This guest post is written by Gwen Hinze, from the Electronic Frontier Foundation, for our series of blog posts on the importance of online civil liberties as part of EFA’s 2010 Fundraising Campaign

The Internet enables access to knowledge and new opportunities for freedom of expression for all the world's citizens. Digital communications technologies can empower citizens to live rich and rewarding lives, participate in civic life, take part in important decisions that affect them, and share with one another across borders. We have seen individuals use new communications technologies to democratize the creation of culture, up-end traditions, and create innovative new business models.

Citizens empowered with digital technology have changed the course of history, as evidenced, for example, by the worldwide scrutiny Iranian dissidents were able to bring to their country's election in 2009.

But empowered individuals can be disruptive to those who have traditionally been in control. More and more, Internet users find themselves in conflict with vested interests in the entertainment industry and governments trying to control their citizens' freedom of expression. For instance, the Iranian government was able to employ its considerable resources to censor and surveil its citizens' communications on the Internet.

While the Internet is global, it is rooted in a physical infrastructure that makes it vulnerable to national policies, laws, and technical measures.

In many countries across the globe, debates are currently raging over a suite of Internet policies, including government-mandated online censorship, whether ISPs should be required to police the speech of their users, and whether users should face disconnection from the Internet -- a type of digital exile -- on the basis of entertainment industry concerns. The results of these debates are important to all of us, because, unfortunately, short-sighted proposals adopted in one country often pop up again in other places. For example, the French HADOPI law that requires automatic Internet disconnection after a person has been accused of sharing copyrighted material three times is now being considered in the UK, New Zealand and in the global Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement.

As you read this, many individuals and governments are watching to see whether Australia will be the first western democracy to adopt network-level Internet filtering that follows the approach taken by the Great Firewall of China.

Defending the free and open Internet and the rights and freedoms of technology users is an international task. It requires coordination and collaboration by a global network of organizations with a passionate commitment to citizens' civil liberties, and the technical and legal expertise to know how to fight and win these battles.

Electronic Frontiers Australia has always played a crucial role in fighting against Australian government Internet censorship threats and has been a key player in the global fight for digital rights. EFA played a key part in defeating Senator Alston's previous Internet censorship proposal.

EFA now needs your support to continue the fight to protect the free and open Internet and your right to use digital technology as you choose.

Gwen Hinze is International Director of the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF), a digital civil liberties organization based in the United States. Although not formally affiliated, EFF and EFA work together on many global initiatives in the fight to protect the free and open Internet and to defend the rights and freedoms of individuals in the online world.

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  1. I don't get it Gwen. In your country (presumably the US) - almost all ISPs voluntarily block a list of child sexual abuse URLs maintained by the NCMEC. Just like in the UK where 99% of broadband connections are filtered to block a list of known child sexual abuse URLs (again voluntarily) and this has been going on for over 5 years.

    Are you arguing for the dismantling of these schemes? What work have EFF done to tear down this horrible impingement on civil liberties?

    Now that i think of it, if ISPs in Australia voluntarily agreed to block access to a known list of child sexual abuse URLs we probably wouldn't be having this argument.

    Now that I think of it - I'm wondering how much this debate is about civil liberties and how much is about the commercial interest of AU's ISP industry? Now that I think of it - what proportion of EFA's funding comes from the AU ISP industry?

    And lastly, if EFA didn't make a complete meal of the AAT hearing it called for in 2002 with the ABA - we wouldn't even have a secret blacklist - well done guys (I mean the ISP industry)!

    Comment by Billie Jean on 31 March 2010 at 05:50
  2. Who are you Billie Jean?

    Comment by Roby on 31 March 2010 at 07:48
  3. Why I'm the truth of course. And who are you sweet Roby?

    Comment by Billie Jean on 31 March 2010 at 08:22
  4. The real problem is not a filter per se. Think for a minute before wandering off into unrelated issues.

    1. It's the lack of oversight, the government-centric view of "we know what's right and wrong". It's the secrecy of the list. No public consultation over what can and can't be allowed.

    2. The broad nature of the list. The internet is built on people being allowed to connect and at least *discuss* things. That is what made it such a revolution in the first place. This venture seeks to curtail discussion about, for example, euthenasia and safe drug use. That should not be allowed. Since when are we not allowed, in a democratic country, to talk to each other about controversial issues? There is your slippery slope right there.

    3. The filter is posited as being "good for the kids". That's just irresponsible hype and outright misleading. Check this story:
    The filter won't touch that sort of thing. It will just block web pages with "offensive" (see previous point) material.

    4. The politics. This should be an issue given to the people to decide, simply because it's too serious and there is too much politics around it. Everyone wants to please the conservative Christian lobby because there's campaign money in it. Hey just call me cynical. But this is too important an issue to be a political plaything.

