websites, erotic websites and much much more! All you have to do to make something "RC" is to simply refuse it. What a twit.

    This guy is playing us as idiots, where in fact he makes himself out to look incompetent and unfit for his position in government. Sacked!

    Comment by Bob on 16 March 2010 at 7:26 pm
  5. That just makes me so angry that Conroy will claim that EFA has been misleading the public while Conroy openly quotes results from an unofficial trial involving 1 laptop in a test environment (not even real world) and then makes claims based off that, that filtering works 100% of the time with negligible speed degradation.

    Who is misleading the what now Conroy? Get your terms mixed up again and replaced "Conroy" with "EFA" by mistake?

    EFA have done the honourable thing (and they don't have have "The Honourable" in front of their name, unlike some...) and kept everything above the line. They've not gone on scare campaigns or accused anyone of being pro-this or anti-that, they've used the facts against Conroy and promoted that the public do the research and learn about the issue and not just accept the misinformation spread by Conroy, which is why that coward has hit out at them the way he has. EFA are making a difference, having an impact and good on em!

    Time to wake up Conroy, it's not just EFA that are calling you out, the rest of the local industry and many businesses that rely on the Internet are against this, but a group that seem to be gaining more interest is the rest of the world.

    They are watching and starting to laugh at us.

    Comment by Akira Doe on 16 March 2010 at 7:32 pm
  6. More lies and deception from Conroy not surprisingly.

    Comment by Mr1979 on 16 March 2010 at 7:41 pm
  7. Great post.

    I hope there's a Media Release in store as well - the press have shown interest in the RWB watch list and a sound-byte responding to Conroy's allegation against the EFA could interest the public too.

    Comment by Charlie on 16 March 2010 at 8:08 pm
  8. It pleases me to hear Conroy name the EFA in scorn - it means that all the hard work is paying off. Keep up the pressure.

    As for the EFA's position that the Government isn't going to use the internet censorship system to suppress political speech, I'm afraid I cannot agree with that. The ACMA blocklist well known to contain political material. Even if we ignore the ACMA list, take the Governement at their word that their zero oversight list contains no political material, we would also have to take several foreign governments at their word too (for using their secret (even to the Government) lists). That is stretching it to say the very least (and given the ACMA list contains political material we already know that Conroy is lying).

    With zero oversight of the lists, we are left with trusting not only this Government, but every government that follows them. Our governance is not based on trust, it is based on accountability. That is the biggest problem here - no accountability.

    Comment by Stuart on 16 March 2010 at 8:37 pm
  9. Mandatory internet filtering promises disaster for our children. Many of us in the online industry are aware that the filtering technology is flawed and easily circumvented. Teens already commonly use free proxies in order to get around school network blocks on social network sites such as Facebook. Unscrupulous free proxy operators harvest usernames and passwords that are run through the system and exploit them to take over the Facebook, MySpace, Gmail or even internet banking accounts which are accessed through them. Imagine the dangers of a pedophile hijacking a child’s Face Book account and what tremendous damage could occur to other children while said pervert is in possession of it. Free proxy sites also can serve up malware, installing trojans, keyloggers and other nasties on machines which access the proxy site, exploiting kids’ general ignorance of these hidden technical threats.

    Many are also fronts for pedophile networks and other predators that set up virtual servers to lure their prey. Instead of tightening the net on pedophiles, we’re creating millions of additional trapdoors where perverts patiently lay in wait for our kids. The immutable fact is that if Mr Rudd and Labor censor the internet, kids and teens WILL use these proxies, swapping them like we used to exchange bubblegum cards. ISP level filtering, meanwhile, will give parents a false sense of security, believing their children are actually limited from accessing age-inappropriate material. Not opposing this mandatory internet filtering legislation means that we - well-intentioned people - are literally helping to push them closer to danger.

    Ask yourself why eminent groups such as Save the Children, National Children’s Youth Law Centre, The Australian Library & Information Association and Civil Liberties Australia are vehemently opposing mandatory internet censorship. In closing, there is absolutely nothing that Mr Rudd’s proposed filter - or any ISP level filter for that matter - can do to avoid this issue. We must scrap mandatory filtering itself. And the EFA have done far more than any group to put an end to this - so please keep up the good work. With all repect to EFA, I have not seen the argument above put forward by 'you' in any form, I believe - and it is one that Conroy, Rudd and the ACL cannot refute. It also directly contradicts their argument about protecting children in a way that parents will be able to grasp.

