Created: 23 March 2006
On 21 March 2006, Kim Beazley (Leader of the Federal Opposition) announced that a Beazley Labor Government would require all Internet Service Providers (“ISPs”) to implement a mandatory Internet blocking system. This proposal was retained as policy by the Rudd Labor government elected on 24th November 2007 (see Media Release by Stephen Conroy 19 November 2007 – Federal Labor To Lead On Cyber-Safety. Further details of the policy are in Labor’s Plan for Cyber-safety released prior to the election. No further details have been announced since the election, but early in January 2008 Minister Conroy confirmed that the policy remained in place. (For more information, see EFA’s commentary and analysis of Labor’s mandatory ISP blocking plan). It seems that Labor is playing copy cat in launching, as their own, a tired old policy developed and launched three years ago (on 3 March 2003) by The Australia Institute. The Australia Institute’s proposal was also the basis of the Family First Party’s mandatory ISP filtering policy launched in August 2004 shortly before the Federal election. About 12 months later, in August 2005, fundamentalist religious right organisations stepped up their lobbying campaign for mandatory ISP filtering, also based on the Australia Institute’s scheme.
Below is a time line of mandatory ISP blocking proposals in Australia and religious right group’s lobbying campaigns, 2003-2006:
3 March 2003: The Australia Institute commenced campaigning for mandatory filtering of all Internet access by Australian Internet Service Providers (ISPs). On a number of occasions during the previous twelve months, the Executive Director of The Australia Institute and environmental economist, Clive Hamilton had expressed his opinion that: “For all of the hype, the information superhighway is principally a conduit for pornography.”
18 March 2003: EFA issued an analysis and critique of The Australia Institute’s mandatory blocking scheme.
19 March 2003: Senator Kate Lundy (ALP, A.C.T.) made a speech in Parliament (see Adjournment: Information Technology: Internet) referring to the Australia Institute’s mandatory ISP blocking scheme and stating that:
“Let us be clear about this: this would mean that all Internet content available to Australians would be prefiltered by ISPs… This ridiculous proposition is made even more absurd when the weaknesses of filtering technology at this level effectively ensure that it would not work anyway.“
29 April 2004: The Western Australian based pro-censorship group, Media Standards Australia (“MSA”) (formerly National Viewers and Listeners Association of Australia) commenced circulating a petition calling for the Government to legislate for a national system of mandatory filtering by ISPs. Among other things, the MSA petition form states:
“Internet Service Providers (ISPs), should accept responsibility for protecting children from Internet pornography, including liability for harm caused to children by inadequate efforts to protect minors from exposure.“
(It is disturbing that it appears people who sign this petition want ISPs to be forced to install filtering software and then be held liable for the weaknesses of filtering software.)The MSA’s petition was subsequently picked up and distributed by various fundamentalist religious right groups including the Australian Family Association and Fred Nile/Christian Democratic Party. (For more information about these groups, see the Australian Counter-Fundamentalism Movement’s pages: MSA, AFA, CDP.)
13 May 2004: The Federal Coalition Government issued its Report on Review of Schedule 5 to the Broadcasting Services Act 1992 (i.e. the C’th Internet censorship legislation). The findings of the review included:
“There are a number of practical difficulties in mandating URL/IP based filtering at the ISP level, including accuracy rates and, according to the Internet industry, impact on broadband. Ovum has estimated that URL/IP based filtering would involve implementation costs of approximately $45 million and ongoing costs of more than $33 million per annum. Such costs could significantly impact on the financial viability of smaller ISPs, in particular. Given the limited benefits of an ISP-level filtering system, the costs of a mandated requirement to filter do not appear justified.“
25 August 2004: Shortly prior to the October Federal election, a new political party on the Federal scene, the Family First Party, commenced calling for mandatory filtering and blocking of Internet access by Australian Internet Service Providers (“ISPs”). Family First’s policy was largely based on the proposal and claims made by The Australia Institute when it commenced campaigning for mandatory filtering of all Internet access by Australian ISPs in March 2003.
