[LINK] Conroy's advisor bullying censorship dissenters

Jan Whitaker jwhit at janwhitaker.com
Fri Oct 24 08:58:06 EST 2008

[I am an Internode customer and rang them straight away when the 
announcement of this policy came out earlier this year. I'm glad to 
see they are fighting against it, be it by Mark's personal views, but 
hopefully by Simon's executive position as well in a more direct way. 
(Simon are you still on link?) At a time that electronic 
communications is so important for business and in a time of economic 
disruption, that the government actually wants to cripple that 
communication is ludicrous.]

Filtering out the fury: how government tried to gag web censor critics

Asher Moses
October 24, 2008 - 7:00AM

The Federal Government is attempting to silence critics of its 
controversial plan to censor the internet, which experts say will 
break the internet while doing little to stop people from accessing 
illegal material such as child pornography.

Internet providers and the government's own tests have found that 
presently available filters are not capable of adequately 
distinguishing between legal and illegal content and can degrade 
internet speeds by up to 86 per cent.

Documents obtained by us show the office of the Communications 
Minister, Stephen Conroy, tried to bully ISP staff into suppressing 
their criticisms of the plan.

Senator Conroy has since last year's election victory remained 
tight-lipped on the specifics of his $44.2 million policy but, 
grilled by a Senate Estimates committee this week, he said the 
Government was looking at forcing ISPs to implement a two-tiered 
filtering system.

The first tier, which internet users would not be able to opt out of, 
would block all "illegal material". Senator Conroy has previously 
said Australians would be able to opt out of any filters to obtain 
"uncensored access to the internet".

The second tier, which is optional, would filter out content deemed 
inappropriate for children, such as pornography.

But neither filter tier will be capable of censoring content obtained 
over peer-to-peer file sharing networks, which account for an 
estimated 60 per cent of internet traffic.

Senator Conroy said Britain, Sweden, Canada and New Zealand had all 
implemented similar filtering systems. However, in all cases, 
participation by ISPs was optional and the filtering was limited in 
scope to predominantly child pornography.

Colin Jacobs, chair of the online users' lobby group Electronic 
Frontiers Australia said: "I'm not exaggerating when I say that this 
model involves more technical interference in the internet 
infrastructure than what is attempted in Iran, one of the most 
repressive and regressive censorship regimes in the world."

Critics of the ISP-level filtering plan say software filters 
installed by the user on their PC, which are already provided by the 
government for free at netalert.gov.au, are more than adequate.

Mark Newton, an engineer at Internode, has heavily criticised the 
Government and its filtering policy on the Whirlpool broadband 
community forum, going as far as saying it would enable child abuse.

He said the plan would inevitably result in significant false 
positives and degrade internet speeds tremendously. Those views were 
subsequently widely reported by technology media and blogs.

Although Newton identified himself as an employee of Internode - as 
Whirlpool's rules stipulate - he always maintained his views were 
personal opinions and not necessarily shared by the company.

On Tuesday, a policy advisor for Senator Conroy, Belinda Dennett, 
wrote an email to Internet Industry Association (IIA) board member 
Carolyn Dalton in an attempt to pressure Newton into reining in his dissent.

"In your capacity as a board member of the IIA I would like to 
express my serious concern that a IIA member would be sending out 
this sort of message. I have also advised [IIA chief executive] Peter 
Coroneos of my disappointment in this sort of irresponsible behaviour 
," the email, read.

It is understood the email was accompanied by a phone call demanding 
that the message be passed on to senior Internode management.

Newton said he found the bullying "outrageous" and Senator Conroy was 
"misusing his influence as a Commonwealth Minister to intimidate a 
private dissenting citizen into silencing his political views".

A spokesman for Senator Conroy said Newton's accusation that the 
Government was promoting child abuse was "disappointing and 
irresponsible". He said the purpose of the email was "to establish 
whether Mr Newton's views were consistent with the IIA position".

Ironically, Senator Conroy has himself accused critics of his 
filtering policy of supporting child pornography - including Greens 
Senator Scott Ludlam in Senate Estimates this week.

ACMA released a report in July detailing the results of laboratory 
tests of six unnamed ISP-level filters.

Only one of the filters tested resulted in an acceptable speed 
reduction of 2 per cent or less. The others caused drops in speed 
between 21 per cent and 86 per cent.

The tests showed the more accurate the filtering, the bigger the 
impact on network performance.

However, none of the filters were completely accurate. They allowed 
access to between 2 per cent and 13 per cent of material that should 
have been blocked, and wrongly blocked between 1.3 per cent and 7.8 
per cent of websites that should have been allowed.

"Why would you want to damage the performance and utility of the 
internet and not actually keep the bad stuff out anyway," said John 
Lindsay, carrier relations manager at Internode.

In Senate Estimates, Senator Ludlam expressed concern that all sorts 
of politically-sensitive material could be added to the block list 
and otherwise legitimate sites - for example, YouTube - could be 
rendered inaccessible based on content published by users.

"The black list ... can become very grey depending on how expansive 
the list becomes - euthanasia material, politically related material, 
material about anorexia. There is a lot of distasteful stuff on the 
internet," he said.

Despite this, the Government - which distanced itself from the tests 
by saying they were initiated by the previous government - is 
pressing ahead with live trials of the filtering system and will 
shortly seek expressions of interest from ISPs keen to participate.

Melbourne, Victoria, Australia
jwhit at janwhitaker.com
business: http://www.janwhitaker.com
personal: http://www.janwhitaker.com/personal/
blog: http://janwhitaker.com/jansblog/

Our truest response to the irrationality of the world is to paint or 
sing or write, for only in such response do we find truth.
~Madeline L'Engle, writer

Writing Lesson #54:
Learn to love revision. Think of it as polishing the silver for 
guests. - JW, May, 2007
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