    Keep up the great work!

    Comment by Richard Henderson on 16 March 2010 at 9:32 pm
  10. RC = Refused by Conroy

    More information here:
    http://nationalfilter.net.au/what-is-unwanted-mat...

    Comment by Stehpen Control on 16 March 2010 at 9:37 pm
  11. @ Richard Henderson and EFA: I too am baffled at the lack of focus on the "unintended consequence" argument. It seems a powerful one - that the filter will harm more kids than it protects. Is it just that it is too complex and not suited to soundbite, or for some other reason?

    Comment by SkepDadBlog on 16 March 2010 at 9:39 pm
  12. Excellent response.

    Stick to it, keep a cool head, rely on the facts, maintain the rage.

    Comment by Ricky Onsman on 16 March 2010 at 9:59 pm
  13. Can any action be taken against Senator Conroy for spreading misinformation regarding the EFA in the Senate?

    Comment by Jawed on 16 March 2010 at 10:16 pm
  14. @Jawed: As the Senator's remarks are protected by Parliamentary privilege, our options for redress are limited. In any case, we are not overly worried that vague and unsubstantiated attacks will undermine our reputation or the campaign. Frankly, it sounds a little desperate.

    Comment by Colin Jacobs on 16 March 2010 at 10:21 pm
  15. As others have said above, it's a good sign that Conroy feels threatened politically by EFA. People are getting the facts, thanks to EFA, and it's ruining his attempts to deceive the electorate on this issue.

    Incidentally, he missed an obvious Net opportunity when attacking EFA. I mentioned this response to my adult daughter (who has protested Australian RC labelling of adult computer games played everywhere else in the world), and she looked up from her laptop, and blinked at me:

    Her: EFA? Epic F*cking Ar*eholes?

    Me: Um, not exactly. Electronic Frontier Foundation. They're protesting the Internet censorship bill. You have them confused with the Rudd Government.

    Her: Grrr... Internet censorship... stupid and ineffective... (censorable mutterings)

    So, Conroy misses the Net reference (an Epic Fail Anomaly), and someone voting for the first time this year has been p*ssed off by him already, without even knowing who the EFA were.

    Comment by Clytie Siddall on 16 March 2010 at 10:33 pm
  16. Congratulations for the Honorable Mention :-)

    I'd love to know why the government persists with such a broken policy. They know its unpopular and won't work, so why do it? What's the political backhander for such a useless piece of legislation?

    Comment by Simon on 16 March 2010 at 11:13 pm
  17. Senator Conroy is wrong.

    I can not only purchase RC material from a local bookstore it is also in DVD format and living in New South Wales it is perfectly legal to purchase own and view.

    It's not available in all electorates but the level of enforcement depends on the whims or otherwise those who police (or allegedly police) such material.

    Comment by Bob Bain on 17 March 2010 at 12:56 am
  18. I am already a member of EFA, but thanks to The Honourable Senator Conroy's bullshit (as recorded in Hansard) I have just donated another $10 (It's all I have spare at the moment). The Streisand Effect strikes again. Keep up the good work lads!

    Comment by Stephen Lark on 17 March 2010 at 1:36 am
  19. Conroy and the cRudd government have shown their true commie colours.An inquiry needs to be held , and the blatent lies and fraud needs to be held up for public scrutiny.This is a democracy, and the people of Australia are wanting answers, a lot of answers in regards to the hidden agendas held ,and then being manipulated into becoming laws in this country.
    People died for our country to remain free and enjoyable. I for one will not lie down and give it up to the enemy within - the Australian government who would censor and lie to its people .

    Comment by Dee on 17 March 2010 at 2:31 am
  20. A copy of this notice should be forwarded to each and every Labor Party Caucus mamber. Conroy is abusing his parliamentary privilege and his fellow members should be made aware of his misinformation.

    Comment by Tony on 17 March 2010 at 3:17 am
  21. Where to begin with Sen Conroy. Just one example of his gross missinformation was his recent extended Hungry Beast interview.

