Internet Censorship Will Haunt Rudd Government

During the early noughties I was teaching Year 12 English Studies at Katherine High School in the Northern Territory. A very useful website for studying Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice was The Republic of Pemberley. One year the site was blocked by the NT Department of Education. Apparently their black list was outsourced to a U.S. firm in silicon valley.

Presumably the website was inappropriate because it mentioned prejudice or pre-marital sex or shot-gun marriages. It was possible to correct this gross case of censorship and incompetence and have the site put on their ‘White List’ but it was too late for the students’ examination revision. This is the inevitable result of politicians and bureaucrats trying to decide what we should have access to on the Internet.

Sometime in the near future the Senate may have to vote on the controversial internet filtering regime currently under construction by the Rudd Labor government. For a range of reasons let’s hope that either it doesn’t come to legislation or it is buried there.

Senator Stephen Conroy’s current trials are unpopular with a diverse range of people.

The criticisms include:

  • it goes too far: it is not just about hard-core pornography; it may censor so-called illegal sites such as those advocating euthanasia
  • as an opt-out system it infringes our freedoms, that is if individuals are able to opt-opt at all
  • it is censorship and like all censors they will start small and grow fast especially if there is no public scrutiny or accountability
  • what is being censored is likely to be kept secret
  • it is impracticable according to many of the ISPs
  • it appears to be made it up as they go along
  • it has numerous technical problems
  • it may slow the internet
  • it will not achieve its goals, uncertain as they are, in particular regarding child pornography

A visit to the Facebook group No Australian Internet Censorship will give some idea of the strength of opposition. A quick ‘internet filtering’ or “clean feed” web search will reveal a host of negative voices.

Now is the time for the government to walk away from this proposal. Keep or modify the opt-in system that exists now, if they wish. My views on that white elephant can be found at Filtering the Internet or my blog archives.

Kevin Rudd and Stephen Conroy have to drop this scheme now or it will haunt them for years to come. It is incredibly unpopular with many of their own party members and supporters. Even anti-Labor commentators such as Andrew Bolt are against it!

Asher Moses sums up recent opposition in an article in The Age yesterday:

As opposition grows against the Government’s controversial plan to censor the internet, the head of one of Australia’s largest ISPs has labelled the Communications Minister the worst we’ve had in the past 15 years.
Net censorship plan backlash

Recent articles at GetUp! detail the growing concern.
From Irene Graham:

If Labor implements non-optional ISP-level filtering, which would be contrary to their 2007 election policy, they will prove beyond doubt that Labor is not trustworthy. Accordingly, regardless of the type/s of material Labor says will be on their secret compulsory blocking list, such statements will not be trustworthy either. Labor’s intention to mandate non-optional ISP-level blocking must be opposed.
Secret, unaccountable, censorship is incompatible with democracy

From Colin Jacob:

Technologically, Internet filtering is a real nightmare. Regardless of the scheme adopted, a slowdown in Internet speeds is inevitable, and the more aggressive the filtering, the slower the network access becomes.

…But would the scheme protect children? All signs point to no. Even if the bureaucrats could somehow devise filtering criteria acceptable to all parents, the filters would let too much material through, and would be easy to circumvent.
Filtering at Odds with Broadband Revolution

In these dire economic times, save some money. The money would be better spent on the digital revolution in schools.

Sink this before it helps to sink the government’s credibility.

Kevin Rennie
Labor View from Bayside


53 Responses

  1. I have to admit, after my original defense of this legislation, it appears that I was wrong. Not just wrong, but W.R.O.N.G.!

    It now appears that there will be no opt out clause at all, which means, ALL internet connections will be censored. And the broad terms that the government has put out to define what is offensive really leaves it up to their interpretation. To say the least, I am horrified.

    One can only hope that people who have been blocking every other intitiative the government is pushing will do the same to this.

    I wouldn’t bet on it though. 😦

  2. Now this is a serious subject that should be addressed and one the opposition and media should be hounding, yet instead we get G20gate.