    5. Lastly, because of all the previous points, it needs to be done *right*, if done at all, otherwise there will be hell to pay in the future. Future governments should not have the power to censor at will. This filter makes it easy, and the process of complaint and redress is in its infancy.

    To me, those are the real issues.

    Comment by Panda on 1 April 2010 at 04:20
  5. There's some truth in what Billy says though - you've got to wonder - if ISPs voluntarily filtered child pron, just like they do in britain, us, canada, finland, sweden, france etc we probably wouldn't have this policy today + there'd be much greater control on the scope of material filtered.

    I think ISPs and their single minded commercial greediness are somehwta to blame for the position we find ourselves in.

    Interesting too about the AAT decision - I didn't realise EFA's failed action basically led to the secrecy.

    Comment by Neil McGrubb on 1 April 2010 at 05:21
  6. @Panda
    "This should be an issue given to the people to decide"
    "Lastly, because of all the previous points, it needs to be done *right*"

    It was done right, the people were free to decide, with the free home filters supplied by the Howard Government. However, Conroy didn't like the people's decision not to use filters, and so has now decided to take away our right to decide.

    Panda, if you think it can be "done right" then I assume you already have the free Howard home filters installed on your computer?

    And, have you contacted your ISP to ask what filtering they already offer, and asked them to turn it on if available?

    Comment by Womp on 1 April 2010 at 05:27
  7. Regardless of why we are where we're at, we have to find the right path from the *here and now*.

    The money could be better spent on (gasp) education, then the real tragedies like that one could be avoided! In South Korea, the most "wired" nation in the world, they teach kids about internet safety *in primary school*.

    Why aren't we thinking about that? A laptop & internet for every school child, yeah great. No funding for awareness & safety education to go with it? Shameful. Our politicians seem to always go off half-cocked with their "initiatives", going only so far as needed to impress voters. We should demand more than that.

    You can filter the world for kids, but one day they have to go out there and deal with it. Therefore so do we.

    I really wish educators & researchers were in charge, not egotistic personalities vying for attention, whose sole purpose is to discredit the other side while courting campaign funding and going on Iron Man expeditions to grab headlines.

    Perhaps it's time to start asking what sort of government we really want?

    Comment by Panda on 1 April 2010 at 05:39
  8. @womp - well no, because I don't want any sort of filter besides my own brain. This isn't about my choices or yours, it's about *having* a choice. Yes, it should at least be optional. However any such move is worthless without educating parents that it's not a "fix" for internet safety. Even implying it is irresponsible in the extreme.

    In reality, all any filter will do (with a million plus pages added to the web every day) is catch an incredibly minute chance of you finding C.P. or the "really bad" stuff. I've worked in IT for 20 years, on the web every day, like many people. I've *never* seen C.P. - not accidentally. If you look for it, however, I daresay you will find it. But not put there by the *actual* paedophiles! It would have gone through several hands, and blocking it is fine, but lets not fool the public into thinking that somehow stops it or in any way protects children in real life terms.

    Oh, and do a google of "pee pee" or "willy" as kid might do. Do you think any web filter will make that safe for kids to do? The idea it would is so ill-informed it's shameful. But teenagers, well brought up, know what's a laugh and what's not. Perhaps the issue here is parenting - *dare* I say it - not technology.

    Teenagers have survived so far with an unfiltered web, they're not growing up deranged. Hell, they use their phones to send nude pics to each other - are we saying that's not normal? Are we saying that's somehow dangerous? It's just the life of young people - we've all been there.

    But stirring paranoia, however, is a great way to win votes. Again, call me cynical. We're being told to worry about the *wrong things*. Yet again. History repeats.

    Comment by Panda on 1 April 2010 at 05:54
  9. lol.. let me rephrase that, after re-reading.. I've never seen C.P. *at all* - ie. it doesn't happen accidentally. Never even seen terrorist training pages. Again, if you look hard you can find it. Anyone actively looking for c.p. has something wrong with them already. It's not like a disease you can catch by stumbling on it, nor is terrorism.

    Comment by Panda on 1 April 2010 at 05:58
  10. @McGrubb

    My Internet is fine, I don't have child pornography, therefore I have no desire for my ISP to filter, voluntarily or otherwise. Conroy is the problem not ISPs.

    The leaked blacklists contained less than 30% child abuse type material, and later revelations showed that Australia's censors think small breasted women constitute child abuse material. I don't want my ISP to voluntarily filter my Internet to such silly standards.

    McGrubb, if you think voluntary filtering is so great then I assume you already have the free Howard home filters installed on your computer?

    And, have you contacted your ISP to ask what filtering they already offer, and asked them to turn it on if available?

