Saturday, November 29, 2008

More on the dangers of implicit approval

In this article on the ABC's Unleashed forum, Melinda Tankard Reist wrote:

"If this material is allowed to be sold - and sold so openly - the Classification Board is sending a message that its okay to want sex with real 'live young girls'."

If we take this argument on face value, then this supports a contention I made earlier this week about one of the possible unintended consequences of attempting to filter extreme porn from the web at the ISP level using an ACMA blacklist.

Given that the Government's filter will inevitably be much less than 100% effective, users might equate availability of incompletely blocked material as some sort of tacit approval by the Government that it is ok to view it, thereby relieving the viewer of the moral responsibility to decide for themselves if they have crossed a line they should not have.

Also, I think an unintended consequence of creating very strict censorship rules for printed or video pornography is that it will drive users of such material to the Internet where there is a much more diverse range of material available.

The problem with that is that there is almost no ability at all to control what people consume via the Internet, everyone knows that and it remains true despite the Government's deeply misguided desire to impose mandatory ISP level filters. Ironically, if we are to deal with the problems of freely available pornography we may have to rely much more on people exercising their own inner freedom to choose the right thing to do, something that can only "occur through consent and never through coercion". [ See Clive, I've been reading your book ].

If I was Melinda Tankard Reist I would be careful about what I wished for.

Friday, November 28, 2008

A succinct visual rebuttal of the book censorship analogy

This complements Syd Walker's detailed rebuttal of Hamilton's appeal to the TV < - > Internet analogy. Personally, I think Hamilton's use of the TV < - > Internet analogy is great because of the absurd conclusions it leads to.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

The Conroy Rule

There has been a rule in USENET for many years, the so-called The Hitler Rule.

This rule states that the first person to mention Hitler in a flame war, loses.

Given the heat of the Mandatory ISP Level Filtering debate, a new rule is needed

The first person to equate free speech with an unrestricted right to access child pornography, loses.

It seems only fair that since this phase of the mandatory ISP level filtering debate was opened by Senator Conroy in just this fashion, the rule should be named after him, hence "The Conroy Rule".

Update 29/11:For those that wish to quote the rule in other places, I think I prefer David Vaile's more concise statement of the rule that he included in the notice to participants of the Cyber Law forum. To wit:

The first person to equate free speech with child pornography, loses.

The reason the simpler wording is preferred is that the original statement could be twisted by some to suggest that there is a case being put for restricted access to child pornography on free speech grounds. This is not the case and anyone who is making such a claim should be prepared to back it up.

Thank you Liberal Party, thank you Greens

It would appear that the Labor party's ISP filtering policy may be doomed until the next Senate is elected, thanks to strong opposition from the Liberal Party and the Greens.

No thanks to GetUp! No thanks to all those ALP members who either did not reply to our letters of protest or who replied with robotic form letters.

There is still work to do - we need to get the ALP to repudiate this policy, once and for all - and not give them our Senate votes until they do.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Government approved illegal pornography

Suppose the Government implements filtering.

The filter fails to be 100% effective - well d'oh!

Some rape and child pornography sites still get through the filters.

However, by this time the populace has been relieved of the responsibility to decide for themselves what is acceptable and non-acceptable pornography. Some may think that if the filter has not blocked it, it must be ok to view and so no further moral judgement is required on their part.

Could the problems the anti-porn people worry about actually get worse, precisely because of the implicit Government authorisation that an ineffective filter will give to material that isn't blocked?

This risk is separate from the risk that by making necessary use of encryption and tunneling to evade filters it may be harder for authorities to monitor and control the activities of Australian paedophiles.

And this risk is separate from the risk, that having adopted encrypted tunnels to pursue their sexual interests, some users may feel secure enough to indulge in even more extreme material than they might have before the filters were imposed.

Given the importance of evidence based policy to this Government, how will success be measured? Will a reduction in web traffic to porn sites mean a reduction in usage of porn, or an increase in usage of p2p traffic and tunnels? Will a reduction in conviction rates for child pornography offences mean a reduction in offence rate, or a reduction in detection rate? What methodology will be used to decide these questions?

