[LINK] US prof undermines foundations of Aussie firewall
brd at iimetro.com.au
Wed Jan 14 10:04:25 AEDT 2009
US prof undermines foundations of Aussie firewall
World govs better take note
By John Ozimek
Posted in Law, 13th January 2009 13:02 GMT
Just as Australian Communications Minister Stephen Conroy thought things
couldn’t get any worse, his proposal for the great Aussie firewall is
under fire again – this time from the lofty heights of US academia.
A paper <http://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=1319466>
by Derek Bambauer, <http://www.brooklaw.edu/faculty/profile/?page=472>
Harvard graduate and Assistant Professor of Law at Brooklyn Law School,
not only puts the cat amongst the Australian pigeons; it also sets out a
series of key tests - Andy Burn’em please take note - that should be
applied to any government proposals for regulating the net. He writes:
To assess legitimacy, the process-based framework asks
four questions. First, is a country open about its Internet
censorship, and why it restricts information?
Second, is the state transparent about what material it
filters and what it leaves untouched?
Third, how narrow is filtering: how well does the content
that is actually blocked - and not blocked - correspond
to those criteria?
Finally, to what degree are citizens and Internet users
able to participate in decision making about these
restrictions, such that censors are accountable?
Legitimate censorship is open; transparent about
what is banned; effective, yet narrowly targeted;
and responsive to the preferences of each state’s citizens.
His verdict is pretty damning as far as Australia is concerned. While it
just about gets by on the first of these criteria – the incoming
government did make mandatory internet filtering a plank of its election
campaign – it is deemed to have failed outright on the other three issues.
On transparency, the government keeps resorting to wild generalisations,
talking about the blocking of material that is inappropriate or, as
Bambauer observes, "other unwanted material". This is key to the debate
that Australia isn’t really having.
The government has quoted a notional list of 10,000 sites that would be
blocked. Bambauer asks: do they actually have a clue which these would
be? Or is this just a finger in the air? He concludes that it is
probably the latter.
Without transparency, it is hard to determine how well the filtering is
doing its job: and without transparency, open debate on the issues of
what should or should not be banned become next to impossible.
Finally, he raises the question of whether the first criterion is even
satisfied. Since it looks more and more likely that the target for the
filter list is content deemed unsuitable for adults, as opposed to that
which is merely unsuitable for children, even the issue of democratic
mandate for this policy may be called into question.
An interesting comparison in this respect is between the Australian
total of 10,000 sites to be blocked and the total of sites that the
UK-based Internet Watch Foundation (IWF) claims to be involved in
blocking. The latter claims to include somewhere between 800 and 1200
live urls at any one time: given that the IWF may be considered to have
one of the world’s most comprehensive systems when it comes to blocking
access to child porn, this suggests either that Australia thinks it can
find another 9,000 such sites – or that its block list will go far, far
Professor Bambauer’s paper is mirrored by the views of one UK
counterpart, Lilian Edwards, Professor of Internet Law at Sheffield
University. Professor Edwards is principally interested in the law as it
pertains to the web and internet technologies and, under the nick of
panGloss, writes a very useful blog on these topics.
She has taken on our very own IWF in the past, and following the recent
controversy over the IWF’s censorship of allegedly indecent imagery
published on Wikipedia, she wrote a closely analysed piece about what
should be the principles that underpin internet censorship (aka
"filtering"). Her starter for ten was a set of five criteria: namely
that any filtering or blocking ought to be transparent, open,
democratically determined, judicially backed, and accountable.
There is a pleasing overlap between this set of criteria and those set
out by Professor Bambauer.
For those minded to dismiss the above as academic froth, these are both
important milestones along the road to a rational approach to internet
regulation. The model for regulating media, in the UK, has historically
been to ask the media owners to do the job themselves.
That may just have been acceptable when dealing with media that were
essentially pushed from publishers to consumers: that is far less
acceptable when the media themselves are used as much, or more, as a
means of extending public debate on issues as a commercial tool.
As Professor Bambauer points out in his introduction: the Australian
experiment is the first attempt by any democratic Western nation to
engage, at state level, with the filtering of the internet. However, it
comes at a time when almost every other western state - including the UK
- is trying to thrash out its approach to internet regulation, so the
outcome of this experiment will affect us all.
If reaction to Stephen Conroy’s proposal can result in the emergence of
a consensus around the principles that will underpin any such filtering
in future, that might just be a good thing.
brd at iimetro.com.au
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