[LINK] Gillard backs internet filter

Richard Chirgwin rchirgwin at ozemail.com.au
Thu Jul 8 08:50:14 AEST 2010


I am hoping that in paraphrasing your "how is it?" as "how did this 
happen?", I am not taking your words in unintended directions!

It happened because we let it happen.

- People believed the aphorism that "the Internet treats censorship as 
damage and routes around it". If there's no threat, there's no need to act.

This was lazy idealism. It was pretty dumb, in retrospect, to turn a 
limited technical truth into a messianic world view.

- Lazy idealism became a political philosophy, with the dreadful 
"Declaration of the Independence of Cyberspace". This taught its 
adherents that since government is irrelevant, disengagement is both 
acceptable and noble. Now, governments have arrived, and we're fifteen 
years late in learning politics.

- We celebrate those who "work around" barriers in other countries, but 
forget the huge effort and risk involved. If someone finds a way to get 
video out of a war zone, they should be celebrated. But it's difficult 
and dangers *because* governments are able to interfere with the 
Internet. We also ignore the huge political engagement involved in 
posting videos from Iran, or in propagating , or even propagating the 
Chinese "Grass Mud Horse".

These are stories about the tenacity and bravery of people. All too 
often, they're cast as "The Power of The Internet". We focus on the 
messianic technology and ignore the human agency involved - in a sense, 
it's as if people want to validate sloppy thinking and political 
disengagement ("The Internet taking care of itself"), when the real 
story is about human risk, effort, and political commitment.

- I have come to the conclusion that it's bad politics to emphasise the 
technical ineffectiveness of the filter. It justifies political 
disengagement among the "digital elite" (sorry, Stil, you're stuck with 
that one!) - "if you build the filter, I'll just circumvent it" without 
offering a "pitch" to the ordinary voter.

The technical argument is also patronising. Take an imaginative leap: 
you're not a member of Link. Instead, you're Tracy, mother-of-four from 
Baulkham Hills. On the TV is some geek saying "a sixteen year old can 
circumvent the filter!" Then the government says "we'll protect your 
children against online predators!" Which pitch wins?

- It was a mistake to expect the Internet to lead to a revolution of 
political thought merely because we, the early users, included idealists 
and visionaries among our numbers. The universal Internet - the thing we 
all wanted - by definition will include views and attitudes different 
from those of the visionaries. If we ignore them, or disdain them, then 
they're unlikely to share our viewpoint.

In retrospect - I also should have thought of this years ago - the time 
to defend a freedom was when it came into existence. We're now in an 
uncomfortable position: thinking ourselves in the vanguard, we now find 
ourselves fighting in the rearguard.


Robin Whittle wrote:
> I assume the ALP purged its Stalinists in the 1950s.  This is a whole
> new crop - people who weren't even born then.
> Why is the mainstream Labor Party - or at least the parliamentary
> subset - dominated by Stalinists or people who are so cluelessly
> unworldly as to advocate Internet censorship without realising how
> oppressive and counter-productive it is?
> Here's my understanding:
>    ALP policy is to legislate to force all ISPs to block access to
>    websites according to a secret list prepared by bureaucrats.  I
>    understand there's no judicial oversight, but that an appeal
>    system is being contemplated:
> http://www.dbcde.gov.au/funding_and_programs/cybersafety_plan/transparency_measures
>    The criteria is that some or all of the material at a given site
>    has either been refused classification by the Classifications
>    Board, or would be, according to the ACMA.  Some sites or parts
>    of sites would be on the list due to complaints to the ACMA.
>    Others would be from lists provided by overseas agencies - list
>    of sites which purportedly contain child sexual abuse material.
> The arguments about ineffectiveness and the broad nature of what
> would be banned are well known:
>   http://openinternet.com.au/learn_more/
> How is it that Western Civilisation has created a situation where
> most of the people in what should be the most progressive,
> enlightened, party in Australia support this crap?  I think it is a
> mixture of oppressive intent and culpable cluelessness.
> This is not 1995, with the legislators and public are new to the
> Internet - many or most not having used it.  All the legislators and
> most of the voting public have been using the Net extensively for 10
> years.
> So 15 years of the Internet supposedly improving people's ability to
> think freely, develop democracy etc. and it looks like this sort of
> rot could be passed by a parliament of a Western nation.
> Twice in the 1990s I recall there were US federal laws for Internet
> censorship - both immediately found to be unconstitutional due to the
> First Amendment.  This 18th century amendment, and its 20th century
> interpretation, has been of immense significance to people in all
> countries.
> I recall the coalition's last Communications Minister - Helen Coonan
> - had it right: that an attempt to filter Internet communications
> like this would be costly and ineffective.
> If the next government passes it, I expect there will be a collective
> effort to make a mockery of it, by assiduously listing all the banned
> URLs overseas at multiple sites - so people who pay for overseas
> proxy servers and the like can see the list and the banned sites for
> themselves.
> I wonder if the government would go so far as to ban anyone using
> VPNs, proxies etc. - or ban any Australian company from selling
> software or services which could be used to circumvent the filter.
> I like to think that the filter would soon be seen to be far more
> trouble than it is worth.  However, there is a real possibility that
> enough of the public and politicians will be able to deny this to
> keep the thing alive for years.  Almost all those people would be
> active Internet users - so this would prove that the Net is at least
> as good at supporting and promulgating BS, ignorance and oppressive
> intentions as it as at promoting "enlightenment", however defined.
>  - Robin
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