Saturday, January 5, 2008

A proposal that might just work...

Not wishing to be entirely negative and having considered the technical difficulties of the Minister's current proposal, I have drafted an alternative policy that might just work. I have e-mailed the Minister the details of the proposal. To save time, I also spent a moment to create a draft of the press release. The text of that press release follows here:


Senator Stephen Conroy, Minister for Broadband, Communications and the Digital Economy announced Mark II of the Government's plan to rid the Internet of filth. The Minister said:

"After detailed consultation with the industry, the Government has refined its previous proposal to rid Australian homes of child pornography. The improved proposal will impose minimal administrative overheads on ISPs themselves and is guaranteed to have no performance impact. In fact, I have been advised by my department that this proposal may in fact speed the world of the Internet up - at no additional cost to the ISP subscriber or the tax payer

"Henceforth, each ISP will publish the IP address, URL and ACMA-rating of each site a subscriber visits - together with the subscribers name, e-mail address and phone number - in full public view on the web. This will be a mandatory policy. Subscribers may opt-out, but in this case the IP address and URL they actually visited will be substituted with an IP address and URL picked at random from the list of ACMA-restricted sites.

"The Government believes by making everyone's browsing patterns available for everyone to peruse, a sense of shame and community pressure can be used to do the rest. In fact, I confidently predict that within 2 weeks of the policy becoming operational, there will be no pornography, especially child pornography, available in Australian homes.

"In today's busy world, with both parents working, parents simply don't have the time to look over their childrens' shoulders as they browse the Internet. With the Governments proposal, they won't need to - Nanna and Grandpa can do it instead, even if they live in Coffs. If they are not available, the secretary of the local morals committee will always be able to find a spare moment in the evening to check that peddlers of filth are not weedling their way into your home. The ALP promised a broadband revolution and, as this policy shows, we intend to deliver one.

"I know that some people might object that publishing everyone's browsing habits on the web is a violation of privacy. To these people I say - if people equate a right to privacy with watching child pornography, then the Rudd-Labor Government is going to disagree."


ps: since the Minister hasn't quite got that e-mail thingamajiggy working quite right yet, please assist by distributing far and wide...

4 comments:

Michael said...

lol, hang Australia's dirty laundry out in the open. Conroy's probably kicking himself now that he didn't think of it first. I like it.

Anonymous said...

I actually find this aspect of the policy really distressing:

"Henceforth, each ISP will publish the IP address, URL and ACMA-rating of each site a subscriber visits - together with the subscribers name, e-mail address and phone number - in full public view on the web. This will be a mandatory policy. Subscribers may opt-out, but in this case the IP address and URL they actually visited will be substituted with an IP address and URL picked at random from the list of ACMA-restricted sites.”

So this means that I am deprived of the right to view any page without a record of it being fully accessible of anyone who cares to inquire? This will surely be very effective in exerting peer pressure on me not to visit sites my peers (or parents, or enemies) believe to be morally shameful, but the problem is that it assumes that they're right and I'm wrong.

This may be true in the case of parents monitoring their 9 year old child’s usage, but what about a victim of domestic violence who might use the internet to reach out without her husband knowing? Or a closet homosexual teen with devoutly religious parents who feels they would condemn them should they find out (I use this example with their right to seek advice or support networks with discretion in mind, as opposed to their right to view gay porn-not that I really need to qualify this as that right is equally valid)? Or a sexually active teenager with strict parents who would find out about safe sex practices? Or a person who would like to find out about any viewpoints that run against the conventions in the social circles he frequents? Or someone with an unfortunate and embarrassing health problem, such as hair loss or erectile dysfunction, who would take refuge in the anonymity of the internet to try to find a solution (of course I don’t suggest the products work) to a problem that causes them real suffering?

This is an invasion of privacy that I believe is comparable to having transcripts of my phone conversations made publicly available. It would go a long way to achieving the end desired, but so would the threat of castration to offenders-the trouble with both is the cost to personal freedom is simply too high.

I would also like to know if, on these records, it will say whether the person has chosen to opt-out or if it will simply display restricted sites in place of the actual ones. One would assume it would indicate they have opted out of course, but if so, I can't help but wonder what on earth is the point of replacing the actual address with a restricted one, as opposed to "records withheld by user" or a similar statement? The only reason I can think of is to deter people from opting-out under threat that they'll look like a sexual deviant, which necessarily means who's in or out is not divulged. This coercive act, should it be the case, would be more like telling a P.O.W. they are free to leave the camp-surrounded by minefields on all four sides-anytime they want, than a choice in any real sense.

[. . . I just thought of a new game I can't wait to play next time my flatmate and I are drunk and bored-sort through these records and find the most embarrassing site visited by a stranger (it need not even be pornographic-erectile dysfunction or something similar will do just fine). Once you have a winner set about sending hilarious emails mocking them, and since you now have their phone number, call their home and tell their children if they happen to answer, or their wife, or their cleaner. After that, add them to your new website called "database of people with erectile dysfunction"-that way their children's school peers have a way to easily find out who's fathers can't get a stiffy anymore as well.

Actually, I don't know about the technical side of this Jon, but how hard would it be to come up with a some kind of program that could search these records for a specific address and give me a list of people who have visited it? That would save me a lot of time, adding names and phone numbers to my database.]

