It's an old chestnut, being bewildered at the "opposition to the governments plan to protect kids", and this time it was put forward by Dr Joe Tucci from The Australian Childhood Foundation .  When supporters of government proposals to censor the Internet run this line, they tacitly imply that those who disagree with them are supporting the abuse of children - or at the very least holding other matters in higher regard to the detriment of children.

To me this is very distressing, in my work with EFA I've had this one levelled at me by Brg. Jim Wallace (ret.), and now Dr Tucci on Sunrise this morning and in reality nothing could be further from the truth.  I understand how passionate Jim and Joe are about their causes, but they are wrong in how they approach them, and it's difficult to find any class in their painting of people who disagree with them as supporters of child abuse.

EFA's position on this matter is clear.

Mandatory Internet censorship, and for that matter voluntary censorship, will not protect children in any impactful sense. While voluntary censorship fixes some of the problems of the mandatory model, the overwhelming preponderance of content which it is illegal to possess is still not published on the open web but rather inside of secret networks of criminal associates.  While there is no benefit to censorship for children, a national censorship system represents a power over free speech that no western democracy has ever had - sure some have come close, with Germany even getting so far as to pass a law allowing it before deciding against it anyway, and the UK has attempted for seven years to make voluntary censorship work and has only really succeeded in breaking Wikipedia.  The "refused classification" category, unique to Australia,  is a mixed bag of illegal-to-possess material that police should be appropriately resourced to deal with (as in all crime), and perfectly legal material that an open government has no business stopping adults from accessing.

So what should we do?

We have options.  Rather than spend more than $40m on an Internet censorship system that won't work, we could take up the US Ambassador to Australia's offer for assistance in combating child abuse as I mentioned on Sunrise; offered by a country that can't censor the Internet because of constitutional rights.  This is an important thing to consider for two reasons, the first being that our long-history of alliance with the United States could benefit enormously from their expertise, and secondly it gives us a reason to stop and consider what  doing something that is impossible in a country with a legal right to free speech means.

We could take the approach of German anti-censorship campaigner Alvar Freude and contact hosting providers to advise them what their resources are being used for (Freude knocked 60 child abuse websites off the Internet in one day in this way), or we could apply a host of other crime prevention methods that police already use to track and deal with people who delight in the abuse of children.

What we shouldn't do, is implement a system that is illegal or abandoned in other countries, which won't protect children, will waste tens of millions of dollars and represent an unheard of intrusion into the lives of law abiding families.

While we do that, I'd appreciate no further inferences that I don't understand or care about the abuse of children.  Those inferences make me stare at the photos my sister sends me of my 6 month old niece, and question why we can't advocate online rights without becoming the subject of baseless attacks.

23 comments

  1. If only the same resources were spent on preventing child abuse where most of it occurs - in the home. It's more than a shock when it is discovered, and most people would not know what the signs are to stop it or prevent it. It's not true that parents 'know' - they most often don't know. Often it only comes to light (of caring adults) years later. Such a tragedy, such awful destruction.

    Censorship is a useless 'way out'. Just another 'let's do this to pretend we are doing something'. Worse than useless because it gives people ignorant of the internet a false sense of security. The whole population suffers repression through censorship and the government opens the door to censoring anything it wants to.

    Comment by Zhenno on 13 July 2010 at 19:18
  2. I keep saying it - censorship is like putting a bandaid on a wound that needs stitches. It's only making it worse.
    Besides, the government have already shown that they would abuse the power that comes with censorship.
    The money being spent would be so much better spent on the AFP's part in the international child porn taskforce.
    The filter has a *lot* of other long-term repurcussions that nobody is going to like - loss of foreign investment, loss of reputation in the eyes of prospective migrants and other world leaders, and massive loss of money as it's poured down the throat of a scheme that simply won't work. And that's just the start of it.

    tl;dr this is the worst idea since chocolate hammers, and we are better off sticking to policing and taking child abusers out of the community and into prison.

    Comment by dartigen on 13 July 2010 at 19:37
  3. 'bewlidered' -> 'bewildered'

    Comment by Tori Spelling on 13 July 2010 at 20:25
  4. I completely agree with the sentiment but "impactful" is not a word.

    Comment by Brett Dalton on 13 July 2010 at 21:38
  5. @dartigen:

    While I have to disagree on the subject of imprisonment (I'm more of a re-integration guy than locking people up who obviously have severe issues that need attention), I agree wholeheartedly on your assessment of the filter.

    Nothing more I can really say about it that you (amongst numerous others) haven't already put more succinctly than I could.

    Comment by THH on 13 July 2010 at 22:20
  6. When your argument is lacking actual evidence, or even the weight of logic (and if you are fundamentally dishonest) then the best way to garner support is via an appeal to emotion. Part of that is demonising your opponents - they cannot attack your argument effectively, so they must attack you.

    Dr Tucci isn't bewildered, he's making a conscious choice to misrepresent his opponent's arguments, and personally slur them. Credit where credit is due.