    He claimed that the Classification Board determined the scope of RC completely independent of government. Surely he has been in politics and that portfolio long enough to know that that's complete horse poo.

    For a detailed disection of that load of bunk:

    http://libertus.net/censor/rdocs/ispblocking-rc-n...

    Comment by neilmc on 17 March 2010 at 4:08 am
  22. I just can't believe it. No matter how much I read about this, I just can't comprehend the fact that this is actually happening. I have not heard a single person say that they want this. Every forum, blog, television debate, newspaper, magazine, radio show is full of concerned people asking why, demanding that this does not happen and yet somehow this is still going ahead?

    Comment by Rob on 17 March 2010 at 8:32 am
  23. Great article. Conroy is the worst communications minister ever. He has ignored the majority of people who tell him that the filter won't work. Instead, he is continuing anyway with this insane policy. He will have egg all over his face when the filtering plan backfires. And, to attack EFA the way he did makes me want to punch him in the face.

    Comment by Black Wolf on 17 March 2010 at 7:56 pm
  24. In response to the Senator's comments that he has not accused opponents of the filter of being in favour of child pornography. I can personally state that this is contrary to my experience, and I suspect that others who have contacted MsP would also agree. (Depending on who the MP is, of course.) I was in Anna Burke's electorate when she was Speaker. My initial contact with her electorate office was with someone who sounded ready to throw the Senator to the wolves, but a later contact was with someone who kept repeating the mantra, "But what about the children", making it clear that by opposing the filter I was somehow in favour of "bad things" happening to children.

    I also contacted Senator Conroy's office and got a more direct, "Then you want to let people access child porn" response.

    Overall, I suspect that, like call centres, the staff people are given sheets with "suggested answers and tactics". I do not believe that it is coincidence that I received similar responses from several different ALP MsP.

    Comment by Don on 17 March 2010 at 8:20 pm
  25. @flognoggle

    SkepDadBlog does a fine job explaining the difference between RC and illegal, so I won't go over that.

    "What if the internet filter was strictly limited to “illegal” material? Could we then argue that the filter is not acceptable, if we accept the Government’s right to “filter” illegal material in other media?"

    Firstly, the proposed filter is not limited to illegal material, so there's little point debating something the Government doesn't have any intention of implementing. I've had the exact same discussion with people that mistakenly believe the filter will block porn. We need to focus our discussion on what is being proposed (mainly because the proposal as stated is highly complex. There are multiple technical, ideological, procedural and legal issues involved - and the fact that you came into this debate not understanding the difference between RC content and illegal content is good evidence of that).

    Secondly, the Government (or more accurately, the police) don't filter offline illegal material in other media - they resort to the vastly superior method of prosecuting people for criminal activities. If you have CP and the police catch you, you will end up in front of a judge (and possibly in gaol). That's how you stop crime - by policing, not by throwing a curtain over it and pretending it doesn't exist. Possessing RC content is legal, so the police have little interest in chasing people for abiding within the law.

    "To enforce the classification (censorship) rules for other media, the Government passes laws, provides resources to police, and also imposes various physical or technological barriers, such as inspections of imports by Customs officers etc. It seems to me that the online filter is just a version of those same enforcement mechanisms used in other media."

    Once again, the proposal isn't targeting illegal material online (which is already a criminal offence, policed by the AFP). The filter is designed to stop inadvertent access to RC content (ie. it's meant to stop you stumbling over objectionable content - as decided in secret, by third parties, with no oversight or recourse. It is worth noting that virtually nobody has this experience of the internet, and the Government certainly hasn't presented any evidence that this isn't the case). There is no suggestion that the filtering proposed will stop the spread of, nor aid in the prosecution of those who spread, any illegal material whatsoever.

    "If we are protesting against the online filter, we need to be able to explain why we accept those “filters” for other media. Or else argue that the Government has no business in censoring anything."

    As I have stated, that isn't how it works offline, so your statement is essentially flawed. We don't accept 'filters' offline and we never have. Policing exists for illegal material, and if a person wants to access legal RC content they are able to do so within the limits of the law. This approach works well and is accepted by the public as a reasonable approach to the problem - and the fact that there are so rarely issues with it is evidence of that.