    I honestly believe this could come close to being an election loser for the Rudd government depending on when they implement the policy and how much it has stuffed things up at election time. Not if it stuffs things up but when it stuffs things up.

    As much as I look there is not one redeeming feature here and I hope this ends Conroy’s job as minister at least in this portfolio. The reason I believe Conroy should go is that from the very start he has not been willing to listen to any opposing opinion, facts or expertise in this area, which not only goes against making good policy but goes against how Rudd goes about just about every other policy formation.

  3. Where the hell did this bizarro policy come from? Is the government trying to get on the “good” side of Senator Fielding so he will ease other legislation through? WTF?

  4. Does anyone know if Conroy is a God botherer – ’cause that’s what this ISP policy smacks of…he certainly has the “air” of a “believer” and he has the determination of a “puritan”…

    …that said these policies are not just one Minister’s belief – they are put before Cabinet…

    …if this goes ahead it will destroy any faith (however small) I had in democratic governments, freedom of speech and non-discrimination…

    …it will completely destroy my beleif in the ALP as an alternative government …in any capacity!

    …all the government burbling about defence force personnel fighting for our freedoms is made a mockery by this one stupid approach to freedom of information…

  5. TB

    I have to admit, he is reminding me more and more of a Sunday school teacher in exile.

  6. Check out Jack Marx’s blog of today – he makes excellent points without laboring the issue

  7. Kevin thanks for doing a blog on this. I think the proposed censorship is a disgrace, and should be shunned by all in a free society.

    Adrian, the Opposition aren’t going to make an issue of this. It was the sort of thing one imagines being on their wish list of legislation.

    Stephen Conroy should be replaced and this policy scrapped, never to be revisited. I am disgusted that the ALP would even entertain it. Maybe there is some truth in the ‘Chairman Rudd’ smear.


    Folks you can contact Mr Rudd here, and it might help if you do.

    (Thanks to Scaper for the link)

  9. Kevin

    I hope you don’d mind… I put up a poll on the censorship plan.

  10. This Wikipedia entry is attempting to keep up with each stage of this abominable action by Conroy:

  11. In regard to censorship. There is another form happening at present too. The Atheist Foundation of Australia is trying to run a campaign based on a successful London Bus campaign where buses bear the slogan

    “Atheism – Because there is no credible evidence”

    Only trouble is Tasmania is refusing to put the AFA slogan on their buses and Australian mainland public transport has also refused the wording ‘- Atheism – because there is no credible evidence.’


    “…there is an investigation into ‘Freedom of belief and religion in the 21st Century in Australia’. Nowhere in the accompanying literature is it mentioned about ‘freedom from religion’ or the rights of those with no beliefs.

    The AFA has sent a submission encompassing those thoughts, as have others. The call for submissions is for anyone and I would urge those interested to send, even a small letter, pointing out this serious ‘oversight’. The commission has four people of religious persuasion in place but there is no representation from the secular side of society.

    It would appear that religion has so blinded the population that even people of faith are accepting this situation as being OK. It is not. It is a demonstration of the power of religion. It can lull its adherents into accepting the unacceptable.

    If we had a decent Human Rights and Equal Opportunities Act, giving religion no special favours and privileges, the AFA advertisement would encounter no problems. The British have one and that is why they are not encumbered by the same trouble we have in Australia…”

  12. Now worries, Joni.

    Suggest emailing your local ALP Members of Parliament. Email available at

    If there isn’t an email address, just a contact form try for Federal MHRs. sometimes you need to capitalise the names.

    For senators try If there are 2 with that surname (eg Brown) add firstname. to address.

  13. “One can only hope that people who have been blocking every other intitiative the government is pushing will do the same to this.
    wouldn’t bet on it though.”Tom

    Is wowserism that strong in this country? I hope not & I’m still hoping that they’re having a lend.
    I would vote against them on this principle alone.