    Comment by Stuart on 13 July 2010 at 22:23
  7. I would rather we didn't take advice from the USA on child abuse.
    They hand out sentences of 50 years for 100 pictures to a 22 year old socially awkward person.
    While they may have extra information on how to track down people that make it, nearly all western democracies focus on punishment. Fact, your niece pictures would land you in hot water in the UK. My friend in the UK is currently awaiting his trial for similar pictures of his sister.

    Do we really want to get to the point where even a picture of a child is considered porn and worthy of jail?....
    While this may not seem like it comes into the filtering discussion, people drag it in and this is definitely a topic that has been long overlooked by intelligent people...

    Comment by TW on 14 July 2010 at 01:08
  8. How many online banking phishing sites are taken down by the banks every day around the world?

    Obviously there's no motivation to really do anything about CP on the public net (if it even exists, which I doubt) because it's pretty simple to take illegal sites offline when properly (read 'monetarily') motivated.

    The vast majority of hosting providers will remove content on their network which is clearly illegal, and there is the justice system for those that don't.

    Comment by scott on 14 July 2010 at 02:49
  9. Watching Sunrise this morning it seemed that both Kosh and Tucci were against you considering both their stances seemed pro-filter. Kosh kept cutting you off and it was a seriously small segment for such a huge issue. It's like neither of the two even listened to what you had to say. It's a very frustrating thing watching such a mediocre solution be promoted over and over again.

    Comment by Jarryd on 14 July 2010 at 02:58
  10. I too watched Sunrise this morning, and it was very one-sided. I felt Kochie wasn't even participating in the discussion for any other reason other than to boost his ratings with the typical Sunrise viewers (paranoid, un-tech-savvy, mollycoddling soccer mums). Fess up Kochie, you've covered the filter enough times on Sunrise now to know exactly what's going on, so stop wasting everybody's time just so you can look like the hero of the day.
    /rant

    Comment by Leigh on 14 July 2010 at 05:25
    • The host is meant to facilitate the disussion Leigh, not participate in it :)

      I don't know if it's fair to accuse Sunrise of pandering, I think the fact that we're invited to discuss issues like this on there means that they're not doing so. I think if you spent a few minutes in the Seven studios you'd be surprised if they remembered a thing after they got out of work each day, it's incredibly hectic in there and they cover a million topics before you're done with your weetbix.

      Comment by Geordie Guy on 13 July 2010 at 20:24
  11. gordie

    a few things id like to raise:
    i) - the $40 million you refer to. Isn't that Govt expenditure avoided when ISPs voluntarily introduce CP filtering? or are you saying that ISPs should give that money to police?

    ii) on the UK filtering - they made a mistake and blocked the posting facility to wikipedia facility for 24 hrs - but maybe they've also blocked thousands of cp urls over seven years too? is that a reason to writing off the UK system? my internode adsl2 connection went down for 48 hrs not long ago because of their mistake and power went down on their data center for hours last year too but I think they're still a good isp that trys hard.

    iii) hasn't the US consistently be shown to be the country that hosts the majority of CP - what can they show us? Haven't US ISPs all chosen to get rid of usenet because it contains CP - does EFA approve?

    iv) with the notifying hosts approach - isn't this what the police are meant to do? once police are cut out , they have no opportunity to collect evidence dont they?

    v) i thought voluntry isp filtering is in lots of countries not abandoned and not illegal. does efa support this approach or not? will it discuss this with the australian internet assciaton who now calls for this?

    Comment by Leon on 14 July 2010 at 05:48
    • Leon (presumably),

      i) The vast majority of expenditure is not on the implementation of the filtering itself, it's on the cost of a list of material based on a criteria that no other country uses ("refused classification") with expenditure on staff to receive complaints from the public who were grossed out by something, run complaints through the classification board and face appeals, maintain the list itself including keeping it secure (unlike the two lists that have already leaked) etc. Only a portion of the money will go to censorware vendors who support the proposal for predominantly financial reasons.

      ii) Knocking the 7th most popular website off the Internet for most of the United Kingdom in return is blocking access to 1,546 out of about 2,000,000,000,000 sites on the Internet in 2008, down from 2,755 in 2007, down 10% from the previous year, is unacceptable. The child abuse websites last no more than about 50 days before they are tackled, were never particularly common and were and are rapidly decreasing in number, meanwhile there's child abuse material traded in other ways. It was too high a price to pay to fix a problem that was being fixed in other ways, while allowing another one to potentially go unchecked.

      iii) We don't know what the US can show us until we actually allow them to. Whether or not they host the majority of child abuse material I don't know, and don't know how you could. Given the severe penalties in that country for the hosting of child abuse material, it seem thin to think so, my understanding is that Russia is more likely and common. If US ISPs got rid of usenet (I've not heard of this but I'll find out), it'd likely because of bandwidth burden or the risk of copyright lawsuits, not because it's a popular child abuse material distribution channel. I know that some offer a subset of the available groups - certainly my ISP offers them, you can chat to me on comp.lang.python, rec.food.cooking or rec.running! You may need to lose the anonymous proxy though, particularly given the IP of it is shared by someone who spends most of their time here (and elsewhere) causing trouble and impersonating people.

      iv) It is indeed what the police are meant to do. So why would we preference blocking access to the material instead of the police working to remove it? Every dollar that goes to Netclean Whitebox is a dollar taken off the police.

      v) We intend to talk to a bunch of stakeholders about voluntary filtering, but at the moment it's certainly most important to note that voluntary filtering only solves some of the problems that mandatory filtering poses, and none of the problems that are actually harming children. We'll continue talking to the IIA as usual, as well as everyone else. There's still conflicting information in the media at the moment.