Just how many faceless, uncountable children are McMenamin and Hamilton prepared to sacrifice on their altar of state-enforced moral purity?

Why even one?

Is there any evidence these intellects have even considered these questions? If not, perhaps they should commission another NewsPoll.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

The sources of anger and other responses.

This post is a response to Clive's reply to my rather barbed attack on his credibility as a public intellectual.

I do need to apologise for certain mistakes I made, particularly in drawing attention to one of his trivial mistakes in parsing an article. I knew at the time he had made a mistake, perhaps because he hadn't read the paragraphs carefully enough. I had rather cynical rhetorical reasons for drawing attention to it - and I did so deliberately in full knowledge it was cheap shot. However, I do now acknowledge it was a cheap shot and not really indicative of any significant failing on Clive's part. I should also apologise for using the term intellectually shoddy. I should have used the term intellectually unsound.

That said, that cheap shot was merely 1-arm of 3-armed argument that led to the conclusion that Clive was "displaying contempt for principled, honest and logical intellectual debate". I am not going to withdraw that accusation at this point in time because I believe the accusation can be sustained on the basis of the other 2-arms of the argument alone. I will expand on this point below.

I am also not going to withdraw the charge of intellectual dishonesty unless Clive admits that his dichotomy is false and that it was an honest mistake. If he does that, we will have come a long way in this debate. It should be noted that he still believes his dichotomy is valid. I still disagree for reasons I will explain later.

I am also not going to withdraw the charge of Clive arguing in a manner that brings disgrace not only on himself but on the entire profession of public intellectual unless and until Clive ceases to imply or suggest that net libertarians are in some way sympathetic to the view that people should have an unconstrained right to view illegal material such as child pornography. We are not. We never have been. Any attempt to twist our arguments to suggest that we are will always remain intellectually disgraceful and I will not resile from naming it as such.

In his reply, Clive asked a very good question:

I wonder whether you ever reflect one why you become so enraged about proposals to regulate the internet?

This question is very easy to answer. There is the personal explanation that relates to my psyche and there is my answer as one of those much denigrated net libertarians.

First, the personal answer. I get angry when I perceive others are behaving irrationally when claiming to be rational. I get angry about this because I think logic should be enough to persuade another of the correctness of my view point. However, logic alone doesn't work in the face of irrationality - it can never work. This reveals itself as frustration and then anger on my part. Sometimes I am the one who is wrong about some axiom and when I eventually realise that I feel a little bit sheepish about getting so upset - sorry Dad - but sometimes other people really are behaving irrationally. It is perhaps a fortunate thing indeed that I thus far have never been a violent person - who knows what the next (first) brain injury will do! Instead, as I have got older I have started to appreciate the value of rhetoric as tool when dialectic has failed. My rhetoric certainly has an element of the bully to it, and that undoubtedly can be tied back to elements in my psyche. C'est la vie. ps: If anyone chooses to quote this paragraph, please do it in full.

But that's me. Why do we as a class - the net libertarians - get angry? We get angry because from day one of this phase of the argument (30/12/2007), our opponents have consistently tried to misrepresent our arguments against net censorship as arguments for child pornography. There should be no further need of explanation about why that makes us angry.

To Clive's specific points. I have already apologised for the cheap shot. The second arm of the argument was the point about the selective quotation, the third arm was the point about implying by omission.

Clive stated that his point about "individuals who live in cyberland often display a contempt for social rules and moral norms that would put post-modern academics to shame" could be sustained on the basis of Hackett's comment "We live in a world of multiple sets of morality, all of them equally valid." alone.

I would agree with Clive if Hackett had been referring to a world which included the views of NAMBLA and Zen Buddhists and one is comparing these systems with another system of morality, such as that of secular humanists. With respect to secular humanism, the views of NAMBLA very definitely are not equally valid. However, Hackett wasn't talking about that world. He was talking about a world that included: Anglo Saxon protestants, Muslims and people who hate Scientologists. There is very definitely a sense in which these systems are equally valid. A Chinese Australian of the Buddhist faith probably regards them as equally valid alternatives to his own choice. It is not the choice he has made, for sure, but in terms of choices other people might make, they are equally valid.

