An Open Letter to
25 June 1999
Mr Alan Jones
President and CEO
Clairview Internet Pty Ltd
Level 6, 255 Adelaide Street
BRISBANE Q 4001
Dear Mr Jones
We refer to your letter dated 8 June 1999 regarding EFA's review of the Clairview Internet Sheriff Technology. We believe your criticisms of EFA's review are unfounded and may have resulted from misunderstandings and insufficient knowledge on your part. Our response to the matters raised by you is contained herein. Quotations from your letter are shown in italics.
[CI] It has come to my attention, during the current 'passionate' debate surrounding the proposed legislation, your organization conducted a review of the 'Cvue' Internet Service and published a report on your web site. We believe this report is misleading at best and overall does not represent a fair and proper review of our current technology.
EFA's report stated clearly that we reviewed the service provided by Clairview's CVue ISP in Brisbane which, as you would be aware, is advertised as follows:
"CVue's special Internet Sheriff Technology is a software that searches out and profiles possible pornographic sites on the Internet for classification. After inspection, if we feel that the site regularly contains material, pictures etc that would not be viewed in an Australian public place, then that site is blocked on all Clairview's Servers and Networks."
That statement is printed on the product packaging. However, in fact, as detailed in our report, sites that do not contain pornographic material were blocked on Clairview's Brisbane server. We assumed, from Clairview's representation that sites are blocked on "all Clairview's Servers and Networks", that the Brisbane server would have Clairview's latest technology installed.
Clairview's submission to the Senate Select Committee on Information Technologies states, in an attached briefing note, that:
"In late 1998, Clairview Internet launched its first product for the domestic market - CVue. This connection is protected by a sophisticated system called Internet Sheriff Technology TM designed exclusively by Clairview."
On 3 May 1999, when demonstrating the Internet Sheriff Technology to the Committee, your Mr David Taylor advised:
"We are actually dialled up through the Seaview [sic] service in Brisbane for this demonstration. We are doing it remotely, so it just explains about that service. It is a small ISP." and "We are actually dialling through the telephone service to Brisbane, so the speed is not what it could be."
We expect that "Seaview" is a mis-spelling of "CVue" in the Hansard transcript and believe it is reasonable to have assumed that Clairview demonstrated its newest technology to the Committee. Our review of the CVue Brisbane service commenced the next day.
[CI] Firstly, we would query the 'independence' of your organisation in conducting such a review as your organisation has a long standing and well-known vested interest in representing one particular point of view in the current debate.As you have acknowledged, there is little information about the product available in the public arena, other than that distributed by the developers and marketers. Our review was independent of such vested interests.
Our findings were factual, as Clairview itself has publicly acknowledged. If Clairview is able to demonstrate any errors of fact in our review, we would be pleased to make corrections.
[CI] We believe you failed to follow the normal scientific approach resulting in a rapid and non-structured review.Given the subjective nature of censorware products generally, and the difficulty of interpreting the claims made for the Internet Sheriff product, it is impossible to design a "scientific" test protocol, especially as the product is apparently still in development and is designed to enable Clairview personnel to readily alter the error level settings. Furthermore, structured approaches to evaluating the product were significantly hampered by the product's passion for wholesale blocking of innocuous material merely because it is hosted on a domain that the Internet Sheriff Technology presumes to also host pornographic material.
Our tests were conducted by highly experienced Internet users and IT professionals, who spent over 35 hours online evaluating the product, and who reported their findings as objectively as possible. On the other hand, the brief demonstration of the product to the Senate Committee was conducted by Clairview representatives, with no independent technically-qualified personnel present. Our intent was to provide an objective assessment, in order to counter the bias inherent in the product demonstrations given to politicians and bureaucrats.
[CI] In linking particular product features with then current proposed legislation as couched in your review tends to indicate that the intended 'outcome' of the review was expected before the commissioning of it.On the contrary, we undertook the review because statements made, in the context of legislative proposals, by politicians and government officials (and also Clairview) indicated that the product may be an improvement over some other filtering and blocking software. For example, Australian Broadcasting Authority (ABA) representatives had publicly stated in testimony before the Senate Committee that the ABA would consider Clairview technology in terms of possible provisions of an ISP code or ABA standard.