8 & 9 August 2005: An event called the “Sexual Integrity Forum” was held in Parliament House, Canberra, and attended by “almost 100 people” (according to the Forum web site). The Forum was organised by the Fatherhood Foundation (“FF”), a Religious Right group formed in 2002 by Warwick Marsh. (For information about the FF, see the Australian Counter-Fundamentalism Movement’s page).
The keynote speaker at the Forum was an American, Dr. Mary Anne Layden who, among much else, called for mandatory Internet filtering by ISPs and promoted Internet Sheriff blocking software (see The Wire’s report of 9 August 2005 titled Sexual integrity forum condemns porn industry and The Wire’s audio report (MP3 file) which includes an interview with Layden). David Ramsey of Internet Sheriff was also a speaker at the Forum. The Australian makers of Internet Sheriff product were prominent in pushing for mandatory ISP filtering in 1999 and their product was demonstrated during a 1999 Senate Committee hearing re the C’th Internet censorship Bill. EFA personnel subsequently conducted tests of Internet Sheriff in 1999 and found it unsuitable for mandatory installation by ISPs due, among other things, to its massive blocking of innocuous content resulting from the software’s artificial intelligence analysis of content.
Layden also addressed “a dinner on Monday night, in the House of Representative Alcove, hosted by ALP Member for Throsby, Jennie George” according to a media release issued by the Fatherhood Foundation.
According to the Forum web site:
“Parliamentary Hosts, Key Speakers and Supporters of the Sexual Integrity Forum – Included a seven member team with representatives from:
* 3 Coalition including Senator Fierravanti-Wells, Michael Ferguson MP, and the Hon. Kevin Andrews MP.
* 3 Labor including Jennie George MP, Anthony Byrne MP, and Lindsay Tanner MP.
* 1 Family First including Senator Steve Fielding.”
Michael Flood, co-author of the Australia Institute’s mandatory blocking proposal report also spoke about that scheme at the Forum.
Also at the Forum, a presentation titled “Internet and Pornography – Feasibility for Whole of Country Filtering” [PPT file] was made by Paul MacRae, CEO of Security Principles and Director of MessageLabs. This presentation appears not to have claimed that whole of country filtering was practical or effective. In fact, it pointed out a number of problems on Slide 7:
- Large, expensive infrastructure and ongoing software licence fees (to scan email, HTTP, ftp etc)
- Constant upgrading/monitoring of hardware/software as website owners/virus senders/spammers evolve technologies to avoid blocking
- Conflict with existing managed service providers’ services (possible email routing conflicts for companies like MessageLabs)
- Large permissions exceptions file (police, defence, medical, research etc) including home/remote access for approved personnel
- Encryption handling
- Complaints handling/Help Desk/appeals process
- Legal issues (privacy, involuntary quarantine/deletion of emails, denial of access to ‘questionable’ sites)
- Risk/cost of failure or susceptibility to Denial of Service attacks
13 August 2005: Analysphere.com (Caslon Analytics Australia corporate blog) reports on claims made by Layden in their article Porn Again Questions:
‘Deja vu time, again, with claims that “the growth of internet pornography has seen the demand for prostitution in Australia soar” and “led to more women being trafficked into the country than ever before”. How much more is unclear; the 2000 Australian Institute of Criminology conference suggested a need for caution in interpreting what are often sketchy figures.
Those claims are attributed to US psychotherapist Mary Anne Layden, speaking at the first national Sexual Integrity Forum in Canberra. …
In the late 1990s Layden was founder of the Social Action Committee for Women’s Psychological Health (SAC), apparently influenced by fundamentalists such as Catherine McKinnon and Andrea Dworkin. It is reported as calling for consumer boycotts of television programs such as Entertainment Tonight and Baywatch, movies such as Pocahontas and The Little Mermaid, Barbie dolls, padded bras and swimsuits, and of course magazines such as Cosmopolitan and Sports Illustrated. …‘
17 August 2005: Anthony Byrne (ALP, Holt) made a speech in Parliament (see Adjournment: Public Libraries: Internet Pornography) calling for mandatory Internet filtering in public libraries and stating he attended a “seminar last week that was sponsored…by Warwich Marsh” of the Australian Fatherhood Foundation. Undoubtedly that was the “Sexual Integrity Forum”. 18 August 2005: The Australian Christian Lobby (“ACL“) issued a media release titled Blocking Internet Pornography At Public Libraries stating:
“The Executive Chairman of the Australian Christian Lobby, Jim Wallace, today called for the Government to act on a Labor Party initiative to block access to pornography on the internet at public libraries.
