Censorship & the politics of distraction

Given that I am a self-confessed “leftie” and this is often (on this blog at least) confused with the idea that I will defend a Labor government regardless of merit – I thought I’d throw up an article on something I think the government should be hammered on; both for what they are doing and how they are trying to do it.

I’m sure everyone reading this blog is aware of the Labor government’s “Server-side Internet Filtering Trial” that they’ve been running prior to actually trying to pass legislation. To sum up the initial proposition, Labor wanted to put into place legislation that would require ISP’s (companies that are somehow impossible to reach when your Internet connection goes down) to implement “opt-out” filtering of your web connections supposedly to prevent child pornography from being distributed. That is, unless you explicitly told your ISP you didn’t want the government-mandated “clean feed”, they would analyse the sites you were trying to connect to and prevent you from connecting to those known to have child porn.

What has happened in the meantime, is that this concept has expanded somewhat from simply filtering child pornography (an impossible, yet somewhat laudable aim) to mandatory filtering of a secret list of ACMA prohibited sites as well as preventing me from purchasing &/or downloading content from overseas that ACMA refuses to classify. This expansion is going above and beyond what they presented to the public and is being pushed through using the disingenuous insinuation that anyone opposed to the idea is batting for those that want to distribute child porn.

Ignoring the fact (as has been repeated to the government from several official sources) that child pornography is generally distributed in a peer-to-peer manner (i.e. it’s not uploaded to a website but sent person-to-person after the sender validates as much as possible you are not law enforcement); the web sites the ACMA list contains cover a far broader range of subject matter – some of which are not actually illegal! This list contains websites dealing with perfectly legal (if unusual) “fetishes”. While I think the Internet would be a better place without ‘goatse’ and ‘tubgirl’ (if you don’t know what I’m talking about, don’t search for them, you are better off not knowing) – I am perfectly OK, as is the law, if a guy/gal needs a combination of latex, custard, and “intestinal hygiene” in their fantasies – so be it. It’s not harming anyone and it’s not as easy for a child to “stumble upon” them as you would think.

My kids are quite proficient at using the Internet and they have yet to stumble upon anything more risque than the picture of a bikini model dressed in more than what you would find on the cover of Zoo. I know this because, as a responsible parent, I supervise them when they are using the Internet and helped them to learn the skills of searching Google for what they are after. If I was really paranoid, I could even install Net Nanny or similar (filters I can get for free!) but I have yet to see the need.

More importantly though than the fact that the ACMA is trying to filter these perfectly legal sites out is that we are not allowed to know what the sites are. Were I to link to the WikiLeaks page containing the last known ACMA black-list – I could be taken to court by the government facing fines &/or prison time. This is probably because the ACMA and the government know that, even with their mandatory filters, a person with a modicum of technical savvy (say, the next generation of children) can bypass it with ease. Whatever the reason, the government & ACMA have decided that only they have the right to know what we are allowed to look at and the taxpayer, not being aware of what is or isn’t on the list, has no idea why he cannot get to his local dentist’s website or his favourite latex / custard fetish site.

A recent addition to this mandatory ACMA black-list is the addition of censorship of sites selling computer games the ACMA has refused classification. Now some background on this for those not following computer game news like I do…

In Australia the ACMA can rate movies & books R18+ for subject matter & visuals that go outside the accepted norms for children & your teenagers. Basically your sexy & extremely violent movies fall into this category. However, due to some resistance from certain State Attorney Generals, there is no equivalent rating for “interactive entertainment” (known colloquially as computer games). The end result of this dichotomy is that games where you can (& to some extent are encouraged to) shoot hookers and run over senior citizens are given the rating M15+. In other words, are available for children to purchase & play. Now given that the average age of the Australian gamer is over 18, there are going to be games involving the afore mentioned latex & custard fetish. If they wanted in a video form, they could pick up “Custard Latex Babes” between the “Chunky Butts” VHS & “Debbie Does Dallas” DVD at their local adult store. Instead they have to purchase it from overseas and have been doing so for some time now.

Instead of fixing this dichotomy by equalising the rating system across both videos & interactive entertainment, as a vast majority of Australians would prefer, the government is going to extend their filtering to cover this hole in their policy as well. I assume that this will be covered under the same “government eyes only” laws preventing me from telling you what they would add to the mandatory ACMA filter. What is next? This is the actions of a corrupt government such as Iran or an absolute authoritarian state like China. Two years ago, I would have scoffed at the thought we’d introduce these types of laws in Australia.

What makes it worse is the completely dishonest & disingenuous way the government shuts down debate with their “child pornography” line. Whenever questioned about these laws and their possibility of trampling over our civil rights – the government comes up with lines such as “Illegal material is illegal material. Child pornography is child pornography. I trust you are not suggesting that people should have access to child pornography“; prompting a senator to ask “I am just wondering if I can put these questions to you without being accused of being pro child pornography“. This is a blatant use of an emotionally charged issue to prevent debate on something that Conroy himself admits “won’t stop child porn“.

In this area, the government is not only being heavy-handed & illogical in their approach to the issue, but downright dishonest in both what they state they are trying to do and how they conduct the debate on it. Makes you wonder what lines they are going to pull out when it comes to actually debating the legislation!

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12 Responses

  1. Then what happens when someone comes back from overseas, especially and Australian who has lived overseas for a length of time, and attempts to access a site they freely did whilst overseas and nothing comes up? The service isn’t available according to the 503,

    So a big noise is about it and it makes the media, and more people come out and say they can’t access sites they could from overseas.

    Government line. “The system can’t be perfect and some sites are going to fall through the cracks.”