We do not believe that an alternative approach to testing the CVue service would have revealed differences in the type of material blocked, or not blocked, by the Internet Sheriff Technology installed on the CVue service. Either users were able to access particular material, or they were not, and that is the matter we reported on.
Since our review, according to a Newswire report of 7 June 1999, "tel.net Media director Ryan O'Hare said the company was engaged in trials with local ISP Connect in an effort to increase Internet Sheriff's effectiveness. He said new versions of the software would be released before the Internet legislation comes into effect next year..."
Our report observed that:
"In considering whether technology is sufficiently advanced to reliably replace human classification of content, a number of questions arise which cannot be answered by the type of tests reported on herein. In regard to the Internet Sheriff Technology these include, but are not limited to, the following:
It may be helpful to the public debate and all concerned, for Clairview to provide responses to those questions. We would be happy to publish Clairview's response on our web site and provide a link to same from our report.
[CI] Secondly, the Cvue service that formed the basis of the review is a non-operational R&D ISP,
We are surprised to be informed that the CVue service is a non-operational research and development ISP. We draw to your attention the following representations of Clairview relied upon in purchase of subscriber accounts with Clairview's CVue ISP.
On 28 April 1998, the writer telephoned Clairview Internet Pty Ltd in Brisbane. The call was answered by a person (whose name can be provided to you on request) who advised he could assist with inquiries about Clairview's Internet Sheriff filtered dial up service. During this conversation, the writer expressed concerns regarding the well-known potential for blocking technologies to prevent access to non-pornographic material and made clear that such a service was not wanted. Discussion ensued regarding the type of material blocked and the technical operation of the system. On asking whether a short term account could be purchased to trial the suitability of the service, the Clairview representative advised that 20 hour access start-up packs were available and provided the name of a computer store where the pack could be purchased.
On 3 May 1999, the writer again telephoned Clairview Internet seeking the name of a reseller more conveniently located. During this conversation, the Clairview representative advised that he could forward a start-up pack by mail, on payment by credit card over the telephone.
A startup pack was subsequently purchased from a reseller named by the Clairview representative. A CVue Internet access pricing chart, dated February 1999, provided prior to purchase states "With every CVue connection kit you receive 20 hours of no rush access time to use over thirty-six months". The three year time frame is confirmed in literature contained inside the start-up pack.
Another of our researchers telephoned Clairview Internet and enquired about the CVue service and how to subscribe. The Clairview representative provided the name of a computer store where a connection pack could be purchased and advised the cost would be $45. The pack was on open sale at the store for $65. When the price was queried, the shop staff member telephoned Clairview and was told that the "promotion had ended" and the price was now $45.
At no time during the above enquiries and purchases, nor in the information provided with the pack, was the service represented by Clairview or resellers as being with a "non-operational R&D ISP".
We request your clarification of the contradiction between your statement and the representation of the service by Clairview personnel. We also request your advice as to whether, in your opinion, the product and service sold was fit for the purpose advertised and made known by customers to Clairview representative/s and of merchantable quality given that, according to your recent advice, it was a service with a "non-operational R&D ISP".
[CI] It is no longer marketed and only maintained due to our commitments to our existing long standing customers.
As at 18 June 1999, one week after the date of your letter, connection packs remained available for purchase in Brisbane and CVue's web site continued to contain advertising of the dial up access service and associated pricing.
[CI] We were in fact surprised that you found one of our early connection packs. This particular connection pack uses an early version of 'Internet Sheriff' that is set to a very vigorous level of 'Automatic Detection', and does so in a manner of limited precision. We were pleased however to note that the service effectively blocked offensive material. From this we believe your review cannot provide any comment on the current level of product development.Since the Internet Sheriff Technology is server-based, we are at a loss to understand this statement. The connection pack merely provides information necessary to access the Clairview ISP service, and hence utilise the current (presumably latest) version of the filtering software installed on the Clairview servers.
Furthermore, connection packs were not "found". As explained elsewhere herein, a Clairview representative advised where a pack could be purchased and also offered to provide one by mail on receipt of payment. To ensure there is no misunderstanding about the type of connection pack purchased, each pack contained a card listing a pre-established userid, password and an access telephone number enabling dial up and login to the CVue Internet Sheriff filtered service.