Mr Anthony Byrne, MP (ALP – Holt) raised the idea in Federal Parliament last night. His concern was expressed after hearing reports at a forum organized by the Fatherhood Foundation on the damaging effects of pornography on children. …“
22 August 2005: The Fatherhood Foundation’s newsletter Issue No. 156 published the ACL’s media release (above) followed by a note from the Editor:
“Editors Note: Anthony Byrne, Labor MP for Holt in Melbourne, has been one of the Sexual Integrity Forum’s strongest supporters. This is the first political action that has come out of the Forum that the Fatherhood Foundation conducted on 8-9 August 2005, Parliament House, Canberra. Please write to him to thank and encourage him for his stand for Australia’s children. He can be contacted at: [email protected]“.
21 August 2005: The Sunday Tasmanian reported that “Liberal senator Guy Barnett called on Tasmania’s public libraries to rid their computers of access to pornography”.
(Broken Link: Library porn crackdown, The Sunday Tasmanian, 21/8/05)
Senator Guy Barnett (Lib, Tas) made a speech in Parliament on 26 June 2003 in support of the work of the Fatherhood Foundation.
Also, Senator Guy Barnett, Jim Wallace of the Australian Christian Lobby, and Warwick Marsh of the Fatherhood Foundation were the organisers of the ‘Marriage Forum’ held at Parliament House in 2004, according to a report in the Sydney Morning Herald on 4 August 2004:
“…It was already 9.45am and the Marriage Forum had started. I was late. The huge crowd still waiting to find a seat meant that by the time I finally passed through the registration process and found a seat among the already seated 1000 plus Christians John Anderson was mid-address. I’d missed John Howard’s remarks along with the organisers of the Forum, Jim Wallace (ex-SAS) leader of the Australian Christian Lobby, Warick Marsh of the Fatherhood Foundation and Senator Guy Barnett. …“
30 August 2005: The Australian Christian Lobby called on their supporters to “write a quick email to the Prime Minister in support of Anthony Byrne’s proposal” and to “send an email to Anthony Byrne, thanking him for his leadership on this issue”.
4 September 2005: On Father’s Day, Kim Beazley issued a media release stating that:
“Good quality filtering software presently retails for around $60. The Government should subsidise this with a one-off $30 rebate.
There are approximately 1.5 million Australian family computers connected to the Internet and Labor calls on the Howard Government to provide this rebate to help families install Internet filters.“
See also Labor announces plan to make Internet filters more accessible, Canberra Times, 5 September 2005, which includes comments by Communications Minister Senator Helen Coonan. 6 September 2005: The Australian Christian Lobby issued a media release stating:
“The Australian Christian Lobby today welcomed the ALP’s initiative offering a subsidy for parents to buy internet filtering software, but urged both parties to go further. ‘We need to shift debate on this issue,’ argued Jim Wallace, Executive Chairman of the Australian Christian Lobby. …
Mandatory filtering by ISPs would protect children, give parents peace of mind and still allow people who wanted to view this material to ‘opt in’. …“
28 September 2005: Mark Latham remarks (in an opinion article in The Age) “The political class in this country is narrowing into two types of characters: the flint-hearted machine men who are happy to do whatever it takes, and the freaks and weirdos of the religious right, with their sexual hang-ups and policy obsessions. This is happening on both sides of politics.” Early October 2005: The Australian Christian Lobby’s October Newsletter stated:
“…We need you, with your friends, or with your local ACL branch members or church, to go and visit your local Federal member and inform him or her that you would like to see the Government takes steps to set up mandatory ISP internet filtering. …”
3 October 2005: The Fatherhood Foundation’s Newsletter Issue No. 162 stated:
“The Fatherhood Foundation calls for everyone concerned for the welfare of Australia’s children, to contact their local Federal Member of Parliament and request that the Government act to protect our children by introducing mandatory filtering to block pornography at ISP level. Technology has made this more feasible.