Neither Hackett, Malone or myself are French post-modernists for whom I do have contempt [ they abandoned anything resembling rationality long ago - see Sokal and Bricmont ]. By omitting to put the full context of the quote into his article, Clive left open the possibility that he thought we were arguing like French post-modernists. That's insulting enough. But it gets worse, since we are involved in a debate where terms like beastialty, rape and child pornography get thrown about with homosexual abandon, Clive left open the charge that we believe that NAMBLA has an equally valid morality. Let's be clear: we are geeks, not French post-modernists and we are definitely not NAMBLA supporters. As far as I am concerned the charge that Clive "displayed contempt for principled, honest and logical intellectual debate" still stands.

As far as Clive's second point in defence of the statement:

Logic without moral clarity is not logic at all.

The confusion here lies with the way Clive used the term logic. If Clive had said:

A logical system without moral clarity is not a logical system at all

I would would have objected because some logical systems contain no moral view point - for example, arithmetic.

If Clive had said:

A system of morality without moral clarity is not a system of morality at all.

I might have quibbled that it was not a useful system of morality, but it was still a system of morality.

But that's not what Clive said, he said:

Logic without moral clarity is not logic at all.

Let's clarify what I mean by logic. Logic is the set of rules of a logical system. By rules, I mean the way propositions of the system are combined to produce new propositions. I do not mean the axioms or resulting theorems themselves. In the Western tradition, the rules of logic have been known for a very long time and are not in dispute. If the logical system is a system of ethics, then the axioms and conclusions may or may not have "moral clarity" (what does that term mean, anyway?) but the rules of the ethical system themselves are value free. An implication is still an implication, even if it leads to a morally ambiguous conclusion.

I think Clive could help clarify this question greatly if he could explain exactly what he means by the terms: "logic" and "moral clarity". Until then, I believe the charge of unsound intellectualism still stands.

I completely reject Clive's third point. The position: "It is a problem, the Government should do something, but that something is not net censorship" is part of the "should not filter" case and is not a part of the "we should filter, but we can't so let's do something else" case. It simply isn't, and unless Clive accepts this point I may well get angry.

So, let's be very clear. There is a valid position in the "should not filter" case which is this.

  • there is a problem
  • the Government should do something
  • we should not use mandatory ISP filtering, even if we could
  • we do not believe people should access child pornography

This is certainly my position and it is easy to defend. If Clive really believes I need to do so, I will do so in another post. But let's be clear, this position is not in anyway equivalent to this very different (and objectionable) position:

  • there really is no problem
  • there should be no mandatory ISP filter
  • we believe people should be able to access child pornography with out any form of social restraint

The problem with Clive's position is that he believes that if we can do it, we should do it. That's a valid position, but it is not our position. We believe the unintended consequence of giving the Government control of a net censorship apparatus is simply too great a price to pay. I would contend that everyone involved has a price for "protecting the children" which is too high to pay - that is ours.

Perhaps Clive does not agree that this is an acceptable position to take, and Clive is free to argue that case. However, it is definitely a position in the "should not filter" group and as such by omitting it Clive was presenting a false dichotomy.

So, unless Clive admits he made a mistake and that his dichotomy was actually false, the charge of intellectual dishonesty still stands.

Finally, it should be made clear that I was using the term "barbarian" in a figurative sense. I don't really believe Clive is a barbarian. I was using the term "public intellectual" in the literal sense but Clive is free to correct me on this if he believes that is incorrect.

Yep, that was a cheap shot. Sorry.

A reply from Clive Hamilton - public intellectual.

Clive Hamilton has generously agreed to let me publish his reply in full on my blog. I would like to thank him for that for several reasons. First, it gives me an opportunity to apologise for the cheap shot I made about him confusing a statement by Hackett, for one by Malone. More importantly, though, it allows the debate to continue in a public forum. I will be responding to most of the points raised here separately.

Clive's reply in full.

From: "Clive Hamilton" 
To: "'Jon Seymour'" 
Subject: RE: With public intellectuals like this, 
who needs barbarian?
Date: Sun, 23 Nov 2008 11:58:23 +1100


Increasingly I find it difficult to distinguish between "left-libertarians" and right-wing libertarians. In practical terms I can see virtually no difference.