    I have already made my position on censorship clear, I don't support it. I support classification and the right of the individual to choose what they want to see. I don't see how the Government (or anyone else) making decisions about what other adults can consume is in the public interest.

    "Perhaps we could make a distinction if in fact the scope of the “RC” list for online purposes is different (more extensive) than for other media. Conroy says that is not. Is there anything you can point to which disproves this?"

    Well, officially we can't - the blocklist is secret. Unofficially, the list has been leaked at least twice as far as I know. Look it up on Wikileaks if you are interested. The Government was widely panned and derided at the time of the leaks for making the kind of false statements that Senator Conroy is making right now. The 'mostly' CP list turned out to be anything but. It contains the completely legal websites of a dentist and a school canteen amongst others - so it certainly is more extensive (although the words 'inaccurate' and 'indiscriminate' seem more apt descriptions).

    Additionally, a user on Whirlpool used the ACMA complaints process to have a perfectly legal (but politically contentious) site added to the blocklist. You won't find the complete information about that incident on Whirlpool because they were threatened by the Government (to the tune of 10K fine a day) under existing laws to remove that content. It may be available elsewhere, I don't know. It does make a mockery of the Government's claims that the list doesn't contain political material (and that they won't use the list to suppress political speech).

    These are but two examples of how the Government has been caught lying and behaving in an underhanded and dishonest way. If this is how they behave now, I see little reason to trust them with exactly the same kind of system China, Iran, etc. use to subjugate their populations and kill free speech. Even if this Government were beyond reproach, there is no way they can guarantee that subsequent governments (even consisting of their own party) would be.

    Instead of us arguing why Conroy (and the ALP) shouldn't be ruining the internet and killing free speech (and making Australia into an international laughing stock), perhaps Conroy could actually make a case for why this is needed - because that isn't something that he, nor any member of his party has done to this point. There isn't a shred of objective evidence that what the Government is proposing (or for that matter, national internet censorship at all) is required - what problem is this supposed to be fixing and why is it the best solution to that problem? That argument hasn't been made, and I find that deeply concerning. You should too.

    Comment by Stuart on 17 March 2010 at 10:09 pm
  26. There is a key aspect of this debate that puzzles me. Senator Conroy says that RC material cannot be published in any medium, including books, DVDs, radio, TV, etc. I haven't seen anyone argue that RC material should be available in these other media.

    Conroy then says that the Government's aim is to stop RC material being published online. Yet for some reason this generates enormous hostility and abuse.

    Why should online be treated any differently to any other medium? If we accept that the Government has the right to censor other media, then it has the right to censor online media. If we argue that RC material should not be censored online, then logically we must argue that RC material should not be censored in any other media.

    Whether or not the filter will be effective, or will slow down the medium, is not the point. Some RC material slips through the Government's filters in other media as well. That is, if people try hard enough, they can probably get hold of books or DVDs dealing with euthanasia, drugs, child pornography etc. Yet the existence of Customs officers, classification agencies, police raids etc no doubt slows down the publishing medium as well.

    I look forward to this debate being broadened to address whether the Government has the right to censor any material (by "refusing classification"), in any medium. To me it is completely unconvincing, and a total waste of time, to argue that online media should be treated differently.

    Comment by Flognoggle on 17 March 2010 at 11:51 pm
  27. @flognoggle: you are exactly right - Conroy does say that. And when he says it, he is being disingenuous.

    There is a difference between "illegal" and "RC". Nobody on either side of the debate is arguing that illegal material should be freely available, but illegal is not the same as RC. Illegal material should be reported to the police, not ACMA. ACMA will deal with the remaining material that, while not illegal, is "morally questionable" or otherwise secretly branded undesirable by an unaccountable government body. Additionally the scope of RC, and thus what is potentially blocked by the blackwall, can be changed without any change in the law.

    So to answer your question: it is perfectly possible to legally purchase and own RC material (as distinct from illegal material) in book, movie or other forms in most states and territories of Australia. Furthermore, the non-online material that is deemed RC is rated so transparently, not on a secret blacklist. If there is anyone wanting to treat online RC material differently, it is Conroy.