[CI] We would also have been happy to explain the fact that the old version had difficulty in automatically handling, Anonomisers [sic], Embedded web sites (such as Geocities, Ozemail home directories etc), which you accurately found. These sites in the early version require manual review, which in the Cvue Service, continues to occur in a manner consistent with the limited number of customers using the service.
We observe that the Clairview CVue Customer Registration Form, under the heading "Clairview's Statement of Intention in providing the Service", states inter alia:
"The aim of this service is to not intentionally display or distribute images, text or data via Clairview that otherwise would not be able to be freely viewed or sold in any Australian public place by traditional media ("Public Access Criterion"). Clairview does not and will not censor views, words, phrases and other communications that are central to the values of freedom of speech."
Under "Review of Sites", the Form states, inter alia:
"The Customer acknowledges that Clairview conducts a weekly review of Unsuitable Sites and that Clairview may determine in it's [sic] absolute discretion to unblock an Unsuitable site at any time."
Given the above mentioned Statement of Intention and your advice that "the old version had difficulty in automatically handling...sites (such as Geocities, Ozemail home directories etc)", it is a concern that, if a newer version were available, it was not installed on the CVue system to more adequately comply with representations made to Clairview's customers.
Furthermore, since the domains of Ozemail, Goecities, AOL users, Powerup and Iinet were manually unblocked by Clairview, we have observed that a number of sites containing pornographic material that became blocked during our initial evaluation are no longer blocked. These sites can now be browsed extensively without the Internet Sheriff Technology recognising them as sites to block. However, some other pornographic material is still being blocked on-the-fly on first access.
[CI] In addition, the older version did not handle non-standard port requests (other than 80/8080 - not raised in your report) and could not elegantly combine various metrics of words and pictures and links and other models (again found in the examination of the Legal site). These issues and others have been addressed in later versions of the product, currently under evaluation by Internet Service Providers around the world.
According to Clairview's media release of 19 April 1999 "The Asia Pacific CEO of the Sheriff's parent, Clairview Internet Pty Ltd, Mr Ryan O'Hare, said today that the multi-million dollar Internet Sheriff Technology, which is already being installed in two major Canadian ISP's, is understood to be the world's only classification system."
We request your advice regarding whether the version being installed by Canadian ISPs in April is newer than that made available to Clairview's Brisbane customers in May and whether a newer version has been installed since that time.
[CI] We agree that Internet Sheriff cannot provide an automatic rating service according to any proposed legislation. The then proposed legislation had no mention of any technology to discovery [sic] and rate sites automatically, only upon deeming of the ABA. To suggest that this was the case showed the fundamental ignorance of the detail of the current debate and in our opinion the implicit bias of your rushed 'independent' report.With respect, your claim that we were, or are, in fundamental ignorance of the detail of the debate shows that your knowledge of same is severely lacking.
Automatic rating/blocking software had been suggested by some as a means of complying with the anti-avoidance provisions in Clause 34 of the original version of the Bill (Clause 36 in the amended version).
Furthermore, your company's submission to the Senate Select Committee advised that Clairview would be able to identify sites that may contain material of a particular classification and automatically block that material and report it to the ABA.
In addition, we provide for your information extracts from the Senate Select Committee hearing of 27 April 1999 in Attachment 1.
As you will find therein, it is clear that the ABA would consider Internet Sheriff Technology in terms of setting an ABA standard if, for example, industry codes failed to resolve the matter of certain material being accessible from search engine results.
Moreover, Professor Flint (ABA Chairman) said, with regard to "all reasonable steps" that could be taken by ISPs to prevent access to certain content, that the ABA would expect ISPs to apply the latest technology to prevent access and that it would not be up to ISPs to do what they consider to be reasonable, but what the ABA thinks is reasonable. Mr Grainger (ABA Deputy Chairman) was unable to offer more than two examples of potentially technically feasible means to achieve the stated aims of the international provisions of the Bill. One of these was Clairview technology which Mr Grainger mentioned several times during the hearing.
We also note that according to information contained in Clairview's submission to the Senate Select Committee, Clairview representatives "met with federal politicians in Canberra" in March and had "been keeping them up-to-date on a regular basis" in the six weeks prior to 23 April 1999. The politicians listed include Senator Richard Alston who commenced publicly referring to the use of "guessing engines" in March.