    I agree that the ‘tards will probably back it, it reeks of their burnt bread & rancid butter.

  14. Cool post Kevin.

  15. “Does anyone know if Conroy is a God botherer?”

    Pretty sure he is a faithful right wing Catholic.

    The man and his plan have to go.

  16. Thanks kittylitter – that includes us agnostics too – a silent minority if ever there was one!

  17. “Pretty sure he is a faithful right wing Catholic.
    The man and his plan have to go.”jimjim

    Giving the moderates a bad name (& I ain’t one).

    If both sides collude on this am I correct in assuming that it’s a given?

  18. I think Caney@3 got it right and this is a worry when the nation has to suffer on the whim of this person.

    We are told we are too fat, drink too much and now that the choice of sites we visit should be restricted.

    What happened to personal responsibility of the people…I find it hard to swallow this nanny crap!

  19. …and now workchoices will not be dismantled?

    No wonder we live in a world of cheats and liars – it obviously begins right at the top…

    …and here we are in my own family creating a fuss over cheats in computer games with the g/kids – their parents and we g/parents are firm believers in zero tolerance – (eg stop the graffiti before it becomes serious criminal damage, stop simple cheating before it becomes a way of life).

    I have mentioned before the sex, foul language and violence seen on our midday movies and, if they can’t control that, then they don’t have a chance at the internet…

    …however they don’t seem concerned with the movies (and some other shows) and that leads me to believe that controlling the internet has a deeper more sinister purpose…

    …remember my comments above about zero tolerance – well that can work in other ways too – start controlling in small ways and that power can easily be corrupted into larger and larger chunks of “freedom of information” disappearing, including blogs where people gather to exchange ideas…

    …then add the scenario (God forbid) that an extreme left or right wing party takes over government (or develops within) in Australia and Mr (Mr!?) Conroy has handed them the tools to control the population and communication – the Nazis controlled the population by disallowing congregations of more than three people…how many people hit this site in one day – to exchange ideas thoughts and, in this case, anger at the government?

    This IS the FREE WORLD!

    Maybe the future is upon us now?

  20. TB,

    I have no doubt that we would’ve ended up like Singapore under Howard.

    If this internet filtering system gets up, we’ll simply be heading down the same path..

  21. Yes TB just as this internet filtering is an attempt to control something the government currently can’t, the anti-terrorism laws were a way of controlling groups and people who were making noises against the government. Howard had already made moves under the anti-terrorism laws to start banning or incriminating groups that weren’t terrorists but were against him.

    I don’t see the current Rudd government being any different in this and that severely disappoints me. Yet again a government bows to big business, the very same big business that has screwed the planet economically and environmentally yet always falling back on the public to bail them out, at the same time controlling the public by buying governments.

    The current system is a proven failure and has totally stuffed the planet with the only answer being strong governments properly regulating business putting environment first, social consequences second and then company profit after that.

    Yet here yet again we have George W Bush in the prelude to the G20 summit saying that he will not entertain regulation of any type and the problem with the free market isn’t under regulation, but more than that he averred the free market hasn’t failed at all, governments and regulation has. That isn’t George W Bush speaking but US big business as it seeks two trillion US dollars on top of the 700 billion dollars already given to it as well as using this crisis to seek total deregulation.

    It appears Rudd is in the big business first people second camp.

  22. Governments run (and Oppositions) by multi millionaires is the first clue…

    ….just as local councils are loaded with developer puppets so the banks and big business are sponsoring control of our national governments…

    …nothing has ever changed…

    …that’s why I have always referred to them as the “robber barons”…

    …we use to have public servants who at least attempted to police the regulations – not anymore…

    …we really are going from bad to worse – its obvious who is pulling GWB’s strings from behind and trying to pre-empt and influence the G20 meeting…incorrigible springs to mind!