    The opposition is not directed towards the act of preventing access to illegal material. The opposition is directed at the particular poorly-thought-out method that the Government has chosen, without serious consultation or thought, to impose upon the Australian public. The blackwall will catch much more than just illegal content, and its scope can be widened almost at will, and in secret, by future governments.

    Furthermore the blackwall will cost an enormous amount of money and be almost entirely ineffective, as there are far more sites added to the internet every day than ACMA could ever hope to evaluate. At best, it will prevent access to a tiny percentage of sites that may or may not be illegal, and take large amounts of money away from other, effective programs.

    Finally, and perhaps most importantly, the blackwall will fail in its stated purpose of protecting children. Through reduced online supervision and increased use of anonymous proxies, the rate of children being exposed to *real* online dangers such as paedophiles will increase, and vastly outweigh the infinitesemal chance that a child will ever bump up against a blocked page. The money proposed to be wasted on the ineffective blackwall is far better off being used on effective measures like additional policing and education.

    Thank you for taking an interest in the issue; I hope that these comments and the excellent, well researched information on the EFA site have broadened your understanding.

    Comment by SkepDadBlog on 18 March 2010 at 12:46 am
  28. @Flognoggle

    Since you asked, I personally have zero problem with no censorship whatsoever for adults. If you are an adult, then you are both capable and responsible for your own choices of media consumption. That doesn't mean I'm ok with CP (because CP is criminalised under other laws anyway) or other clearly illegal content - but RC doesn't just cover criminal material, and the Senator's constant efforts to misrepresent that fact are utterly disingenuous.

    I fully support a comprehensive ratings system so that people (particularly parents) can make appropriate choices. I do not support third parties removing those choices. As it stands RC is an overly broad category and I think it is a terrible basis for censorship. The classification system badly needs an overhaul, and the fact that it has the problems it has merely serves to exacerbate the problems inherent in the current internet censorship proposal.

    If you wish to make an argument for why the Government of the day (as variable as that is) is better equipped and qualified to make choices about what media I consume than I am (and more importantly, why their parenting decisions should override my own), then I'm more than willing to hear it.

    I'd also love to hear your views on how suppressing political discussion of contentious subjects is in the interests of the Australian people. I personally believe that the best way of dealing with difficult topics (euthanasia, drugs, etc.) is frank and honest discussion - could you tell my why I'm wrong about that?

    I look forward to their actually being a debate - because at the moment all we are getting is the stubborn insistence of the Senator in the righteousness of his holy mission and the complete and utter disregard for both our concerns and us as people. Is it any wonder that the Senator is the target of hostility and abuse when he offers nothing but the like in kind? The very fact he (mis)uses parliamentary privilege to attack his critics tells me exactly what kind of a person he is, the degree of respect he has for the democratic principles of this country (of which much blood has been spilt and many lives sacrificed to protect), and exactly what esteem I should hold him in (the word 'cur' springs to mind).

    Comment by Stuart on 18 March 2010 at 12:57 am
  29. SkepDadBlog, Stuart - Thanks for your comments, much appreciated. Free speech issues are always difficult to resolve.

    SkepDadBlog - I'm a bit puzzled by your distinction between "RC" and "illegal" material. Surely once material has been "refused classification", it is then "illegal" to publish or distribute it?

    What if the internet filter was strictly limited to "illegal" material? Could we then argue that the filter is not acceptable, if we accept the Government's right to "filter" illegal material in other media?

    To enforce the classification (censorship) rules for other media, the Government passes laws, provides resources to police, and also imposes various physical or technological barriers, such as inspections of imports by Customs officers etc. It seems to me that the online filter is just a version of those same enforcement mechanisms used in other media.

    If we are protesting against the online filter, we need to be able to explain why we accept those "filters" for other media. Or else argue that the Government has no business in censoring anything.

    Perhaps we could make a distinction if in fact the scope of the "RC" list for online purposes is different (more extensive) than for other media. Conroy says that is not. Is there anything you can point to which disproves this?

    Thanks again guys.

    Comment by Flognoggle on 18 March 2010 at 3:11 am
  30. @flognoggle: Unfortunately your assumption about illegality as it applies to RC content is wrong. Once content has been determined RC by ACMA, it is illegal to publicly exhibit or sell it *in Australia*, but not illegal to purchase, view or own in Australia (in all but two states).

