Board Report: 1998 Annual General Meeting

"Quis custodiet ipsos custodes?"
"Who watches the watchmen?"
- Juvenal, Satires, VI, 347

Chairperson's Report to EFA Annual General Meeting 1998

The Board of EFA has the honour of serving an aspiration both timeless and immediate in working for freedom for the Internet. It is a timeless aspiration because the defence of liberty is a daily endeavour, history demonstrating that freedoms lost are hard to regain. It is an immediate aspiration because for the first time the global Internet offers all people the right to communicate without interference, and governments have the chance to embody Internet freedoms into law, custom and practice for generations to come.

EFA is the Australian volunteer voice for freedom on the Internet. On a shoestring budget, without paid staff or business premises, EFA has managed to lead campaigns within Australia and overseas. Given the limited understanding of politicians and bureaucrats regarding Internet issues in 1994, EFA can be justifiably proud of achieving a change in Government opinion in relation to censorship, ISP liability and telecommunications policies, and widespread support for EFA's views among key stakeholders and the general public.

During the last year, EFA has reorganised administrative procedures and developed new policy based on the 1997 Rules Revision. Thanks to Irene Graham, the membership database and accounting procedures have been streamlined, thanks to Michael Malone the mailing lists and online adminstration procedures have been improved. Again, EFA extends its gratitude to Iinet for web hosting and other online resources.

Censorship

EFA maintains that ISPs will only be protected under a censorship regime that protects them from criminal liability or civil damages arising from the content of others, and no "Industry Code of Practice" can ever cure the injustice of ISPs being held liable for the acts of others. EFA this year launched the NETREG mailing list to promote informed discussion of regulatory issues, and produced a detailed critique of the Internet Industry Association's proposed Code for ISPs.

Users of the Internet are not merely consumers, they are also the major source of the creation of Internet content. A censorship regime that protected ISPs but slammed content creators is not an acceptable solution for Australia's emerging content-hosting businesses or the individual user.

Even reactionaries and the pro-censorship lobby have abandoned attempts to rate the Internet from Australia, to imprison ISPs for the acts of others or banning material legal in most of the wired world. While the Australian Government's stated policy is to legislate in terms of the "framework for online regulation" announced in July 1997, the chorus of opposition from online groups and civil libertarians has put the proposal in the "too hard" basket. Censorship of the Internet is a discredited notion, whatever the subject-matter. While Senate select committees have proposed unworkable laws, the Government has to act within the realm of the possible. EFA gave evidence to the Senate Select Committee in April this year, following our submission to that Committee.

EFA has been active throughout the year in demonstrating that the proposed tools for net.regulation won't work - censorship by the Australian Government will have no impact whatsoever on the availability of controversial material on the Internet. Software filters will neither block all controversial content nor "let through" all appropriate content. The ratings systems and labelling schemes are arbitrary and inconsistent, trivialising genuine parental concerns about children's online safety into an argument about pictures.

EFA submitted a response to the Office of Film and Literature Classification in relation to the review of censorship classifications in Australia.

PICS

In particular, the PICS labelling scheme has been comprehensively criticised by EFA for being too "censor-friendly". The PICS scheme was originally conceived as an alternative to censorship, to empower users to make their own judgments about content by reference to their preferred rating systems. In the United States, where the US Constitution prohibits the Government from making such filtering compulsory, PICS was hailed as a genuine alternative to government regulation. However, the Australian Government and the Australian Broadcasting Authority in particular have proposed corrupting the PICS scheme by making its use compulsory through a mandated "industry Code of Practice", and thus placing the onus on ISPs to self-regulate under threat of prosecution.

In EFA's view, this misuse of the PICS scheme has made the scheme a threat to free expression. The scheme has no place in Internet networks, and the filtering software which supports PICS is unsuitable for use by end-users. PICS filters out 99% of the Internet at present, because unrated sites are deemed to be unsuitable for viewing. For parents and educators with a duty to supervise children's use of the Internet, the PICS scheme is ineffective and unreliable.

GILC

Internationally, EFA has sponsored a submission by the Global Internet Liberty Campaign regarding PICS, and has been successful in persuading other GILC members that software filters are not a benign technology if such use is mandated by governments. EFA is a founding member of GILC and EFA aids and is aided by GILC in campaigns over matters of mutual concern. EFA's GILC membership was instrumental in giving EFA Board Member Dr Michael Baker the opportunity to address the OECD-sponsored "Forum on Internet Content Self-Regulation" in Paris in March - the first time a non-Government organisation was represented at an OECD-sponsored meeting.

EFA prepared the GILC member statement on PICS presented to the OECD forum, and Dr Baker also represented EFA at INET '98, particpating in a GILC discussion panel.

EFA Board member Greg Taylor was an invited guest to the 1998 Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC) Cryptography and Privacy Conference held in Washington in June. EFA's attendance was sponsored by EPIC and OSI.