Clairview's submission also states:
"The technology has been designed for telcos providing organisations such as the Australian Broadcasting Association [sic] (ABA) with the first solution to a classification system for media communication. Clairview can provide an organisation such as the ABA with the engine for Internet media classification. The ABA can make the choice on what is suitable and unsuitable for public viewing. A presentation of Internet Sheriff Technology to the ABA's internet subcommittee has been scheduled for mid May."
In light of the above, the capabilities of the Clairview technology are clearly a matter of public interest. Your claim that we were, or are, in fundamental ignorance of the detail of the debate is incorrect.
[CI] As to the details of how our technology works, we are now creating a marketing communication program that allows us to disclose exactly how the 'Internet Sheriff' works its strengths and weaknesses. Due to secrecy obligations of lodging Patents both here and around the world, we have been prevented from releasing detailed information about the technology until earlier this month. At no point have we intentionally withheld information. In fact we would have liked to provide this information to potential customers earlier.
We believe further information on the strengths and weaknesses of the technology should be made available to the Australian public at large. While you seek, apparently, to market your product to the ABA and ISPs, it is the Australian public who would suffer the potential consequences of using the product while accessing the Internet.
[CI] We take our duties to our shareholders, customers and fiduciary duty seriously, and we would be happy to have our product claims reviewed by a truly independent body, such as a major accounting firm, CSIRO or the Australian Consumers Association, who have a track record of providing tough, fair and unbiased reviews.
We are pleased to know that you would be happy to have the CSIRO review your product, given the criticisms of the CSIRO content blocking report contained in Clairview's submissions to the Senate Select Committee.
We recommend Clairview commission an appropriate organisation to conduct a review.
[CI] As to the current debate, we hold very strong private views on the whole issue of Internet regulation and strongly support the IIA (of which we are a member) in representing a cohesive industry viewpoint. We have no comment with regards to the current debate, other than to explore what is technically possible and impossible.Incidentally, we observe that neither Clairview, CVue nor Tel.net Media were included in the IIA list of members, or the TIO (Telecommunications Industry Ombudsman) list of members, available on their web sites as at 23 June 1999.
[CI] Some suggest that technology such as ours or of that of our North American competition will be a panacea to cure the 'ills' of the Internet. Others suggest that the world will end if 'www.sex.com' is blocked. Both views are misinformed and emotional.
EFA does not hold either of those views.
[CI] We believe that if the IIA had more support previously from the industry, then the current debate may not be occurring.We believe that IIA would have less support from the industry if IIA endorsed mandatory implementation by ISPs of an automatic rating and blocking technology such as the Internet Sheriff Technology. We note Clairview's offer to the Senate Committee, in correspondence published by the Committee, to discuss the "positive effects Internet Sheriff Technology could have on IIA and the Australian people".
In its written submission to the Committee, Clairview advised that:
[CI] We agree with you in that any media management will have 'errors' and 'unwanted effects', but the question as to whether these are offset by the 'benefit' of such a service is for you and others to debate.
Informed debate cannot occur without factual information. Hence our review and report.
[CI] As to our primary position, we believe that consumers can benefit from a choice of Internet Media and deserve a 'right' to a 'freedom of choice' to make the above value judgment.
EFA agrees with that position. However, EFA is concerned that under the proposed legislation, consumers may be left with no choice other than to use automated blocking technologies such as Internet Sheriff or not use the Internet.
[CI] Our company in partnership with ISPs around the world intends to provide such a choice to consumers.
EFA intends to continue work towards ensuring that consumers have sufficient information about the strengths and weaknesses of blocking technologies to make an informed choice. Generally such information is not readily available to consumers, nor to governments who may seek to coerce or mandate their use. Clairview's Internet Sheriff is a case in point.
To assist in the furthering of that objective, and in ensuring that any misunderstandings by anyone else about our report are corrected, we have made available a copy of your letter and our response on our web site.
We look forward to your response to the matters raised above, which we will also be happy to make available on our web site.
Electronic Frontiers Australia Inc.
"Senator HARRADINE—What about the search engines? How would this legislation that is before us now be able to influence search engines and to ensure that certain searches do not go any further?..."