    One could, for example, legally order an RC book from an online bookseller based outside Australia, legally import it and legally own and read it in Australia.

    To your point about illegality: it is against the law to speed. There are laws that define the speed you are permitted to drive in certain areas. If you break those laws and are caught, there are penalties under the law. However, there is no mandatory device in every car that physically limits the speed of that car to the legally posted limit, though such a device is technically feasible with GPS etc. That is what the blackwall is in relation to illegal content. The population would be up in arms if such an initiative was launched in cars. Imagine the government propaganda: "Children killed by speed! Protect the children! If you oppose mandatory GPS speed limiters, you're in favour of hoons killing kids!" The wasted money spent on automatic enforcement of laws that the vast majority of people obey anyway would be far better spent on better roads, more police, and teenage driver training.

    To take the example further, if your neighbour decided that she though the 40km/h speed limit was too high in your street, she could complain to the authorities to have that device automatically, and unavoidably, limit speed to 20km/h in the street despite the legal limit being 40. You would have no recourse, and not even be aware of it until it affected you. This is the exact same thing as the "complaint-based" secret ACMA blacklist.

    Furthermore, the government could decide at a later date that, rather than go to the bother of changing traffic laws and signs, it would simply silently apply a mandatory 50% reduction to all speed limiters in the vicinity of government buildings to keep their staff free of noise pollution. Again, you would have no recourse and would not even know about it until you were affected. This is the danger with the blackwall - the scope of RC can (and, if history is any guide, will) be expanded.

    This is not a conspiracy theory, it is an allegory that represents the difference between enforcement of law and physical restraint based on the arbitrary and unaccountable judgement of unelected public servants, who are as subject as any other public servants to lobbying and bias.

    Comment by SkepDadBlog on 18 March 2010 at 3:52 am
  31. @flognoggle
    "Whether or not the filter will be effective, or will slow down the medium, is not the point. Some RC material slips through the Government’s filters in other media as well."

    I think this is an excellent point. Technological arguments aside, one thing that I have yet to see anyone mention is just how any body can hope to classify the entire internet. Classifying music, movies, television shows and video games is already pushing ACMA to it's limits. Estimates of the number of sites on the internet reach into billions or trillions (in 2008 Google indexed 1,000,000,000,000 unique URLs http://googleblog.blogspot.com/2008/07/we-knew-we... ) New sites are created at exponential rate. Who or what would be capable of classifying ALL this content?

    And that is just websites. As a reader on another site mentioned, what of Twitter and Facebook? These sites are used for communication, are our personal conversations to be monitored too? Moreover, much of the general computer work that used to be done on personal computers can now be done online. Google apps basically allow most MS Office functions to operate entirely online. Then there is online data backups. Would this mean the government can refuse classification of my own data backups? All new generation mobile phones and video games consoles now access and use the internet. With so much of our modern life now online, allowing mandatory filtering of this data is not only an impossible task, it's a huge invasion of privacy.

    Personally, I think the money wasted on this futile task would be much better served providing optional ISP level filtering for concerned people and perhaps a government run free ISP for underprivileged people. Provide access to vital services websites, telecoms, banks, real estate etc, and centrelink, medicar, government sites.

    Comment by Rob on 18 March 2010 at 5:22 am
  32. Conroy should have been an abortion.

    Comment by Bob on 18 March 2010 at 10:26 am
  33. As if Conroy cares about his constant misinformation. He sees being misleading as "playing politcs".

    His abuse of trust and misinformation is nothing short of criminal and a gross neglect of his public duties. The penalty should come with a life sentence or better...public hanging. nothing less. Alas, he is patted on the back by his other communist lackeys and Rudd is will be known as Australia's worst and most disgraced prime minster. We need a nation wide class action against these fascists.

    Conroy avoided his own state's surrogacy laws by going to another state to get what he needed. Obviously gods message of making him an unsuccessful breeder wasn't enough. Conroy's day will come... for nature recycles all life - and in his case, all sewage.

    -----------------------

    @ Tony

    "A copy of this notice should be forwarded to each and every Labor Party Caucus mamber. Conroy is abusing his parliamentary privilege and his fellow members should be made aware of his misinformation."