1) Go and see your local member of federal parliament.
2) Write a letter to your local federal member demanding the Government implement a national system of mandatory filtering to block access to pornography at the ISP level.
3) Ask your friends to do the same. Together we can make a difference! …“
8 October 2005: Senator Guy Barnett (Lib, Tas) made a speech in Parliament claiming:
“Even in our own homes, you go home, turn on your home computer and bingo-out come the pornographic sites. You are hit again and again. This is not just in our home but across the country. Yes, you can apply your own filter. But why do we get this unwanted material in our faces? With children in your home, this is not right. An acceptance of pornography and the proliferation of it is something that, in my view, is inappropriate. The Commonwealth does have a responsibility-of course they do-under the post and telegraph and external affairs powers of the Constitution, but it is primarily a responsibility of the states and territories. I say to them: wake up, listen to the community, listen to what the mums and dads are saying, and turn off the sites that are offering pornography, violence and other inappropriate sites.“
[One may wonder if there is something different about “the Internet” in Tasmania. According to Senator Guy Barnett (Lib, Tas) “you go home, turn on your home computer and bingo-out come the pornographic sites“. This is reminiscent of the remark made by Senator Paul Calvert (Lib, Tas) in April 1999 “you have only got to press P on the Internet and all this stuff appears free of charge in front of you“.]
9 October 2005: The Fatherhood Foundation issued a media release stating:
“…it is critical that the federal government introduce mandatory filtering to block pornography at an ISP level. Sex crimes have increased in Australia by 30% over the last four years demonstrating the need for urgent reform. …“
Note: The Sexual Integrity Forum web site also claims “Sexual assault has increased by almost 30% since 1999”. However, neither the newsletter nor web site provides the source of the claimed statistic. This may be because there does not appear to be any evidence that the rates of incidents of “sex crimes” or “sexualt assault” have increased by 30% in recent years. What has increased is the number of reports made to police about sexual assault. As the Australian Bureau of Statistics’ report 4523.0 – Sexual Assault in Australia: A Statistical Overview, 2004 [PDF 1894 Kb] (issued 7 September 2004) states:
“Recorded Crime Statistics
Both numbers and victimisation rates of sexual assault in recorded crime statistics in Australia have increased in recent years. The overall recorded victimisation prevalence rates have risen by about one-third in ten years, from 0.07% (69.0 per 100,000 persons) in 1993 to 0.09% (91.7 per 100,000) in 2003. (See Graph 2.9 below.)
These changes in recorded crime statistics need to be read with caution. The changes could be attributed to a number of factors, such as changes in the propensity of victims to identify their experiences as crimes, changes in the propensity to report sexual assault to police, changes in police recording practices, or a combination of these factors. Changes in the data therefore may not necessarily reflect actual changes in the underlying numbers or rates of incidents.“
For further information, see Measuring violence against women: a review of the literature and statistics, E-Brief prepared by the Australian Parliamentary Library, issued 6 December 2004.
“I raise this because I noted recently there was an article, I think in the Australian, that seemed to purport that nothing was happening with regard to internet safety. … It is still a fallacy to think that there can be some head-end filtering concept of the internet to prevent some of the nasties that occur on line, and the real investment needs to be made at the client end or the user end. I am pleased to say that my reading of this particular annual report shows that that is what their program is trying to do. I think there is now acceptance across the board that the best way to help people protect themselves from unwanted content on the internet is to get the information out there, get the filter products out there and help people take control of the issue themselves.“
29 October 2005: Kim Beazley addressed The Australian Christian Lobby Conference:
“…There are other values that should always be reflected in the conduct of governments. I know that many of you feel that last year the relationship between Federal Labor and the Christian community got out of balance.
One of the ways we’re addressing this is through the Faith and Values working group in the Labor caucus. Kevin Rudd is doing good work with this group, and I know he has been speaking to many of you about these issues. We see this group having an ongoing role in the strengthening our dialogue with faith communities.