I'd make three specific points about your article and one general one.

1. I did mistakenly attribute the quote to Michael Malone when it should have been attributed to Simon Hackett. I misread the quote as being from the person who was being quoted just beforehand, thinking it was running on and missing the reference to Hackett. I should have been more careful. Yet this simple error is the basis for you to accuse me of "contempt for principled, honest and logical intellectual debate". What an extraordinary over-reaction. Why on earth could it strengthen my argument to attribute the quote to the head of one ISP rather than another?

As for the accusation that I quoted "selectively", the words selected are not out of context. The rest of the quote only reinforces the point about unthinking moral relativism.

2. On the logic and morals question, logic is not just a disembodied cognitove process, like a computer whirring away. Every logic text will ask you first to set out your premises. So an argument always depends on the assumptions underpinning it, including the moral assumptions. Tech geeks are like neoclassical economists -- they think what they say is somehow "value free". This is a delusion entertained by people who lack an explicit philosophical perspective, and therefore remain captive to an implicit one. My replies to my critics have been an attempt to get them to be clear about their ethical positions. Because most are unaccustomed to thinking about morality and the role of the social they have great difficulty doing this.

3. On the accusation that I have attempted to constrain the debate in way that suits my argument, I only point out that your "one other choice" is precisely that one I offered second in my list of three.

I wonder whether you ever reflect one why you become so enraged about proposals to regulate the internet? Look at the words you have used to attack me -- "desperate", "wild claim", "contempt for principled, honest and logical intellectual debate", "intellectually dishonest", "an intellectual disgrace of the highest order, "intellectually shoddy", "dishonest and disgraceful", "should be ashamed of himself", "barbarian".

Really, Jon, one has to ask what on earth is going on with net liberatarians such as yourself.


Saturday, November 22, 2008

With A Public Intellectual Like This, Who Needs Barbarians?

Mike Meloni kindly invited me to write something for Somebody Think Of The Children. We agreed that I could publish it here also - thanks Mike!

In a year or two from now Australians may wake up to find themselves living in a country unique amongst Western democracies - a country that has imposed mandatory filtering on all residential ISP feeds. It is unlikely that most will notice anything unusual about that particular day - any reports of unusually slow Internet connections will be written off as the ravings of a paranoid minority for that is surely what they will be. After all, a single sample on a single day does not a trend make.

That morning may see protests, possibly on the streets. For a brief while the dissent will capture the attention of the media and editorials will be written cautioning the Government that they would do well to treat their newly enacted powers wisely. A few days later, the controversy will die down as the Ritalin-deprived eye of the media wanders onto the next most appealing outrage. Dissent will have been silenced, temporarily.

Several years later, as some wonder why they aren't getting better than 12Mbps out of their now much larger National Broadband Network pipes, others may wonder why the war on child pornography hasn't been won yet. As the calls are raised again for yet more effective filtering of pernicious Internet porn, some may also notice the similarity in the arguments being put forth to argue that anorexia sites should be added to the ACMA blacklist - "it's for the children, after all". This despite the previous assurances that this would not happen. Bloggers in forums such as this will still be bitterly reminding those that read them: "We told you so".

When this situation comes to pass, who should Australians thank for the state they have found themselves in? Perhaps it will be current Minister for Communications, Broadband and the Digital Economy, Senator Stephen Conroy?


The person that all right-thinking Australians will thank is the founding (and now former) executive director of a left-wing Australian think tank - The Australia Institute - Professor Clive Hamilton. As recently as this week, Hamilton unashamedly claimed moral rights to the architecture of the policy when, during a talk-back program on ABC Radio National, he stated: "We were the first to advocate exactly this sort of system back in 2003". And it is undoubtedly true: the blueprint that the Government has adopted for its mandatory ISP filtering proposal is virtually unchanged from the model set forth in Flood and Hamilton's Australia Institute discussion paper "Regulating Youth Access to Pornography". Senator Conroy may currently be the proposal's leading proponent but he is hardly the intellectual force behind the endeavour. That honour surely, and deservedly, goes to Flood and Hamilton.