    Comment by Womp on 1 April 2010 at 06:49
  11. I actually think the filtering of child pornography only, voluntarily, out of their own pockets is a socially responsible and civil thing for ISPs to do. In the UK - the Govt doesn't pay one penny for the 99% of broadband connections that are blocked from accessing a known list of child pron (that is also compiled and maintained by industry). This has been going on for 5 years. One UK ISP BT blocks 40,000 access attempts to URLs on the list every day. When Exetel tested the same list here in AU, they blocked 16000 access attempts over 5 days - to known cp material. I'm happy to support this by paying $10 extra a year to my ISP. It seems a socially responsible civil thing to do. I can't see why anyone wouldn't support it.

    Glad you asked about contacting my ISP (Internode) - I have and they offered me nothing which is curious because under the current self-regulatory scheme set out under the Internet INdustry's Code of Practice, INternode is meant to offer me as a customer, an 'approved' filter at cost/wholesale price. Not only that but they're meant to advertise this service to me regularly. Internode do neither - thereby breaching the industry's code. Ironic that they are also the loudest whingers on this filter issue - despite not even complying with their own industry developed practices. what a bunch of money hungry crooks.

    Comment by Neil McGrubb on 1 April 2010 at 07:27
  12. @McGrubb - If, by "code of practice", you're talking about the "IIA Family Friendly ISP Seal", that is a visible thing which shows which ISPs are compliant with the codes. Not all of them will be. Does Internode display the seal? If not, then they're not advertising that they are required to offer you anything along those lines. That's my understanding of it.

    Comment by Panda on 1 April 2010 at 08:15
  13. It's also difficult to label a company as "money hungry crooks", as *all* companies are "money-hungry" and will naturally be reluctant to implement voluntary schemes that result in lower profits. That's just capitalism, which is why industry regulation is necessary. If they're not required to do it, why blame them?

    In a system where companies are required *by law* to do what's best for shareholders, what else can we expect? It's the government's role to make sure things run smoothly and fairly for all concerned; for business, consumers and the disadvantaged alike.

    Sadly, as it seems time and again, government is too caught up the popularity contest and being money-hungry themselves (though political donations - something which shouldn't happen at all - that's not democracy) to give much thought to balanced, rational goals when an election is in the offing.

    Comment by Panda on 1 April 2010 at 08:35
  14. @McGrubb

    If you think filters are so f'ing fabulous, and can't wait to pay for one, why in the name of Haile Selassie didn't you choose an ISP that provides them?

    You never answered as to what filters you have yourself installed?

    You claim not to care about expense, pay someone to have one installed, have you done that?

    The probable reason why your ISP doesn't adhere to the Howard Government mandate that ISPs should provide free filters is because we have your mate Conroy in charge now.

    The only crook here is you McGrubb, wanting Australians to pay for a service they don't need or want. I said I don't have child porn, that is right now without a filter, and with $10 still in my pocket.

    You ACL types are persistent, but your logic is still as dodgey as ever, and you can't explain why you aren't yourself using filters.

    In short, go filter yourself McGrubb.

    Comment by Womp on 1 April 2010 at 08:42
  15. @Womp - If you don't mind me saying, angry personal attacks do nothing to prove your point or advance the cause of the people who agree with your position on a subject. It just alienates all concerned.

    Please don't do what we pay our politicians to do every day. It's bad enough listening to them waste our money calling each other names like our parliament is a high school locker room.

    Win your argument by clarity, knowledge and insight. Unless you're running for office, it's the only reasonable approach.

    Comment by Panda on 1 April 2010 at 08:57
  16. @panda

    Yes, I am angry. Have been for sometime about this issue.

    Don't like the ACL, or their excuses for reasoned argument.

    Don't see where you complained about where people who support free speech were called socially irresponsible. Your counter to the name calling of crooks seems to be that there are lots of crooks.

    I've had enough of this ACL troll.

    Panda, if you think you think you can have a reasoned argument with a person who supports filters, but refuses to both use one himself or explain why he won't, good luck to you.

    I've had enough, I'm going to bed. Panda, the troll is all yours.

    Comment by Womp on 1 April 2010 at 09:27
  17. Before you get yourself in a lather Womp you should actually determine the facts rather than just believing everything you read on Whirlpool or EFA. SOmetimes its best to source the truth rather than believe everything an organisation funded by ISPs or that a network engineer that works for a major ISP says.

    The ISP Code of practice states:

    ....where an ISP provides Internet access to End Users within Australia, the ISP must make available to those End Users one or more IIA Family Friendly Filters.

    ...Where an ISP seeks to charge for the provision of a IIA Family Friendly Filter , the charge to the End User must not exceed the total cost incurred by the ISP in obtaining, supplying and supporting that IIA Family Friendly Filter.

    The Code applies to all Australian ISPs. It's not voluntary. This was the Australian ISP indsutry response to filtering 10 years ago. Under the current scheme they make money from censorship by charging $20000 per year to 'test' and 'approve' 'family friendly filter products' which then should be made available by AU ISPs to their customers. Problem is i) hardly any ISPs compy with their own self-regulation and ii) they take this money and approve dodgy filters like the one the blacklist was easily extracted from.