    Conroy’s line. “Russian Mafia hijacking blank website pages.”

    Then what happens when it’s discovered that many of the sites which are available overseas but not in Australia are sites criticising the government or are political in nature?

    And where does the extension of the filtering stop, especially since the public isn’t allowed by law and threat of punitive action from knowing the actual extent of the filtering?

    This is wrong on all fronts and is my greatest disappointment with the Rudd government, with the only thing upsetting me even more is the fact the opposition will embrace this and extend it themselves if in government.

    Make no mistake, Howard’s draconian anti-terrorist legislation had the ulterior motive of being able to be extended to groups beyond terrorists (and it was), which is why Labor and the States embraces it so readily. This internet censorship is another step down that path.

  2. No matter what colour Guernsey the government of the day wears they want to restrict the population, bit by bit!

    Just like alcopops, they play to the public’s moral heartstrings.

    These bikie laws the states are enacting are a concern also.

  3. This internet censorship is another step down that path.

    Of course it is, but Australia is but a piece of that puzzle (palace), which may amount to a more global agenda when the comparisons across jurisdictions and the interrelated agencies and their back-stage liaison bureaux are run, instead of looking at Australia as an isolated and dis-integrated example.

  4. Given that I am a self-confessed “leftie” and this is often (on this blog at least) confused with the idea that I will defend a Labor government regardless of merit

    Same as me Ben. Don’t bother me with facts when my mind is already made up.

  5. Yeah, it’s quite frustrating, Miglo.

    And you do not want me to get started on the travesty which is the NSW State Government. The worst thing is that I have to also put some blame on the Liberals – if they weren’t such a completely incompetent rabble they would have been in place last time.

  6. When is this fine piece of legislation going to be presented?

    I don’t recall any commentary at all on this policy by the conservatives, where do they stand?

  7. Not sure, but I think I’m in agreement with legion 🙂
    The predatory corporations and the US right to copyright throughout the globe is what I think it’s about. Instead of changing their sales policies and coming up with attractive consumer options, the corps just want the governments to do the policing and the heavy lifting for them whilst carrying on business as usual.

  8. Agree with you on the bikies scaper, that is an extension of government power and very similar to the terrorist legislation, but alcopops, it has nothing to do with this or the nanny state. It is an equalisation of a revenue disparity wrapped in a faux honourable package.

  9. The ‘politics’ of Internet Censorship seem simple enough. First, when it comes to internet censorship, no-one can do it with any great degree of success. But second, you must be seen to be ‘trying’.

    Any government or opposition that opposes measures to ‘protect’ the populace (particularly the children) from ‘degeneracy’ is making a big mistake.

    The fact that their efforts are ‘mistaken’ or ‘ill directed’ (which it is, particularly for the determined) is irrelevant in political terms. Good ‘politics’ demands that Governments ‘try’ and be seen to be ‘trying’ on an ongoing basis.

    The danger is that the Government of the day overplays its hand to ensure they can’t be trumped by an Opposition and in that pursuit give us draconian legislation. In that vein, Labor gave us mandatory detention and the Liberals gave us anti-terrorism legislation.

    As always, we seems to get what we deserve.

  10. Nice post BT.

    IF this attempt at cattle control gets up then I’m afraid I’m gonna be VERY mistrusting of government (even moreso) in the future.

    One thing I cannot abide is being treated like someone else has the right to control what they see as being fit for my mental consumption; because “it’s for my own good”.

    Legion is onto it. The freedom of access to information which currently exists is not conducive to “unabated governing”. I doubt that the global population has ever before had the “answers” at its fingertips as it does now.

  11. Ah yes, I recall the good old days when Henry Bolte’s Chief Secretary, one Arthur Rylah, had the Victorian rozzers out-and-about covering-up the naughty bits on copies (and even posters) of Michaelangelo’s David to save hapless Victorians from becoming contaminated by the moral flith of that old Italian pervert.

    Now, of course, we have the Web, but there’s a bit of Arthur still with us as the Federal Government sets-out to save us all from our own baser instincts.
    (Actually, with some people, it’s more than a bit…its quite a lot).

    Where would we be without Goodfather Kev leaning over our shoulders and blanking-out the naughty bits whenever we surf the Web.?

    Honestly, without a strong moral Government making these decisions for me, I’d be lost…..lost, I say.

  12. (sigh) The sad thing about these filters is that they are ultimately unworkable.

    There was a program on last year called ‘Six degrees of Kevin Bacon’. Basically the six degrees phenomenon. The data from this game was used by some mathematicians and discovered some interesting things about interconnectivity. A few people are nodes ie they know a lot of other people.(like Joni) A diagram of the relationships looks like an Internet interconnectivity map. Same theory is being used in cancer research which is where some of the new drug applications are coming from. They’ve found nodes in the human genome. ie a drug works on cancer A. The genome shows a cluster with cancer A, B. C and D. Drug works against C, D and E as well. So its not pie in the sky stuff.

    One of the stunning results of the math research is this : computer viruses cannot be eradicated from the Internet. Unless every computer is shut down and cleaned. Reinfection probability approaches unity. Information is like a virus. Once released its beyond being called back.

    Network designers know this. So . . .here’s the conundrum . . .to make a filter work . . . .you have to either restrict connectivity or employ a filter like a virus ie it sits across a gateway or becomes an active hunter killer. The filters would be countered and . . we get a new filter . . .a new counter. . ..and away we go.

    To me . . . .while the exercise is political in nature . . . .its being aided and abetted by the IT industry for gain. You have to be constantly updating the filter. Its a brand new business just like anti virus software. Or Y2K.

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