One would like to believe that the course of time and rational argument would have disposed of Flood and Hamilton's proposal as a temporary aberration in the output of otherwise respected public intellectuals, particularly ones with such fine progressive credentials. Alas, although the arguments were superbly debunked by Irene Graham in 2003, this is not the case. Not only has this lunacy become official Government policy, at least one of its principal authors still proudly proclaims his ownership of it.

That being the case, one would have expected that in the intervening years Hamilton would have refined his arguments. If anything, his rhetoric is looking more desperate. Take this quote from a recent post on Crikey.

The individuals who live in cyberland often display a contempt for social rules and moral norms that would put post-modern academics to shame. Attacking Labor’s filtering plans, the CEO of iiNet, Michael Malone, declared: “We live in a world of multiple sets of morality, all of them equally valid”.

To substantiate his claim that "individuals who live in cyberland often display a contempt for social rules and moral norms that would put post-modern academics to shame" Hamilton uses a quote allegedly from Michael Malone. Since the source wasn't quoted, one can't be certain what it was, but it seems likely it was this article. In fairness to Michael Malone, here is a more complete quote from the article.

"If the Federal Government says we are going to stop certain sorts of objectionable content, what on earth is the definition of bad here?" asks Hackett. "Is it the Federal Government's definition of bad? Is this going to be a white Anglo-Saxon protestant filtering system? Is it going to be a Muslim filtering system? Is it going to be one that doesn't like Scientology? The problem is we live in a world with multiple sets of morality, all of them equally valid."

"For some parents, they may consider information about homosexuality to be a real problem," says Malone. "But for some other parents they might consider that to be entirely appropriate. Nudity in art may be appropriate for one set of parents, not for another. Those things are household decisions."

So, here we have Hamilton selectively quoting Simon Hackett, attributing that quote to Michael Malone and then implying by omission that this quote displays "a contempt for social rules and moral norms that would put post-modern academics to shame". I challenge anyone to explain how Hackett and Malone's statements substantiate Hamilton's wild claim. The only contempt on display here is Hamilton's own contempt for principled, honest and logical intellectual debate.

All moral standards are equally valid. Electronic Frontiers Australia, which represents the most extreme strand of internet libertarianism, has argued that filtering will impose one set of sexual standards on others who don’t share them and this makes all net censorship invalid.

Logic without moral clarity is no logic at all. If EFA truly believed this then it would support abolition of all restrictions on films, television, books and magazines. Every perverse and sick practice that could find a market would be available, including child pornography.

Hamilton's statement about logic's correctness being dependent on its moral clarity is astonishing for someone who has just accused others of moral relativism. How can logic have moral clarity? Logic is value free. It is precisely this quality of logic that enables logic to be used to rationally debate the different merits of alternative moral systems. This is why ethics is a discipline of philosophy and not a branch of applied religion. One would think, at the very least, that a professor of ethics would understand this vital distinction between logic and morality.

Hamilton's article drew a lot of criticism to its comments page. In response to these criticisms, Hamilton wrote:

As I see it, there are only three types of position to take on mandatory filtering.

  1. We should not do it (end of story, as practicalities are irrelevant)
  2. We should do it but we can't (because filters don't work well enough, so we have to put up with the problem or seek other methods).
  3. We should do it and we can do it (so let's go ahead).

If you believe we should not do it (i.e. your position is 1) there are two types of reasons for it:

  1. It's not a problem
  2. It is a problem but it's not government's job to intervene to tackle it.

In the above quote we have a public intellectual attempting to frame the debate in terms favourable to his argument by presenting a false dichotomy. There is, of course, at least one other choice: it is a problem, the Government should do something about it, but that something should not be mandatory ISP filtering. However, Hamilton appears so stuck in the intellectual hole he has dug himself that he can't even admit the possibility that there are other solutions to the problem that do not involve mandatory ISP filtering. He also appears convinced that the problem is a technical one (the existence of an uncensored Internet) and thus requires a technical fix (eliminate the uncensored Internet).