    You seem a little selfish about the blocking of child porn. I don't want it nor do I have it on my computer either but results in the UK and Exetel's testing in Australia indicate that their are thousands of people who do. I think its ongoing ready availability on the web serves to create further demand and supply for it as well as normalising that kind of material/behaviour in society not to mention that each viewing is an instance of further abuse. That attitude has nothing to do with my religion (I don't really have one) - it's to do with what I believe is the right way to behave socially.

    So calm down and stop thinking about your wallet.

    BTW - After internode couldn't help me out like they should have, I bought and installed my own filter for my kids.

    Comment by Neil McGrubb on 1 April 2010 at 16:47
  18. The filtering issue is explained on this IIA page:

    However I just noticed this part:

    "Australian Internet users should be aware that placing certain content on the Internet may give rise to criminal or civil liability under applicable State, Territory or Commonwealth law." [such as:]
    - excessively violent material (love the wording - does it cover Tom and Jerry?)
    - real depictions of actual sexual activity (ridiculous - like we can't buy magazines at Club X?)
    - material containing implied or simulated sexual activity (I think Womp is in trouble now for saying "go filter yourself")
    - material which deals with issues or contains depictions which require an adult perspective (what?!)

    I don't get it... these items are all listed as exceptions under "What Material Can I Post on the Internet".

    I'd love someone to explain what this means, before we all get reported for having an adult discussion online.

    Comment by Panda on 1 April 2010 at 21:40
  19. Hi Panda,
    be careful with an adult discussion on the internet:). I got rid of all that censoring stuff two months ago, when I started using a vpn Service. gives me a quite fast and anonymous access to all the pages they want to block.

    Comment by Michael on 4 April 2010 at 09:31
  20. @McGrubb

    [1] YOU, McGrubb, are the one who wanted to make this about money, with your idiotic claims that ISPs were crooks because they wouldn't use their profits to do as you and the other God botherers have ordered. Frankly, it is the stupidest argument I have seen from your camp since the "Jesus told me to" argument. Your plan seems to be that you have noted that people are dissatisfied with their ISPs and that you think you can piggyback your shitty censorship plans on to that dissatisfaction, because you believe we are so stupid that we won't notice that what you want, as well as inconveniencing the ISPs, will add to our costs and reduce the quality of service we receive. Sorry, but we simply aren't that stupid.

    [2] I can't be bothered trying to argue about the industry code of practice, or if it is compulsory, or the piss poor convoluted legislation behind it, because even if you are 100% correct I still support my ISP in NOT forcing me to pay for a service I neither need nor want and which will reduce the quality of service I receive. Plus, YOU are still free to change to an ISP that filters, and you claim to have your own home filter (great endorsement for the efficacy of filters there by the way, they work so poorly that you need 2).

    [3] I think the filter money would be better spent by giving it to the Police, so that they can use it to capture paedophiles and remove them from the community. You, McGrubb, want to waste money on an unworkable censorship scheme that uses the logic of a toddler playing peek a boo in that if you can't see something then it doesn't exist. The selfish person here is YOU, McGrubb, demanding that money be wasted on supplying you with an online delusional fantasy land at the expense of prosecuting real paedophiles. You claim you already have a filter at home, so you have little claim to needing another, what reason do you have for not wanting the Police to have more money to use against paedophiles? You're not just selfish, McGrubb, but also your motives are suspicious.

    Comment by Womp on 6 April 2010 at 06:06
  21. You shouldn't get yourself in a lather Womp and best to stop thinking about your wallet.

    How about I restate my points using a numbered format - you seem to find that easier to digest.

    1) ISPs currently make money out of Internet censorship by charging $20,000 per year to test and approve software filters under a self regulatory scheme. They then take this money but don't comply with the scheme by advertising and offering those filters to their customers at cost price.

    2) While funding law enforcement to fight crime is a useful tactic, it's ignorant to think that by funding more and more police - crime will disappear. Child sexual abuse requires a multi faceted approach, an approach that involves the assistance of parties that are in a reasonable position to take steps to limit distribution of such material.

    3) In the UK, 99% of broadband connections are filtered to block access to a list of known child sexual abuse URLs. This has been going on for over 5 years - completely funded by the ISP industry. One ISP - BT - blocks 40,000 access attempts to URLs on the list everyday. The same occurs in Norway, Sweden, Canada, the USA, Finland and France. When Australian ISP Exetel trialled ISP filtering against a list of known child sexual abuse URLs, it blocked 16,000 access attempts in 5 days. There's clearly massive demand for this material. Why shouldn't ISPs take reasonable and proven steps to limit its distribution? What's so special about Australian ISPs?

    Comment by Neil McGrubb on 7 April 2010 at 04:55