      Comment by Geordie Guy on 13 July 2010 at 20:21
  12. thx Georgie

    some follow ups

    i) i was referring to the cost of voluntary cp filtering - which is the only thing going ahead atm. In the UK, the ISP indsutry fund implementation (equipment etc) + the complaints hotline. Do you think they should stop all this and give that money to police?

    ii) 50 days seems like a long time to me. the uk indsutry has reported thousands of blocked hits on iwf listed sites everyday vs 1 day of blocked posting on wikipedia. does efa suggest the uk ISP industry stop all cp filteirng

    iii) efa taught me to use a proxy - thankyou! - cos you never know the intentions of people that look for your ip address when you visit websites - weird stalkers and psychos and stuff

    iv) so your saying that all the money ISPs spend on voluntary filtering cp should be given to the police yes? why don't you suggest that to them? i understand that iwf, amca all tell the police of cp sites when they find them anyway.

    v)what are the probs that voluntary filtering of cp causes (aside from wikipedia mistake;)? Will you argue with coroneous from IIA who now says

    "We should bring about an industry standard that is consistent with best practice in Europe, where ISPs have been voluntarily filtering child pornography.

    It's the right time. It's very hard for the industry to argue that we shouldn't take action on child pornography, particularly when it's happening in developed countries like New Zealand, Sweden, Denmark, Finland, the UK, Italy, and Germany."

    Comment by Leon on 14 July 2010 at 06:41
  13. Leon

    I agree action needs to be taken, but why is all the emphasis being placed on ISPs? I'd rather see millions of dollars spent on catching the people who make this stuff than on a *futile* effort to cover up the problem?

    It's hard to argue that the industry should take action when what they're being asked to do is demonstrably ineffective. Best practice is catching the crooks, not building censorship mechanisms for governments to abuse.

    Comment by Simon on 14 July 2010 at 09:42
  14. Leon,

    You may wish to read the following link about those IWF statistics. The basic response is that the statistics are misleading at best. The link also covers a number of other misleading or wrong statistics about CP in various reports.

    http://libertus.net/censor/resources/statistics-laundering.html

    In regards to your comments about Peter Coroneous, just because some countries have this policy doesn't mean it a) best practice and b) works.

    In fact, the UK industry introduced voluntary filtering not because they felt that it was going to help with the issue of CP on the internet but rather to avoid law suits being served against them.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Internet_Watch_Foundation

    Also, the lists in a number of those countries mentioned have leaked previously and been shown to contain minimal CP and child abuse related material. In fact, the Finland list was shown to include sites which were against the filtering policy. I have no reason to believe that this won't happen in Australia.

    Comment by DC on 14 July 2010 at 11:34
  15. What peeved me the most was how Kosh INSISTED, DIRECTLY against your words (and then cutting you off when you try to explain it) that it is a broadcast medium... it was very much a "it IS a broadcast medium, I know better than you" what an ignorant...ok I won't say the rest because we all already know how much of a moron that man is anyway you only need to watch sunrise once or twice to see that, how he keeps air time is the real mystery. You weren't even given the chance to defend your stance after your opposition said he couldn't understand your stance... the media push this bias'd crap at us and yet wonder why we think censorship is bad... the irony.

    Comment by Stack on 19 July 2010 at 00:30
  16. perhaps to return the compliment we link censorship to,unaustralian,undemocratic,vatican led paedophile support,china,north korea,iran,BER,insulation,non transparency,some other examples appear on my blog.

    Comment by thomas vesely on 19 July 2010 at 04:33
  17. perhaps its also the time to be visible,a protest march ?? efa ?

    Comment by thomas vesely on 19 July 2010 at 04:38
  18. @thomas

    You mean like the 40,000 people that marched against Work Choices and really didn't have any effect?

    Protest marches are a relic of a bygone era where a showing of people concerned about an issue had electoral impact. This stopped being useful at the end of the Vietnam War.

    Comment by Geordie on 19 July 2010 at 05:38
  19. @ Geordie you may be right,but i feel we bloggers/commentators/opponents may just be talking among ourselves.

    Comment by thomas vesely on 19 July 2010 at 06:31
  20. @thomas

    There is a bit of that, but have a look at our OpenInternet campaign site for actions you can take, and watch this space for EFA's next steps.

    Comment by Geordie on 19 July 2010 at 17:16
  21. @geordie
    what if a number of people,with placards,showed up at the gillard photo ops?? constantly!!

    Comment by thomas vesely on 20 July 2010 at 22:13