    Comment by Bob on 18 March 2010 at 10:41 am
  34. hope this is helpful...the punch...senate protects us from bad govmnt....senator gorman's reply to thomas vesely.were i not a novice i'net user i would have made a link.

    Comment by thomas vesely on 18 March 2010 at 8:32 pm
  35. @flognoggle

    “Perhaps we could make a distinction if in fact the scope of the “RC” list for online purposes is different (more extensive) than for other media. Conroy says that is not. Is there anything you can point to which disproves this?”

    It is different online, because online content, even where it is just text and/or images, is classified according to the guidelines for films, rather than the guidelines for publications.

    See

    http://libertus.net/censor/rdocs/ispblocking-rc-n...

    for further details, but just one example - All fetishes are RC online (including stuff like bondage and 'golden showers'), but offline the milder fetishes are allowed in Category 1 Restricted publications, and stronger fetishes (provided it isn't shown as non-consensual) are allowed in Category 2 restricted publications.

    Comment by tardis42 on 20 March 2010 at 2:02 pm
  36. one other thing - "Conroy says that is not" - conroy is very careful not to say that it is not, he never says "shop" only "bookstore" or "newsagency" - its legal to sell in an adult shop.

    Comment by tardis42 on 20 March 2010 at 2:05 pm
  37. Is there any call for possible legal action against the minister for defamation for his false claims?

    Comment by Peter on 21 March 2010 at 6:52 am
  38. The discussion here, and in the media more broadly, is focused on the mechanics of the filter. This does, as noted by some comments above, make it very difficult to understand why Labor is so committed to an obviously flawed, ineffective scheme.

    A political analysis can provide a better explanation. The government needs Senator Fielding's support to pass legislation through the Senate, and has done a deal with him over internet filtering in exchange for his support on other issues. While it's unclear what Fielding is willing to back in return, he could support any number of measures, so long as they're not massively opposed by his constituents.

    The government thus views the filter as a price worth paying in exchange for getting other legislation through (with, at worst, a negligible impact on their electoral success). Conroy is just the unlucky minister who has to sell the filter - despite personal misgivings - and not let on that it's just a bargaining chip. This explains why his defence of the bill has been so pathetic to date.

    If the bill passes, expect Senator Fielding to get behind the government on a number of subsequent bills and possibly to direct Family First preference flows to Labor in the upcoming election.

    Comment by Rigs on 27 March 2010 at 7:09 am
  39. @Rigs

    If that is the case, then it is a very short sighted strategy indeed. If you reward the negative behaviours of regressives then you only encourage them to be more regressive. When you are talking about undermining basic democratic principles to buy loyalty (transient loyalty, if you are lucky), then it is easy to see why such a deal is a huge mistake.

    As for Senator Conroy, if he has any misgivings about the policy or his conduct in pushing it, then I have failed to see them. If you look at his dealings with Telstra, the NBN, Google, etc. it seems to me that his pathetic defence of censorship is merely down to him being generally pathetic. Really, what has he achieved beyond scorn and animosity? (I don't count him getting jobs for the boys in NBNco as an achievement myself).

    Comment by Stuart on 27 March 2010 at 7:46 am
  40. @ Stuart

    The Rudd government needs Fielding's loyalty to last only as long as the numbers in the Senate remain as they are: that is, until the next election. Being unable to pass significant legislation before then means they will have fewer achievements on which to run during the campaign, and thus lead to a worse result. The alternative was a double dissolution, which Rudd decided not to pursue, leaving Fielding's as the only realistic option for progress on Labor's legislative agenda between now and whenever the election is called.

    It isn't in Conroy's interest to make his misgivings public. The only measure of his success on this issue is whether the bill passes, and Fielding is brought on board.

    More interesting is what will happen to the filter in, say, a year's time? Will the government pursue it to implementation, or renege on their promise to Fielding once he's reached his use-by date, citing the technical problems noted above and elsewhere?

    Comment by Rigs on 27 March 2010 at 8:07 am
  41. @Rigs

    Labor went to the last election, before Fielding was even elected, with an OPT IN Filter Policy.

    Conroy didn't even try to introduce that policy, so we don't know if it would have appeased Fielding. And, Labor have extracted no support to date from Fielding due solely to moving to a policy of forced censorship.