Let's illustrate the flaw in Hamilton's arguments by drawing an analogy between the Internet and church choirs:

Internet Church choirs
The uncensored Internet allows unrestricted access to websites containing illegal pornography. Church choirs provide pedophilic priests with access to young boys.
Eliminate the uncensored Internet. Eliminate all church choirs.

While it is undoubtedly true that church choirs do provide pedophilic priests with access to young boys, the problem isn't the church choirs, it is the pedophilic priests and that is what needs to be fixed - not the existence of church choirs.

The analogy with the Internet is clear: the problem is not the uncensored Internet, it is with the websites that contain illegal pornography, the illegal pornography itself and the effects on the the people who consume it. And similarly, the fix needs to be directed at the problem, not the medium.

Imposing mandatory ISP filtering does nothing about the illegal websites, it does nothing to restrict access to those sites by people who want it, and it does nothing about the effects on those people. It is the wrong fix for the wrongly identified problem.

One can agree with everything Hamilton has written about the risk that Internet-sourced pornography poses to children and still not agree that mandatory ISP filtering is the only way to address the problem.

While it is intellectually dishonest to present a false dichotomy, it is an intellectual disgrace of the highest order to use that false dichotomy to argue that opposition to mandatory ISP filtering implies supporting "the abolition of all restrictions on films, television, books and magazines. (Implying that) Every perverse and sick practice that could find a market would be available, including child pornography."

Clive Hamilton is one of the intellectual fathers of the mandatory ISP filtering proposal the Government is now advocating. His continued arguments in support of it are often intellectually shoddy and are at times dishonest and disgraceful. He should be ashamed of himself.

With a public intellectual like this, who needs barbarians?

Jon Seymour is a left-libertarian geek who cares for Englightnment values, both his own and those of others. He is thankful he briefly studied philosophy at university and deeply regrets the fact that Clive Hamilton did not. He blogs about this and similar issues at "Broadbanned Revolution - fight the philterphiles that be."

This article may be reproduced, unedited, in other forums. Requests for permission to publish edited reproductions of the article should be directed to the author.

The Analogy Between TV and the Internet

In the relatively small pro-censorship lobby much is made of the analogy between TV and the Internet. "Society accepts censorship of TV programming", so the argument goes, "so why should it not also accept censorship of the Internet?"

And with that, they turn to their supporters in audience give them a high-five, and return to grin at their opponents. "Respond to that one, if you dare".

So let's look this analogy more carefully. If the Government were to censor TV as it intends to censor the Internet, it would do this:

  • Install a device in everyone's home that could turn the TV off on the whim of a faceless Government bureaucrat
  • Monitor TV broadcasts and, if someone decides that something worse than naughty is being aired, switch off everyone's TV set.
  • Leave the source TV stations and program producers unobstructed by effective law enforcement action, except for the occasional token raid.

Not only would this mechanism be incredibly wasteful, it directs the wrath of a faceless Government bureaucracy against the wrong target - the innocent family at home watching TV and leaves the source of the filth completely unscathed.

All socially acceptable censorship mechanisms have worked by censoring at the source. That's why the possession of porn is not illegal, but the sale of it can be. The deep conceptual flaw with the mandatory ISP filtering proposal is that it attempts to censor at the receiver.

History has shown that all such mechanisms are futile and inspire a great deal of resistance. The same will be true of this proposal.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Clive Hamilton's advocacy of the abdication of parental responsibility.

This is a response to a recent posting by Clive Hamilton on I have edited it slightly to fix certain typos and errors of expression the original post. I also use this opportunity to expand on points I could not previously express because of space constraints on Crikey.

In the comments of his original post, Clive wrote:

> 1. The implication is that if parents want to screw up their children then that's their business alone.

The implication of your argument, Clive, is that all parents want to screw up their children.

If this wasn't an implication of your argument, there would be no reason for a mandatory ISP filter. You know that is true because you have actually written statements to this effect in other places.

If your arguments have any validity at all, and I am not granting that, then the strongest case they build is that adults with children should have their ISP feeds filtered.

Filtering everyone's feed because it conveniently absolves you of explaining to Australian parents that they are all irresponsible reprobates who can't be trusted to bring up their own children without Government help is not sufficiently good grounds to filter my internet connection or anyone else's.

