[LINK] Conroy urged to 'end net censorship farce'

Bernard Robertson-Dunn brd at iimetro.com.au
Thu Sep 3 09:36:31 AEST 2009

Conroy urged to 'end net censorship farce'
September 2, 2009 - 10:21AM

Communications Minister Stephen Conroy's censorship policy won him the 
Internet Villain of the Year trophy, awarded by the British internet 

The Federal Government's internet censorship trials have been repeatedly 
delayed over the past nine months, leading to claims from the Opposition 
that the Government is deliberately withholding the results to avoid 

The Opposition's communications spokesman, Nick Minchin, today called on 
the Communications Minister, Stephen Conroy, to "end this farce and 
produce his long overdue trial results for independent assessment".

Live trials of the filtering policy, which is intended to block 
"prohibited content" for all Australians as determined by a secret 
Government blacklist, were initially slated to begin in December last 
year and take about six weeks.

They were then pushed back until July, then September and, today, the 
Government is still unable to put a date on when it will release the 
results to the public.

Privately, the ISP industry, communications experts and several 
politicians believe that Senator Conroy might use the results of the 
trial as an excuse to quietly axe the plan, which was an election 
promise that has become deeply unpopular.

"It is looking increasingly like the minister knows his mandatory 
internet censorship plan is simply unworkable, but is too embarrassed to 
admit it," Senator Minchin said.

But even if the results are released, telecommunications experts, 
including University of Sydney associate professor Bjorn Landfeldt, hold 
reservations about how useful they will be.

Only eight small ISPs and Optus, on a limited basis, signed up to 
participate in the trials and questions are being raised as to whether 
this will accurately reflect the real-world conditions if filtering is 
implemented on a mandatory basis.

Furthermore, the Government has said that it has no criteria to 
determine whether the trials of the scheme are a success. It has also 
refused to release specific details of how the trials are being set up 
and conducted.

"Getting the results out would be really good for the public debate ... 
finally, maybe, the [Department of Broadband, Communications and the 
Digital Economy] and Senator Conroy will start to then pick up the 
questions from various parts of society and actually start the debate 
properly," Landfeldt said.

"The big issue with the blacklist is the way the blacklist is going to 
be managed really, and the transparency of the process. Right now there 
is no transparency."

In December last year, this website revealed that the Government was 
trying to bury a high-level report, co-authored by Landfeldt last 
February, which concluded that the Government's filtering policy was 
fundamentally flawed.

The Government released the report the day its existence was made public 
but decided to press on with the live trials anyway.

"It's definitely not going to be workable to get a very significant 
reduction in access to [the unwanted] content that is available out 
there. It's fundamentally just not viable," Landfeldt said at the time.

Soon after, a secret blacklist held by the communications regulator, the 
Australian Communications and Media Authority, was leaked on to the 
internet, revealing some of the content that may be blocked for all 
Australians under Senator Conroy's scheme.

It included sexual abuse imagery and child pornography websites but also 
sites that are perfectly legal to view in Australia, such as 
anti-abortion sites, fetish sites and sites containing pro-euthanasia 
material such as The Peaceful Pill Handbook by Dr Philip Nitschke.

Sites added to the blacklist in error were also classified prohibited, 
such as one containing PG-rated photographs by Bill Henson.

Yet Senator Conroy has so far refused to enter the debate about the 
freedom of speech issues associated with his internet censorship plan. 
Today, he continued to paint people who oppose his policy as child abuse 

"Nick Minchin and the Liberal Party should explain why they don't 
support using the latest technology to restrict access to child abuse 
content and other Refused Classification material," Senator Conroy said 
this morning.

Although Telstra did not agree to be part of the Government's internet 
filtering trial on live customers, a spokesman for Senator Conroy said 
Telstra had offered results of "an internal ISP filtering trial" for 

The online activist group GetUp has been running a grassroots campaign 
against the filtering policy and so far has raised $96,000 from members 
to run advertisements online and on TV.

"It's in small dollar donations that average less than $38, which I 
think shows just how many Australians care about this issue," said GetUp 
chief executive Simon Sheikh.

Sheikh said 5000 of his members had faxed a letter speaking out against 
the policy to their local Labor MPs or senators, while 357 members had 
so far requested a meeting with their local MPs to talk about the issue.


Bernard Robertson-Dunn
Canberra Australia
brd at iimetro.com.au

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