    Comment by Womp on 27 March 2010 at 8:41 am
  42. @Rigs

    Hence my reasoning that this is a short sighted move - the election isn't a guaranteed reset switch, and Fielding is probably far more secure than the ALP is (ie. they need to cultivate a long term relationship with him). You succeed in politics by offering little and getting as much as possible for that - censorship isn't a crumb to throw to Fielding, it's like giving double your final offer first thing without even bothering to negotiate. It's bad politics.

    You give credit where none is warranted, if you never see evidence of Conroy's misgivings then there is little reason to believe they exist at all. He's made no secret of the fact he is a hardcore Catholic, and he quite publicly met with the ACL and briefed them on the filtering whilst refusing to speak to any of his critics. That strikes me not so much misgiving as rampant cheer-leading for theocratic ideals. Give me a single example of him being anything other than a rabid supporter of this garbage. Then there's the little matter of the topic of this article - Conroy effectively slandering the EFA behind parliamentary privilege (how you can possibly think that is the act of a person with misgivings escapes me).

    In a year's time, I would love to see a hardened web. One where the skill and efforts of users have made censorship (effective or otherwise) largely irrelevant. I'd like to see SSL, VPN, proxies and encryption everywhere. I'd like to see the Government's control of the internet reduced to zero as a direct result of their stupidity and mismanagement of this situation (because the web is way better at policing itself than anyone else is). That would be a good outcome as far as I'm concerned - stupid politics and stupid politicians rendered irrelevant via technology.

    Comment by Stuart on 27 March 2010 at 8:48 am
  43. It occurs to me that Senator Conroy will surely be supplementing his "...disgraceful misinformation campaigns and have misled Australians" comment with a similar comment along the lines of "While one could possibly excuse Reporters Without Borders for being ignorant of the government's policy, the same cannot be said of the US Government who through Hilary Clinton and others, have run a campaign to deliberately mislead the Australian public,"....?

    Is the Christian Lobby Group the only group on Conroys side of this debate?

    Comment by Ace on 30 March 2010 at 2:36 am
  44. Actually, according to Conroy Hilary supports him, furthermore he quotes her speeches to prove it. I'm not aware of what Hilary thinks of this, I suspect it is not good.

    Of course once he has the filter in place he will be able to "correct" what Hilary and the White House "really" said.

    Comment by Womp on 30 March 2010 at 5:00 am
  45. In Conroy's defence, at least he is being consistent by attacking Google using out-of-context remarks by the Google CEO and by (basically) calling U.S. State Department spokesman Michael Tran a liar. It also shows how hell-bent he is on this ridiculous scheme, despite the fact he appears to be really struggling to find anyone other than the Christian Lobby Group and the Chinese to back him up on it. I'm not sure what his attack on Google's privacy credentials has to do with the price of fish. Does anyone know? Is he simply unable to focus on the issue at hand?

    Comment by Ace on 30 March 2010 at 10:35 pm
  46. Conroy is good at misleading people and revising history. Conroy has consistently supported the CEPU NSW Branch, a union he has close associations with. In 1996 many of the unions current officials were ordered to provide handwriting samples after hundreds of ballots were found to be fraudulent, filled in by the same person/s. The officials refused to provide handwriting samples on the basis it may incriminate them and they would face criminal charges and possibly jail. Conroy has misused the Senate and parliamentary privilege to defend the rorters. He has revised history to describe the court case as a Liberal attack on unions, he of courses omits plenty of details and maintains that the CEPU NSW Branch was a victim of Workchoices. No Senator Conroy, the CEPU NSW Branch, your good mates, was the union that brought us much of Workchoices. It was the action of your mates that created much of the legislation that remains to this day. The fact that Conroy would use the Senate to defend such creatures is a good indication of who and what he is. Conroy will use whatever means he has to to get what he wants, and I have no doubt it is about controlling what people can see and read. Such a person cannot be trusted with the truth, he has a very poor relationship with the truth and he should not be anywhere near politics. His true calling is as the union headkicker that he really is. A 'man' who will defend the indefensible in order to keep his rorted numbers intact. Vote below the line in the Senate and get him out once and for all.

    Comment by Ali on 8 April 2010 at 7:11 pm