In the end governments can’t legislate for everything. We need parents to take responsibility, and we need corporate citizenship and social responsibility.
But I’m pushing practical measures for government to help. Earlier this year I called for tax rebates to help families meet the cost of internet filtering software.
My colleague Anthony Byrne has been working on proposals to ensure public libraries use filtering software on their computer terminals as well. And over time, and when the technology is available, internet service providers should give parents the option of internet services which are pornography free. … ” [emphasis added]
[It seems Mr Beazley hopes the technology will become available before Labor is elected to government.]
12 November 2005: The Australian Christian Lobby again called on their supporters to email the Minister for Communications and MPs about Internet filtering. A number of other religious right groups issued similar calls in November.
15 December 2005: The Australian Library and Information Association (ALIA) sent a letter to the Federal Minister for Communications, Informaton Technology and the Arts in support of the Federal Government’s policy position on internet filtering and education for safe and informed use of the Internet. Among other things, the ALIA said:
“[W]e believe that the recent decision by Tasmanian Minister for Education Paula Wriedt to require all Tasmanian public libraries and online access centres to use filtering software is a flawed policy approach and poor risk management as it denies the democratic rights of Tasmania’s library users to access to legitimate and appropriate information and diminishes the essential role of educating internet users.
Australians have a democratic right to access information through the internet in their public library and for this to be unhindered by filtering software. Educating library users in safe and informed internet use and having acceptable use policies in place are far more responsible strategies. With the growing use of new internet technologies such as Wiki it is inevitable that the amount of legitimate and appropriate information incorrectly blocked through filtering will increase. Despite what proponents say filtering software, in our experience, is not able to filter only inappropriate material. Filters have no place in a policy framework that embraces new technologies and promotes safe and informed use of the internet.“
February 2006: The following letter reportedly from Kim Beazley was printed in the Festival of Light’s (AFOL‘s) ‘Light’ magazine, February 2006:
“I share your concerns about the access to pornography via public library computers.
As a father and grandfather, I am concerned about violent and pornographic material that children can access from internet sites. I believe government has a responsibility to stop children being exposed to this explicit material and I advocated a government rebate to enable parents to install internet filters.
Equally, public access computers must be regulated to prevent their misuse by children.
Kim C Beazley, Leader of the Opposition, Parliament House, Canberra.“
21 March 2006: Kim Beazley issued a media release titled Labor’s Plan To Protect Kids From Internet Pornography announcing that a Beazley Labor Government would require all Internet Service Providers (“ISPs”) to implement a mandatory Internet blocking system applicable to all “all households, and to schools and other public internet points” to “prevent users from accessing any content that has been identified as prohibited by the Australian Communications and Media Authority“.
21 March 2006: Senator Helen Coonan (Minister for Communications, Information Technology and the Arts) issued a media release titled Labor very late to the Internet filtering debate stating:
“…According to research conducted by the Government’s Internet safety organisation NetAlert, the kind of server-based filtering proposed by Labor has been found to have a major adverse impact on network performance.
The NetAlert trial was conducted by researchers from RMIT as part of the Government-funded Launceston Broadband Program, in partnership with ACMA and with the assistance of Telstra. The final report will be released shortly but the preliminary findings of the trial include that:
- All server-level filters tested had a major impact on network performance ranging from an 18 per cent degradation for the best performing filter to 78 per cent on the worst performing; and
- The server-level filters perform adequately at slower speeds, for the faster upstream connections that are common in larger ISPs, the performance degraded significantly.
21 March 2006: NetAlert issued a media release titled Education the Best Filter for Young Australians on the Internet stating:
“Findings from recent NetAlert research into the use of filters in the broadband environment confirms that accessing the Internet through a content filter at the Internet Service Provider (ISP) level leads to a significant reduction in network performance.
…The research also demonstrated variable filter performance across the different categories of restricted content. Even the most effective filter in terms of accuracy, only blocked 76 per cent of the selected list of potentially offensive URLs used in the testing. The research also demonstrated that the technical challenges for ISPs would be significant. …“