Saturday, January 5, 2008

An Annotated Response to Deborah Robinson

In her blog posting, which I have quoted in full and annotated here, Deborah Robinson sets forth her advocacy for the Government's proposal to impose mandatory filtering responsibilities on internet service providers. This posting is my response.

On December 31st 2007, Federal Telecommunications Minister, Stephen Conroy announced the government’s plans to introduce a clean internet feed into every home and school in Australia.

Rather than relying on traditional content filtering which uses ‘keywords’ to block websites, the government has elected to create a ‘blacklist’ of websites which are inappropriate for children. This will bypass the problem of inadvertently blocking those websites which are not providing pornography but rather, discussing the issues surrounding pornography, sex and violence. But in a decision that has upset internet civil libertarians Electronic Frontiers Australia, Mr Conroy says that the clean feed will be ‘opt-out’, meaning anyone who wants access to the blacklisted websites will have to contact their Internet Service Provider and ask for unrestricted access to the web.

They could do that, but exercising the opt-out option will only be for individuals like myself who are prepared to stand-up against this proposal and face-off the accusatory stares that advocates of this proposal are so quick to adopt.

I feel that I will have to restate this many, many times:

Our opposition to this proposal is not motivated by the filth they are trying to block, it motivated by the mechanism they are building to do it.

Until you understand and accept this, all your carefully crafted rhetoric will do nothing other than slice the arms off straw men.

You also need to realise that the UK clean feed proposal only targets the most extreme kinds of material. Such a system will do nothing to filter out the vast bulk of pornography that most concerns parents. In other words, if you really are swimming in a sea of porn today, then a system akin the UK clean feed proposal will not empty that sea by one drop. To be of any use, the blacklists would have to be increased by a factor of between 100 and 1000 in size. There is no proof at all that the system would continue to operate efficiently at those volumes, nor any published analysis of how many irritating false positives would be generated.

If you want a clean feed, you have to accept drastic reductions in freedom and performance since you have to start filtering the feed much, much more aggressively than the UK clean feed system attempts to do. You may even have to be prepared to let ISPs filter all your Google searches, so that people cannot access graphic content like the following graphic example using a very simple Google search.

The simple truth of the matter is that you can't have fast and free access to the internet and a clean feed. You can have fast and free access to the internet. or a clean feed, but not both.

I do support the ’opt-out’ system because it will just brings the internet in line with every offline form of media such as; television, newspapers, books, magazines, etc. When we turn off the computer, we have the choice of whether we want ourselves and our kids exposed to pornography and violence. This choice is taken away from us when we enter cyber space. As Traci Beagley from the CP80 initiative so eloquently put it in her response to my articles posted at Australian Women Online:

“Everything from magazines to adult sex shops are regulated. It’s time to do the same with the Internet. If we choose not to enter adult sex shops, we don’t have to. With the current Internet, we have lost the choice whether or not to view pornography.”

The above statement is absurd unless you use very loose definitions of "choice", "view" and "pornography". If you are choosing to visit web-sites that present you with pornographic images and you then choose to view them, then I am afraid you have chosen poorly, but the choice was always yours.

I also support the opt-out system because it will force all other websites to clean up their act. A friend of mine who is a school teacher recalled recently how her husband, also a school teacher, found himself having to explain to the private school board why there was a link to a pornography website embedded in every email he sent out to parents. Wishing to avoid a situation where work will impinge on his private life, he chose to use a free hotmail account to send the emails and it hadn’t even occurred to him that MSN would advertise pornography via user accounts.

No, it won't. If you think an American corporation is going to change its business practices because the Australian government is filtering my internet connection, you have a strange understanding of causality. A question for you: are you proposing that ISPs aggressively filter e-mail as well? If so, you may as well forget about using e-mail to discuss anything of a gynaecological nature with your friends and associates.

In another example, in November 2007 a website owned by Australia’s largest internet service provider, Telstra had to perform some ‘emergency maintenance’ on their WotNext website after a newspaper reported the site targeted to teenagers, was allowing uploads of soft porn to the unrestricted website. Telstra, which was given a Family Friendly ISP rating by the Internet Industry Association in Australia, had allowed unrestricted access to this smut for more than 9 months before it was reported in a Sydney newspaper.