Ms Wright [ABA]—My understanding of the draft legislation is that the ABA would work with the industry to ascertain within their codes of practice technically feasible solutions for dealing with that. In the first instance, there is the chance for the industry to deal with this issue in liaison with the ABA. If that is not resolved within a particular time frame, the draft legislation then looks at the ABA investigating those matters in the way of making a standard...I think this draft legislation provides for those matters to rest with industry to resolve together within that code and if, under the criteria set out in the act, they are satisfactory to the ABA, we would then register the code. It then envisages that if that process fails or is not completed, we would take a greater role, but it would seem that, in the first instance, that passes to industry.
Mr Grainger [ABA]—In that regard, there are technological developments, for example in the field of blocking technology, which seem to offer some real hope of, if you like, a much more scientific and methodical approach to problematic material and which is much less likely to remove or block non-problematic material. It may be that your committee might like to see a demonstration of an Australian product called Clairview Internet Sheriff which is being explored at the moment but which I have been to see a demonstration of. The ABA's online committee is having a more complete demonstration.
Senator TIERNEY—This is the one operating in Virginia, is it?
Mr Grainger [ABA]—No. There is an American product but there is also an Australian product. It is the Australian product which I am advertising in this committee. It is a company based in Brisbane and we can give you the details.
Senator MARK BISHOP—In relation to clause 37 of the bill, in particular clause 37(1)(c), where it says:"...ifparagraph [sic] (b) does not apply—give each Internet service provider known to the ABA a written notice (a standard access-prevention notice) directing the provider to take all reasonable steps to prevent end-users from accessing the content."the key words that I want to discuss are 'all reasonable steps'. Could you please outline to the committee what you would regard as being 'all reasonable steps'?
Prof. Flint [ABA]—We would expect, I would think, that there would be a code in place and it would be covered by section 56(2)(d), which states that it is the parliament's intention that there should be:"procedures to be followed by Internet service providers in dealing with Internet content."For example, by way of filtering. We would take the best technical advice as to what is reasonably possible. In the absence of a code or a standard, we would expect that provider to apply the latest technology to take action.
Senator MARK BISHOP—You would expect that provider to apply the latest technology to take action.
Prof. Flint [ABA]—Yes, that would be reasonable, I would think.
Senator MARK BISHOP—Finally, the phrase 'all reasonable steps'. Do you regard that as objective, that is, essentially as determined by your agency or is it subjective in the eye of the ISP?
Prof. Flint [ABA]—It would be objective. We would say: what would the reasonable person do in these circumstances? It would not be for them to say, 'We have taken all reasonable steps or what we would consider to be reasonable'. We would have to say what we think is the reasonable thing to do in this industry.
Senator LUNDY—...In your view, Mr Grainger, are the international provisions within the bill technically feasible to achieve their stated aim?
Mr Grainger [ABA]—The wording of the legislation refers to technical feasibility and reasonable steps. They seem to me to be appropriate words to deal with the situation. What is able to be done is to be done—
Senator LUNDY—I am not putting a question of whether it is able to be done. I am asking you if you think it is able to be done?
Mr Grainger [ABA]—I have referred several times to the demonstration of the Clairview Internet Sheriff system which seems to me to indicate that there is technological capacity being developed to deal with certain types of problematic material, whether it is illegal or harmful material, on the Net. It seems to me that there is capacity there. How extensive that capacity is, I am not sure. We are at the beginning of our technological understanding of what is possible, not at the end of it.
Senator LUNDY—If we put aside that end-user technology, like the Clairview Internet Sheriff product, what other means of technical feasibility is available in your view to achieve the aims?
Mr Grainger [ABA]—The other tool which was spoken of before, PICS, has had wide credibility though, as I have said, there has been some critical comment in reference to it. The Internet Content Rating Alliance is very definitely working on the further development of those issues, and major Internet service provider corporations are becoming involved and putting their effort, energy and money into it. As I say, we are at the beginning of developments rather than at the end of developments.
Senator LUNDY—Do you have any other examples that you could put forward before the committee at this point in time?
Mr Grainger [ABA]—No."
25 June 1999
Copyright © 1999 Electronic Frontiers Australia Inc.