Throughout the year, EFA spokespersons have addressed media and public enquiries concerning Internet regulation issues, and as Chair I have spoken to university gatherings in Western Australia and Victoria. EFA was an invited "participant" to the Enabling Australia E-Commerce Summit in April, and while the summit was mostly a PR exercise for Telstra and the Government, a group of activists were successful in placing regulatory issues and privacy considerations in the Summit's closing communiqué.

Cryptography

EFA has this year worked hard to bring rationality to Australian cryptography policy. Shrouded in secrecy, the Australian Government's policy has been to treat encryption of data communications as a weapon of war, subject to Defence Department control. The most credible analysis of Government policy (the Walsh Report) was originally suppressed by the Government but was obtained by EFA under the Freedom of Information Act.

The Walsh Report, or more correctly the "Review of Policy Relating to Encryption Technologies", is the outcome of a study conducted in 1996 by Gerard Walsh, a former deputy director-general of the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation (ASIO). The report confronted the Defence establishment's paranoia over this issue, and gave persuasive support to the individual's right to privacy being the paramount consideration for future policy.

EFA co-ordinates the international crypto campaign which is currently lobbying in relation to the Wassenaar meeting in September. Briefly, the Wassenaar Agreement is an international agreement between 33 countries (including Australia) which severely restricts the strength of freely-available cryptography software. Locally, the Australian Information Industry Association (AIIA) has supported EFA's campaign and the local industry is beginning to understand the importance of freeing-up regulation of this essential tool for e-commerce and individual privacy.

During 1998, EFA Board members met with members of Parliament and political staffers to explain the need for policy reform and presented briefing papers on crypto policy. EFA will be continuing to lobby the next Federal Government to relax crypto restrictions and allow Australian software developers to compete effectively in global markets.

EFA has developed the Crypto FAQ, which details the issues and technologies involved and the case for strong crypto.

Privacy

While global computer networks open up wonderful possibilities for the individual, possibilities for misuse of data by companies and governments represent a real threat to individual privacy. Data-matching and data-mining activities by commercial interests are consumer nightmares, and are rightly opposed by privacy advocates. EFA, as part of the Campaign for Fair Privacy Laws, attended several of the Privacy Commissioner's public meetings regarding the drafting of the voluntary Code for Privacy Principles. EFA remains committed to campaigning for legislative control of the data-gathering practices of the private sector, especially as Australia is in danger of being boycotted by European trading partners owing to Australia's failure to adequately address privacy protection in the digital age. EFA submitted to the Senate Privacy Legislation Inquiry and continues to be involved in the privacy debate.

EFA has been part of talks between privacy advocates and Government regarding the Gatekeeper strategy for government use of public key technology. EFA continues to monitor the implementation of the strategy, having regard to criticisms by privacy advocates. In January 1998 EFA participated in a privacy workshop addressing privacy issues arising from a Centrelink proposal to use smartcards for service delivery.

An EFA Board Member participated on a panel on W3C's Platform for Privacy Preferences (P3P) Project at the WWW7 Conference in Brisbane to present the skeptical view of P3P in April 1998

Copyright

EFA has an interest in ensuring that Australian Internet users have "fair use" of the material found online without undue restrictions based on copyright and trademark claims. EFA submitted to the Attorney-General's Department a response to the Copyright Reform and the Digital Agenda discussion paper, urging the Government to bring Australia's copyright laws up to date without banning reverse-engineering or imposing broadcasting fees on Australian ISPs. At time of writing the Government has not yet passed proposed amendments to the Copyright Act which would enable new Internet publication rights while reducing the risk to ISPs that copyright holders will sue them for royalties. EFA will be following the issue with the new Federal Government on behalf of the online community.

Rabelais

One of EFA's most successful strategies this year was to submit the judgment of the Federal Court on the Rabelais case to the Office of Film and Literature Classification to be classified for publication. The OFLC declined to classify the judgment, and their refusal to do so is presently the subject of a complaint to the Commonwealth Ombudsman. While the case is still being appealed to the High Court, EFA has shown the futility and inconsistency of threatening editors with gaol for printing material now available on the Internet.

The year ahead

As Chair, I would like to thank members of the Board for their efforts during the year and members of EFA for their continued support. The Board now has the assistance of Board members with years of activist experience and it is fair comment that the EFA Board represents an authoritative viewpoint on matters involving online rights and legal obligations. In the next year, EFA will be continuing to campaign in relation to free speech, strong crypto and guaranteed privacy for Australian Internet users. I would urge members of EFA to support our campaigns and to check the web site frequently - the "About EFA" Web page remains the best way to stay abreast of the issues and to contact EFA.

On behalf of the Board,

Kimberley Heitman,
Chair, EFA
28 September 1998