This example only shows that Telstra needs to be prosecuted under existing legislation. It does nothing to support your argument that my internet connection should be subject to Government-mandated filtering.

My strongest objection to having an ’opt-in’ clean feed is that it sets a low standard for our society. Since when did pornography become a normal activity of daily living? I know millions of people watch porn, but a majority of the world’s population do not. So why should the minority who watch porn on a regular basis be able to force their personal tastes on the rest of us? Australia is a western democracy and by definition alone, you can argue that majority rules in a democracy and therefore, the clean feed should be ‘opt-out’.

The quality of your morality is determined by what you let your children watch. The quality of my morality is determined what I choose to watch. The argument that the implementation of a technical block on pornographic material instantly improves the populations' moral quality is utterly false. If anything, by treating responsible adults as children, it relieves adults of the responsibility to make their own considered ethical and moral decisions about how they conduct their own lives. As Peter Chen wrote in the Age:

"The underlying belief that computers can perfect our morality smacks of a strange mixture of technological ignorance and faith."

Australia is also market economy. If, as you claim, a majority of Australians want a clean internet feed, then surely by now someone would have floated an ISP that provided exactly that. As far as I am concerned, the fact that this has not happened thoroughly debunks your claim that there is huge demand for it.

Remember: you can have a "clean" internet feed right now - purchase a PC-based filter. If you have not done that already, one has to ask how much value you place on this. And if you think a blacklist-based ISP-level filter is going to be significantly more effective at providing you with a "clean" feed than a PC-based filter you are seriously misinformed about the capabilities of both technologies.

If you believe a PC-based filter is inadequate because there are members of your household that actively subvert it then, yes, you have demonstrated why you need a ISP-level filter. However, this does nothing to demonstrate why I must have one too.

The reality is we can no longer trust the internet industry to monitor and regulate itself. With the rise of raunch culture in our society and the advertising industry’s mantra of ‘sex sells’ governments around the world have to step in and regulate the internet. The internet industry may be up in arms about the clean feed solution proposed by the Australian government now, but they only have themselves to blame. For far too long the world wide web has operated in a culture of ‘anything goes on the internet’ and I applaud the Australian Labor Party for having the guts to tackle the issue head on.

Who is saying we should let the industry regulate itself? For your information, the Government already regulates the Internet industry. It has an authority called ACMA which does it. Are you aware that existing legislation already makes it illegal to view, store or distribute child pornography?

Since I came out in support of the clean feed proposed by the government, my website Australian Women Online has been inundated with comments from individuals who strongly oppose this attempt to clean up the internet. Most of this opposition is coming from within the blogosphere, a large group of people who are fundamentally opposed to any limits being placed on the internet. Most of these people are angry and a few have attacked me personally on the web just because I support ISP filtering of pornography. Many of those who have spoken out against the clean feed being introduced in Australia believe ISP filtering is about limiting freedom of speech. They are looking for a hidden agenda, but ISP filtering of pornography is about restricting access to pornography online and nothing more.

Whenever there is a choice between cock-up and conspiracy, choose cock-up. I personally think that this is an Alston-class cock-up by an immature Government which is profoundly ignorant of the capabilities of the technology it seeks to promote.

What these individuals fail to realise is that the decision will be decided offline by men and women who are not part of their cyber culture. As difficult as it is to fathom for those who spend hours each day on the web, the vast majority of the world’s population do not spend a significant part of their day online and horror of all horrors, there are millions of people on this planet who have never used the internet. If those who oppose the clean feed want to achieve anything in regards to this issue, they will have to turn off their computers, step outside and meet the ‘real world’. But they won’t, will they?

Personally, I don't think that "the millions of people on the planet who have never used the internet" much care about whether you censor my internet feed. Not surprisingly to most readers, I hope, this issue is primarily of concern to those people such as yourself and myself who do use the internet. Admittedly, your attempted slander is a little bit more delicate that Stephen Conroy's - you are only accusing us of being geeks, not paedophiles - but it is still slander. If this is really the strongest way to conclude your advocacy, I have to say, it's going to be a walk-over. On the streets. Outside.