"The Government believes by making everyone's browsing patterns available for everyone to peruse, a sense of shame and community pressure can be used to do the rest. In fact, I confidently predict that within 2 weeks of the policy becoming operational, there will be no pornography, especially child pornography, available in Australian homes.”

I think Jon made a similar point elsewhere but I believe it's important enough to emphasize further-are we trying to stop porn or child-porn? Why is he striving to have no pornography available in Australian homes? Is all pornography evil? I believe it's possible that it may have a serious impact on how much porn is accessed (though not 'available' as he says-why would this aspect of the policy affect that?), but why do we want to stop adults looking at (legal) porn? The fact that a persons peers being informed of a certain act limits their propensity to commit that act says absolutely nothing about the moral value of that act (think of picking your nose, or dying your grey hair, or deficating), because it doesn't mean that anyone actually condemns it or feels guilt -it simply means the person is embarrassed to have it brought out into the public sphere, as most of us are with anything sexual.

To prove my point, imagine if it was plausible to have a public record detailing every time people masturbated-I predict that within 2 hours the rate of masturbation would plummet, but not because this is an immoral, socially harmful act that people are (and should) be ashamed of-it would simply be because it is innately embarrassing to have your personal sexual activities exposed for the people you associate with to know about. The argument could apply equally well to the act of sex itself. He speaks as if this measure is like lifting a sheet of iron to expose and exterminate a nest of vermin, but all it's really doing is kicking in the bathroom door to take a photo of someone on the toilet, then putting it on the six o'clock news. It assumes conformity is just, and promotes it coercively by stripping privacy.

"In today's busy world, with both parents working, parents simply don't have the time to look over their childrens' shoulders as they browse the Internet. With the Governments proposal, they won't need to - Nanna and Grandpa can do it instead, even if they live in Coffs. If they are not available, the secretary of the local morals committee will always be able to find a spare moment in the evening to check that peddlers of filth are not weedling their way into your home. The ALP promised a broadband revolution and, as this policy shows, we intend to deliver one.”

What a great idea-I'd love, as a 23 year old man to have my nanna, with her prudish 1950's values and religious beliefs, looking up what sites I visit and letting me know her thoughts on them-and I don't for a second think that she wouldn't if she could. And wouldn't it be even better if as a child you’d had your nanna intervening into what sites you should be punished for looking at? Pacman would have been too violent for my nan.

‘The secretary of the local morals committee’? I honestly don't know what he means by that-is it a euphemism for a priest or something? Either way I as an adult highly value my right to conceal any private legal act I commit from people who I wish to maintain good relations with but I know would disapprove, and I think I deserve it-as long as the act in no way harms or affects them. That means my Nan, my Priest (if I had one), anyone. I understand that this measure allows more widespread policing of children and that's the objective, but the cost to all people is enormous-whether engaging in legally morally questionable acts or not, especially considering there are already other ways to police childrens usage that have no cost for the rest of us such as home filters (and as Jon said-in a market economy like ours, if there was a real demand for an ISP level filter, it would probably exist).

"I know that some people might object that publishing everyone's browsing habits on the web is a violation of privacy. To these people I say - if people equate a right to privacy with watching child pornography, then the Rudd-Labor Government is going to disagree."

Of course nobody does, what a ridiculous statement. I DO however equate a right to privacy with a right to seek information privately-whether of a sexual nature or not (I include legal pornography as ‘information’)-as long as I am a legally responsible adult and it doesn’t harm or affect others in any way.

Let’s not ignore how important the anonymity of the internet is to us, nor the tangible good it does for society. Some people (who I believe have their sense of reason and self-interest clouded by their moral self-righteousness) think the sacrifice is worth whatever protection it offers. I of course do not, nor do I believe we need or want as a society protection from legal pornography for adults, if the minister has any desire to do this. I see the internet as a medium of communication-of course the analogy only goes so far, but I would expose people’s use of it no more than conversations through the medium of telephone are-not at all.

Jon Seymour said...

Whoa! This was a spoof, intended to indicate that there is a price for "protecting the children" which is simply too high a price to pay. It was written in the style of the rhetoric used to justify the mandatory ISP level filter in order to send it up.

Apologies if it was a little _too_ authentic!

That said, I think it is undoubtedly true that anonymity isn't a universal good. It certainly has its uses, but to the extent it allows people to escape the reputational cost of behaving disgracefully it can be an evil.

This is why facebook tends to be a civilised place since people's offline reputations are at stake. If it allowed anonymous pseudonyms, I doubt this would be true.

Anonymous said...

Ahh, you got me alright! I didn't see what was written ABOVE the line in the original post-how embarrassing and careless of me. In my defense though it WAS too authentic-I didn't think twice about it being genuine :)

Not that it matters at all now, but I didn't mean to imply that anonymity is a universal good, only to highlight some of the benefits. I agree-Facebook certainly would be very messy if anonymity was allowed, but people are CHOOSING to sacrifice their anonymity to take part in social circles as themselves so that whatever they do-whatever ground they make-is directly transferable to them in the real world. If people choose it, I have no issue.

(Now that first comment from Michael makes more sense.)