  23. The total financial deregulation push going on at the moment is being conducted in a similar way as the tobacco lobby ran their campaign and then the anti-Global Warming campaign was run. With the tobacco and anti-GW campaigns the same PR firm was used and the US administrations in both cases deliberately muddied the waters at the behest of the industries involved.

    The next step was scientists under the pay of the industries pop up and profusely publish misleading and murky data but in the case of the financial crisis it will be economists rising to the fore. Then a large cadre of deniers like Sherlock on AGW will arise saying that financial regulation will be an absolute disaster for the planet and waste resources on something that is not causing any problems.

  24. I am not actually too worried about this proposed internet censorship plan.

    The bottom line is that the government cannot do it without being able to break encrypted connections. They can only do this with something called the ‘man in the middle attack’. To use this technique they have to either control or invalidate the third party security certificates upon which the whole security of the internet connections rely.

    Without controlling sec certs, the government cannot break encrypted connections AND keep the net secure for legit encrypted info. But there is NO WAY the internet security certifying authorities (who are multiple, independent, and do not reside in Australia) will hand over sec certs to any government (indeed, avoiding government control of internet security was one of the main reasons for having independent sec certs).

    And if the government tries to break encrypted links without control of the sec certs, then it will invalidate them and it will not be possible to know if the site you have connected to is the one it claims to be. No online interaction or transaction will be safe and secure. No business, financial, medical, personal info transmitted over the net could be guaranteed to 1) go to the right person, and 2) not be viewed by an unauthorised third party on its way there.

    Serious internet criminal types will be able to carry on as before.

    It is simply not possible for the government to do what they are claiming that they can do. This policy is dead before it even gets implemented. I am prepared to bet the government, especially Senator Conroy, is deeply regretting ever proposing this idiotic and dangerous policy.

  25. JimJim, shoo-sh or Master Fielding will find out.

  26. JimJim @5:16

    Good post, thanks. I hope you’re right & what you stated makes sense to me upon reflection.
    With any luck they are simply posturing for the sake of fundie appeasement…& not actually choosing to stipulate a mental filter for us, their underlings.

  27. Hope your theory is right, JJ, sound very feasible – but we are dealing with a bunch of dummies here, who are obviously recieving advice from – other dummies…

    Bit like the Privacy Act – the only people it really helps is the crims!

  28. JimJim, I hope you are right as well. The only thing that concerns me is that China have internet censorship so it must be able to be done. I saw an interview with Anthoney Lowenstein on ABC Fora and I think he said that Google were assisting the Chinese Govt and had developed software.

    Haven’t read his book yet.

  29. I think it is about time I get in contact with Fielding…any advice people?

  30. There have been whole online campaigns that have contacted Conroy including industry associations but Conroy has bluntly stated the stance won’t change and always falls back to “protecting children”.

    As long as there is any type of censorship that will get rid of the ‘evils’ of the innertubes and the world Fielding will support it no matter what the consequences to the general population.

  31. I can’t bring myself to do it…stuff it, he does not deserve to be informed and I don’t need him!

  32. “The only thing that concerns me is that China have internet censorship so it must be able to be done.”

    Yes, that worries me too, Tracie. All the experts are saying it can’t be done, but no one is explaining how China is doing it.

  33. China is doing it with the full help of the big Internet companies like Google and MS. These companies get away with it because they say by doing this they are helping China step towards democracy and the fact that China is not a democracy.

    Of course if Google or Microsoft ever tried to do this in a democratic country there would be hell to pay and they would rightly be condemned world wide.

    What China/India etc. does show is if let loose just how far big business will go, from almost slave and child labour (only stopping when it becomes and international news item) to helping governments in censorship.

  34. According to Lowenstein Western corporations such as Cisco, Microsoft, Google and Yahoo are willing to help..

    China maintains the world’s most effective internet censorship, dubbed “The Great Firewall” or “The Golden Shield Project”.

    Tens of thousands of people are employed to monitor web traffic. Western companies such as Cisco, Yahoo, Google and Microsoft have willingly assisted officials in their goals and sensitive subjects such Taiwan, Tibet and democracy are routinely excised.