Jon Seymour

PS: would this post be blocked under the Broadbanned Revolution? It does, after all, use the word cock-up three, no four, times.


Deborah said...

What are you coming after me for? I can understand why Duncan Riley came after me, I did call him an "idiot". But what's your excuse? I never even heard of you until you tried to post a link to this article on my blog.

Deborah said...

Then attack the policy not me. There is only one reason why you chose to attack me and that is to get attention for your blog. Which by the way, hasn't worked because I'm the only one who has responded.

Jon Seymour said...

Apologies I deleted previous comment which was essentially this paragraph. I then decided to expand my response...

I am not coming after you. I am critiquing your arguments in support of what I consider to be appalling bad public policy.

I am trying to engage you in debate and in so doing hopefully reveal how specious and flawed your arguments are.

Anyway, what are you complaining about? In the conclusion of your post you wrote:

"If those who oppose the clean feed want to achieve anything in regards to this issue, they will have to turn off their computers, step outside and meet the ‘real world’. But they won’t, will they?"

You claim to represent the interests of the majority of Australians out in the real world. If so, I think you are an eminently appropriate opponent to seek to debate.

Jon Seymour said...

By the way, why do you consider my response to be a personal attack on you? It seems to me that there can be only one reason, who are deeply embarrassed about how silly your arguments look when subjected to any scrutiny.

Deborah said...

I do not represent the policy makers Jon. Go debate with them, or the Australian Family Association, or one of the other interest groups which put pressure on the Government to introduce ISP filtering in the first place. But you won't will you? It's easier for you to attack one person than actually take on those who are really responsible for the clean feed solution.

PS. I won't be responding anymore because if you are not attacking me personally like you claim, your real gripe is with those I mentioned above. Go register your complaints with them.

Jon Seymour said...


Why did you delete the comment on your posting that referred to this one?

You really do believe in censorship, don't you. Still, it's your blog, so go ahead.

However, if you have even a shred of intellectual integrity, you will re-instate my comment.

I am engaging the policy leaders on this, out in the real world. I had a long letter published in the SMH on Jan 1, 2008. If you are uncomfortable about debating in this forum, then please transfer the debate there and see exactly how deep support for your position is.

BTW: the only reason I appear to be attacking one person is the simple fact that you appear to be one of the very few people prepared to defend this absurd decision.

If you don't believe the community has a right to debate these issues amongst themselves why on earth do you pontificate at length in your blog about it? Especially since, without debate, they will just go on and implement the policy anyway.

Deborah, I chose to debate you because if you didn't exist, I'd have to invent you. My very own straw man.

Jon Seymour said...

I do note, in passing, that in my "debate" with Deborah Robinson the only person who has attempted to engage the other's arguments with reasoned argument is myself. Deborah's contribution thus far have been what might be characterised as "personal attacks". She has accused me of "coming after her". She has accused me of "attention seeking".

Not once has she tried to rebut one of my arguments but instead cowers behind the pathetic defence that Jon Seymour is a bully who has no argument to put forward and is only intent of waging a personal attack on her good self.

She does protest too loud, methinks.

If you want a debate Deborah, lets see some. If you don't want a debate, then please quit your personal attacks on me and go away.

And, please, don't accuse me of an attempt to censor your free speech.

Jon Seymour said...

I would like to hereby acknowledge that Deborah Robinson has the good grace to consider an opponent's point of view. As evidence of this, I point here.

Happy New Year to you, Deborah and all the best with your site.

Deborah said...

Thank you Jon.

Unfortunately I was overwhelmed by all the opposition and then there was the feud between Duncan Riley and myself to contend with. It is difficult to consider anyone's point of view when you're under this kind of pressue. I'm not asking for sympathy or anything like that. I just would like others to consider what it would have been like to be in my place over the last 3 days.

I wish you and your readers well Jon.