Last night, Senator Stephen Conroy appeared on the ABC TV program Q&A, and spent almost half the program defending his internet filter plans. More than 2000 people sent questions on the issue, and yet the Senator somehow managed to avoid most of them by repeating the same old boring arguments. And because we have the ability to analyse the arguments, we're going to refute each one of them, one by one.The show began with each of the other panelists stating their opinion on the issue, and unsurprisingly the overwhelming opinion was of concern about the filter, or at the very least concern over how the situation is being handled. The exception was Sun Herald columnist Andrew Bolt, who seemed to do whatever he could to disagree with popular opinion at every opportunity.
"The trial is to establish what is possible" Senator Conroy began, before going on to explain that there have been previous, much publicised trials conducted by previous governments which had shown that software could slow the internet down between 3 and 87 per cent. Of course we already knew this, although the Senator made no effort to mention that even though this trial was completed a couple of years ago, the most effective filters impacted performance the most, while the 3% slow-down filter let stuff through like ping pong balls through a basketball net.
Still, technology has improved significantly since the last trial (apparently), so the government is "not afraid to have a trial to find out" to see if its progressed sufficiently. They will then be "guided by the trial". The problem with this is the quality of information received from the trial - considering the participating ISPs (with the exception of iPrimus) aren't exactly major players, and the fact that iPrimus was leaving the option to volunteer for the trial up to its members, the results you can expect will be questionable at best and misleading at worst.
Next, Conroy moved onto the issue of what will be blocked, and the issue of the leaked ACMA blacklist on Wikileaks. "The blacklist has existed for nine years", the Senator said. A few times. "And" he continued, with a wave of his hands and a growing air of confidence, "it hasn't destroyed the net; it hasn't caused mass panic." Someone should tell him that's because we can still access the sites on the list. Not that we condone or suggest that we ever want to visit a child porn or pro-rape site, but any site that happens to be incorrectly placed on the blacklist (like Wikileaks, perhaps?) is still accessible, so it's not an issue that effects our browsing experience.
But that's when things started to venture away from normality and into the absurd.
"Now I'd like to talk about the dentist, 'cos that's be agood lot of fun this week. Here's what happened... The Russian Mob"...
WTF? The Russian Mob? Okay Conroy, you piqued my interest. Continue...
"...targeted Queensland small businesses last year. What they did was identify websites that had blank pages underneath the main page. And what they would do, they'd put some material that would be refused classification on that site, on that one page within that site. Then they spam all the people who'd be interested in looking at this material. And we were advised by international agencies that this was what was happening. And so it was blocked internationally - it was never blocked in Australia. And then, it went away.
.... And to give you an example of the sort of success that they can have, they targeted a while ago, the Czech astronomy services. And within an hour or two of them sending out their spam, 12 million people had accessed vile child porn, that was attached to the Czech astronomy site"
The problem here is that because the blacklist is supposed to be kept secret - that there's no transparency in the process as to what content will be blacklisted, this means that any victim of this sort of attack will essentially lose their website and any associated business because they'll have no idea why people can't access their site. Not only that, but there's no way to ensure that these kinds of attacks are filtered - if the site's not on the blacklist, then people will still be able to access it, and by the time the Government, or the ACMA or the classifications board has noticed and added the site, the damage will have already been done.
And if the Russian mob didn't do it for you, Conroy's response to Tony Jones' question about Asher Moses' story in the SMH yesterday that artist Bill Henson was on the leaked blacklist will blow your mind:
"The classification board looked at this website, and actually said 'It's PG' and a technical error inside ACMA, I'm advised..." (derisive laughter from the audience) "Literally, a technical error, included it. But it was actually cleared by the classification board, so it shouldn't have been on the list. Now I've asked ACMA in the last few hours to go through their entire list again to see if there's any other examples of this. And at this stage - and they're plowing their way through it overnight - they found this one site that falls in this category where it's been misclassified - not by the classification board, but by the ACMA technology that they've been doing."
So, a technical error, hey? Good thing it was picked up then. Imagine if Wikileaks had never published that list so we could discover for ourselves that there are sites perfectly safe for children being blacklisted, and potentially blocked if you introduce the mandatory filter.
Next up was the possibility of the filter and blacklist being used to block politial content, with some talk about Jihad (although sadly not a Jihad against the filter itself). Enter Mr Conroy:
"The Broadcast Services Act, under which the blacklist works, has got nothing to do with political content. You would have to change the Act. Now even my harshest critics are suggesting we're trying to change the Act. What they say is 'Ooh, we're worried about might happen in the future', but there's no suggestion, there has never been a suggestion and there will never be a suggestion from a Labor government that we're going to look at banning political material... Attempts to suggest that what we have been talking about are about political content are simply misleading."
You can't know what's going to happen in the future Senator, but by introducing a filter you are setting a very dangerous platform for someone without your ideals to begin censoring political material in the future, whether the Act says so or not. The truth is that because the list is secret, we'll never know, and that is reprehensible. Hell, let's just reignite the cold war and get some communist scaremongering (or Islamic scaremongering these days, I suppose) and see what happens.
It sort of dragged on a bit after that, but worth noting is that Senator Conroy is driving for the classifications board to take control of the blacklist to keep RC material consistent across all forms of media. Of course, that would exclude video games at the moment, but that's an issue that wasn't discussed and so we won't go into it here.
The one good element that Conroy did announce was that the Federal Police did crack a P2P child pornography ring in Queensland earlier this week. Sure, it had nothing to do with the filter, but it's the only reassuring element to come out of the program from the Senator.
It's mind boggling just how the stubborn the Government is being on this issue. our only real hope is that the technical trials will fail. Hopefully then the money and resources the Government is putting into the filter can be redirected to trying to capture the bastards perpetrating the criminal acts, rather than trying to protect the majority from something that will never cross their path online while setting a platform to control political opinion on the web.
If you missed the show, you can watch it on iView, or check it out here.