    Lowenstein says on his blog that software is already being used by internet users to avoid censorship.

    I think the point remains however that in a ‘free’ country, one should not have to be concerned about such censorship.

  35. China’s Great Firewall is being circumvented all the time by thousands of people. All China has succeeded in doing is adding an extra step or two for those who want to avoid censorship.

    The most dangerous and troubling aspect of our government’s plan is not that it might work, it won’t, but the ‘thinking’ behind it. Their apparent belief that they have the right to do this, and that it will make any difference to serious internet based crime. They don’t, and it won’t.

  36. I see that Jack the Insider is not impressed either.

    My problem is the government won’t back down on this because of whom???

  37. I was just going to post the same link, scaper.

    Has anyone found a MSM commentator who supports the censorship proposal?

    Rudd, Conroy and the govt are going to get themselves into serious trouble on this issue. Time to back off and let it die.

  38. Sansy,

    I reckon the internet cenorship issue is one that Talcum could really beat Rudd and Conroy around the head with.

    I wonder why he hasn’t seized on it…?

  39. reb

    Mr Turnbull has not grabbed it yet because of the religious right who are all for censorship of the internet. The party has been hijacked by extremists ( just like the republicans in the US) in many areas and will not want to rock the boat of support.

  40. Maybe people could call Senator Conroy’s office (electorate office) and ask that the proposal be terminated immediately.

    (03) 9650 1188

  41. reb. The opposition under Nelson started to protest this but backed down when it was rightly pointed out that in the last election they had a similar policy and Labor played Me Too with it. Howard made a huge point about Labor copying their Internet censorship package so they can’t very well now protest something they authored.

    One area they can attack on and it would make the current policy slightly more palatable is that the previous governments policy was an opt in. When the policy is tabled I’m hoping the opposition will be seeking to amend it for an opt in but I don’t see Fielding supporting this. Nick Xenophon might.

  42. It is a waste of time ringing that person because all the strings lead to one office just like the last government.

    I’d like to see the MSM put this person on the spot on this issue…but will they?

  43. Scape, I rang, and the receptionist said she “would pass my request on”. What will come of it, who knows, but I feel the more people call, write, email etc, the louder and clearer they’re bound to get the message. I’d hate to see the Labor government sacrificed on such a crass piece of right-wing crap.

  44. Jack The Insider has a link to “The Onion Router” on his post today which claims to somewhat nullify the proposed filter…he is a champ.
    I wonder, being a digital philistine, whether it is worth downloading before it too becomes “prohibited content” & does it actually work? ie, will it get around the filter if/when it is implemented?

  45. HD,

    Also checkout Mask Surf Pro

    There are just so many products like this around.

  46. Pressed submit too early …

    Mask Surf uses the Tor protocol linked to in Jacks article.

  47. Thanx sans, so you reckon it works then?

    If it does then it really begs to be asked “Just how f@ckin’ stupid is the next to useless filter as a solution to web content in the first place?”!

  48. Wow! 5 people actually support the filter in the poll above! FMD.

    I expected Fielding, Conroy, Conroy’s mum & Fred Nile but who is the other one?

  49. Not that I condone this sort of thing, HD, but progs like Mask Surf Pro allow you to watch BBC TV programmes which are normally limited to UK-based IP addresses.

  50. “I expected Fielding, Conroy, Conroy’s mum & Fred Nile but who is the other one?”

    Elaine Nile.

  51. I have published a post that shows the complete absurdity of the Clean Feed rules.

    It would have the site from which I sourced the link BANNED – go and have a look, have a laugh and then get every Australian you know to tell Federal Members of Parliament that Australians do not want censorship that would put us amongst the top 10 most censored countries in the world – including Korea and Iran.

    But, if we get “clean feed” here is Australia, I would not even get to ask you to look at these photographs, because the site would be BANNED. Now that is censorship!

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