The NoCleanFeed List

Nov
22
2008

What the hell has got into Australia in the last few years.

Now we have the railroaded implementation of Labor (right wing christian) Senator Conroy’s Internet filter.   In case you have been off the planet for the last month, Conroy is now rolling towards his personal agenda of implementation. Our only hope is that he has to enforce it with a Bill in Parliament.

The filter he proposes is a multiple tier one.  The first tier being the mandatory ISP driven automatic   filtering of all the web nasties that are illegal under current legislation. The second tier is the the removal of all material that is deemed inappropriate.  This effectively makes the internet safe place for children.

Again it’s time to get political on this blog.  I talked about this issue previously.   But now it has gone from a mild concern to the stupidity of implementation of an extended “on the run” person extension of labor policy [PDF].  It’s time that we all stood up and acted.

So What is the Big Deal.

Sure the filter is going to block the porn, the deviant sites and other such nasties so kids can’t stumble across them.  Okay that is good.   I have no object to that at all. None!  But…  you knew there was a but.

Closest to date on what Conroy is really thinking comes from questions in a Senate Standing Committee when Conroy is questioned [PDF] by Greens Senator Scott Ludlam:

We are talking about mandatory blocking, where possible, of illegal material … we are enforcing current law and ACMA determine this based on existing law … so you can have a chat with them about how they go determining it. But the general sort of stuff that we are talking about is child porn and they are the sorts of sites we are targeting. We do not believe that you should be able to opt in to child porn. I am sure you do not either.

What really gets me is that, Conroy has also bundled the great catch all “inappropriate content”. What is inappropriate. For example, what is inappropriate to a 5 year old girl maybe critical information for a 14 year old girl on sex education, drug use and teenage pregnancy. Under Conroy that is going to be questionable and sanitised.

So far as proposed by Senator Conroy the filter systems will not be a manual list, but in general and automated filtering process based on various criteria, supplemented with short white and black lists.

Lots of people have been discussing this issue, it’s basically not that clear and simple that some people are making out.  It’s not a case of  – “oh but it’s illegal, so who cares”.

Okay in the way this is all about bringing the internet inline with the current practices for general publications.   But with the internet there is just way too much information for any board or committee to rate.   Hence the use of filtering algorithms with a list of know bad sites

The problem is that these algorithms that are used are not that perfect.  They have a percentage of false positives, yeap they get in wrong from time to time.  Now with a high number of web sites in the world,  Even an error rate of 2-3% is way too high,  Consider if suddenly by random a few thousand books where removed from the public library system from no real reason.  Would we really stand for it, all for the greater good of a perfect socialistic society.  I don’t think so.  Is it worth while to have all that information lost for the sake of society.

Watching the Watchers

Then consider some of the sites that don’t have a method to classify them.   For example Second Life. As you know it’s not a web site it is a virtual world,  so does that make it a game or something else.   If you say it’s a game then it gets banned as it have content that is way over the MA15+ in certain areas (remember Australia doesn’t have an adult computer game rating), this type of internet application is a problem, it has no media type.

It has also been pointed out that there is a fair chance, going on previous records, that the banned list of sites will not be publicly available whether they are the tier one list or tier two banned list.

This is a little extreme if you consider that we do know that books, magazines, comics, films and computer games that are banned in each state (yes it is controlled on a state level) .  But this could be a closed list, one has to question why.

There is also the technical issue of the white list to counter an over zealous filtering algorithms, who gets to decide what goes on what list.

My main concern is who is watching the watchers, the system needs to be totally transparent, with no closeted under informed public servant making any key decision at all.  There needs to be space for public review.   We need to look at the freedom of information and not the dictates of minority political groups to set the agenda.

Time for Action

So what can we do.

The Australia Web Industry Association (AWIA)  has an information site – Keep Your Filter off Our Internet, and there is the No Clean Feed campaign, Electronic Frontiers Australia plus dozens of other sites and information sources.

The Australian Computer Society, didn’t what I expected them to do, fence sit, send it off to a committee, suppose it’s reflective of the membership base of the board.

You can contact Senator Conroy’s Office and complain, but really he is not going to change  his mind, best we can hope for is that he alters the proposal or waters it down somewhat.

The real clincher is to contact the power brokers in the upper house (Senate), as the lower house is dominated by labor.   In this case it’s the Green’s senators, Bob Brown (Tas), Christine Milne (Tas), Sarah Hanson-Young (SA), Scott Ludlam (WA) and
Rachel Siewert (WA). That said contacting and at least talking to your local member will help.

With any correspondence I have found that the best method to get results or be remembered by ministerial staff and the relevant member of parliament is to do everything from a personal perspective.   That means ringing them having a chat.   Don’t bother with a chain letter, a personally written one is better, just ensure you research it well.  Understand that a staffer will read the letter, and it will be answered by public servant if it’s going to a minister.

First of it’s no good talking technical on this.  Unless your are figurehead from a technical view point like iinet’s Mike Malone It’s not a a technical issue. It’s not about the speed.   It’s about the information, more often it’s about sex.  It’s about the morality of  information.   The media have battered it about that it’s for the children, and the filtering is for them.

It’s about emotion.   Politically driven emotion. This a policy leveraged of the core of the current government, to placidate the wishes of the moral minority in the positions of power in the senate, particularly Family First and the Prime Minister’s personal preferences.  Again we see the Church influencing state.  Remember any counter argument has to be the same when discussing in the public forum.

I’m not happy on this at all.  Yes I don’t want the dirty underbelly of the web, but its not really about that is it, I question:

  • Who is watching the watchers?
  • Is loosing a percentage of the information worth the effort for a politically religiously motived policy?
  • Are we letting a minority group dictate the fabric of our information society?

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