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"...public opinion deserves to be respected as well as despised" G.W.F. Hegel, 'Philosophy of Right'

bad Conroy « Previous | |Next »
November 1, 2008

This time last year we were watching the ALP make halfway decent use of the internet in its election campaign, doing way better with MySpace, YouTube and other bits and pieces than the Liberals who, by comparison, were still drawing on cave walls with lumps of clay. We were promised broadband fabulousness and a laptop for every school kid. Kevin Rudd told us the internet is the way of the future while John Howard was filmed smiling admiringly at a white box with plug holes in the back that apparently had something to do with that computer thingy they all do these days. Howard warned us about porn, Rudd said our kids need the net.

You'd think that with all that tech savvy Stephen Conroy would anticipate at least a tiny bit of the mess he's got himself into with his ISP filtering scheme, now sans the opt out bit. And if he's surprised by the current levels of crossness, he'll be shocked at what follows if he goes through with it. Blocking porn is one thing, chewing up around 30% of costly bandwidth is another.

Mark Pesci foresees nasty things coming Conroy's way via the Twitter mob. As quite a few commenters on that piece point out, Twitter isn't as gigantic a network as its enthusiasts sometimes think, but that neglects the fact that Twitterers have connections everywhere, some of whom blog, some of whom start Facebook groups, some of whom write for Crikey, and one of whom they were reading at Unleashed.

Stilgherrian's another Twitterer who turns up everywhere, but tends to be slightly less restrained about things that make him cranky than the polite Mr Pesci. If you don't mind a bit of blue language with your multitudes of links, there are bits and pieces here, here, and here, an award for Conroy here, and a reproduced Crikey piece here.

Also via Stilgherrian, some big ISPs are unhappy, as you'd expect. Network engineer Mark Newton's piece at Online Opinion is a nice summary of what's wrong with the idea from a user's point of view, which takes account of a newish bit of reality of which Conroy is possibly unaware:

Not only does everyone know that the Internet isn't frightening or uncontrollable; not only do the population's own experiences clash with the Minister's hysterical allusions to unrestricted access to child pornography; but, much to the Minister's apparent astonishment, he doesn't even have the loudest voice anymore.

In the past, politicians have been able to shut-down debate by casting McCarthyist slurs which compare opponents to child pornographers: but when Mr Conroy used the same tactic in Senate Estimates on October 20, the blogosphere's incredulous ridicule seeped through into the commercial media, yielding headlines about the Minister's disgraceful debasement of the public discourse.

They may like to ignore the internet when it suits them, but the media are our friends on this. They like to pretend otherwise, but they're as reliant on access as anyone else, particularly if they want to put together one of those moral panics about depravity on the internet. Or publish pictures off some poor sod's MySpace after they've been involved in something newsworthy.

It's now being suggested that ISP level filtering could introduce new hazards for internet banking and other financial transactions.

Way to go Mr Conroy. Maybe you could get some kind of campaign going to get us all nostalgic about those lovely old passbook accounts. The kind that came with free money boxes for kids. We could use the money boxes to store the compensation you're going to owe us for commandeering the bandwidth we pay for.

| Posted by Lyn at 4:45 PM | | Comments (10)


Conroy is not quite the Franca Arena of federal Labor but he's in the same general category. Lots of pursed lips and resolute determination to exploit a pissant position in government to Do Good and Make a Mark. If Family First was a viable party I get the impression Conroy would jump ship in a moment. It's easy to forget that Harradine was once a rock solid ALP member and Joe de Bruin still is.

Rudd doesn't seem to have any problem with it all, which is eloquent testimony to his view of the role of government.

I agree about Conroy---a social conservative DLP type, authoritarian and all round bully boy. No surprises there. Nor is the way he is preparing the way for a return to a Telstra monopoly with an outdated broadband network. Canberra has a good track record for bad communications policy.

I am surprised at how the moral panic about porn and paedophiles flourishing on the internet is being used by right wing Labor as a cover to for a broader type of censorship based on mandatory filtering of unhealthy or illegal material. This is not just about protecting the innocent kids of working families from nasty pornographers. Mandatory ISP filtering in Australia is not needed for that since ISPs can provide customers with filters or an optional filtered service. There is no need to filter the entire network to provide "clean feeds" to wholesome families.

What is most disturbing is that there is no hint of a commitment to liberalism and individual freedom in this mandatory ISP-level filtering. Simon Hackett, Ceo of Internode, expects the Rudd government to mandate a blacklist of IP addresses that by law an ISP is not permitted to serve to a customer. This forces ISPs into a 'gatekeeping' role. It is not the role of the ISP to regulate internet use. They are private businesses.

I'd forgotten about Harradine. The man who invested his entire wealth of political capital, what little that was, in trying to prevent Howard from exploiting race. Turned out just swell.

As for Rudd, so much for evidence based policy and building strong foundations for our proud nation's future.

Peter Black says that the Government's own testing has revealed that the technology is flawed:

it blocks content that should not be blocked, it is unable to block peer-to-peer traffic that comprises of more than 60 per cent of Australia's internet traffic and it can be easily avoided through the use of an encrypted Virtual Private Network.
Government testing has also indicated that the filter might slow internet speeds by up to 70 per cent.

Black says that it is somewhat ironic that the same Government that is committed to a National Broadband Network would also slow internet speeds by insisting on a technologically flawed model of government censorship.

Apparently the list of Web sites that will be put on Conroy’s proposed blacklist will not be accessible to the public.

Graham Bassett, a barrister at Byron Bay Chambers who has taught Internet Law at Queensland University of Technology, says:

“If you have a situation where what is being banned is never made public, then how do we know that there hasn’t been an extension beyond material which infringes censorship publication, for example a political party or some people that might be defined as a terrorist organisation? The content becomes based upon whatever might be the whims of the people controlling those filters and the services that report to the filters

Conroy's lack of clarity over what will and won’t be blocked is disturbing.


"Government testing has also indicated that the filter might slow internet speeds by up to 70 per cent"

70 percent is the highest number I've seen anyone suggest. Can you imagine it? For most of us that would be slower than the 56k which never really materialised. What would that do to productivity? If you bought Office 2007 online the download would take days. What self respecting kid doing their Australian History homework is going to wait for a decent picture of a merino to download?

It's very China isn't it? Apparently in Senate Estimates Conroy at first claimed other countries have something like this, but he had to back down. I can't imagine the Greens agreeing to it and I wonder how much thought Conroy put into it.

quite a lot of thought I would presume. This is not slip up or shoddy work. It's a well thought out strategy that is pushing here and there to find chinks in a liberal culture.

The Victorian Labor right put Family First in power in the Senate through their Senate deals, is deeply Catholic, and deeply opposed to a the libertarian strand of a liberal culture. For all their differences from the Coalitiion the Labor Right are part of the same social conservative movement that Howard gave voice to.

Conroy is trying to see how much he can get away with in terms of censorship. They would be definitely aiming to target the work of Bill Henson and other high culture artists with a critical edge that fires arrows at the icons of a conservative religious culture.

*Jumps up and down with excitement* I know!! I know!!!!

They can make everyone have government internet IDs that prove our age and every time we go online we have to enter our special pin and anyone under 18 can only get access to the kiddies' section which will be healthy stuff like Encarta and The Lion King and 'Important Dates and Events in Our History by Geoffrey Blainey' and people over 18 who visit sites with eeeewww content will have their names published in Hansard so police can make sure they're not living near schools or anything.

Hey I have more ideas but it's not clever to put them out in the public where the pedos can read them ... tell Conroy to email me.

You're a dangerous man Ken Lovell

What a mess he and the management black shirts are making of the ABC since change of government.
Useless like a hip-pocket on a singlet.