BTW: in your scheme, will households with children be allowed to opt out of the optional filter? If so, on what grounds? Who gets to decide that a parent is sufficiently responsible to monitor their own children's internet use?

As for the allegedly theoretical nature of the threat of censorship. You are proposing the construction of censorship apparatus that will censor sites about anorexia as easily as it will censor porn. This is the practical outcome of your proposal. Whether it actually will censor it doesn't matter - the infrastructure will be there, ready to be switched on the next time a regressive Government takes power.

There is no benefit in filtering my Internet connection. Unlike others who apparently need to do it for their job, I have no reason to view child porn, online or offline. The imposition of a mandatory ISP filter on my connection provides zero practical benefit to me, or to anyone's kids.

> It's not viewed as another useful mode of communication but as the source of ultimate freedom. Home alone in front of my computer I can travel where I like and evade my responsibilities to society.

As to your argument that we seek to evade responsibility, that is rubbish. The only person in this debate advocating abdication or evasion of responsibility is you, Clive.

Our argument is that adults are absolutely responsible for their own Internet use and should not be relieved of this responsibilty. Similarly parents should be responsible for the Internet use of their children and, unless they are incapable of it, should not abdicate that responsibilty.

You have consistently argued busy parents must be relieved of this responsibility and that adults without children must bear the consequences of this abdication.

To characterise our position as an evasion of responsibility is absurd, considering your own position.

Saturday, November 8, 2008

The analogy of rape and access to child pornography

In a comment on the "GetUp!" blog I accidentally pasted the text of an earlier post on this blog (in addition to the copy I intended to paste).

In response to this comment I was challenged about the validity of the analogy I drew between access to child pornography and rape

Jon, you wrote:

'We don't force drunk men in the presence of scantily clad women to be chained to a pole because rape is illegal. We prosecute actual transgressions of the law.'

I want to point out that being in the presence of scantily clad women does not cause men to choose to rape, or have any influence over a choice to rape. Rape is about power. That analogy is inappropriate in a number of ways.

Firstly, any viewing of child pornography is harmful- it results in the creation of more child pornography.

Secondly, relating sexiness to rape does men and women (and sex!) a disservice.

Thirdly, it would be a good thing if child pornography could be blocked by technical means, as this would remove a market for something that is infinitely cruel and harmful.

It is very clear that this will not be achieved by filtering the internet and the governments idea is incredibly stupid and unhelpful.

However analogies like the above are not helpful either.

I responded with another comment in which I laid out the analogy explicitly.

freedom to enjoy sexiness <-> freedom to enjoy uncensored access to the Internet
rape <-> access to child pornography
physically restrain all men to prevent some men raping sexy or vulnerable women "because" they are there <-> censor the Internet for everyone, to prevent some accessing child pornography "because" it is there
most men don't rape <-> most internet surfers don't view child pornography
freedom to enjoy sexiness does not license rape <-> freedom to enjoy uncensored access to the Internet does not license access to online child pornography
prosecute actual occurrences of rape <-> prosecute actual access to child pornography
treat all men as rapists who cannot be trusted to not rape <-> treat all Internet surfers as pedophiles who cannot be trusted to not view child pornography

This post discusses these points more discursively.

> I want to point out that being in the presence of scantily clad women does not cause men to choose to rape, or have any influence over a choice to rape. Rape is about power....

Agreed. Likewise, in my analogy, freedom to access the uncensored Internet does not cause people to view child pornography. The freedom to use an uncensored Internet does not license access to child pornography any more than the freedom to enjoy scantily clad women licenses rape.

> Firstly, any viewing of child pornography is harmful- it results in the creation of more child pornography.

I never claimed that access to child pornography is harmless. Indeed, in my analogy, accessing child pornography is equivalent to rape. Access to child pornography is harmful. Rape is harmful.

> Secondly, relating sexiness to rape does men and women (and sex!) a disservice.

There is a (perverted) relationship between sexiness and rape. Likewise there is a (perverted) relationship between freedom to access an uncensored Internet and online access to child pornography.

But, again, one does not license the other. There is no license to rape in the existence of the freedom to enjoy sexiness just as their is no license to view child pornography implicit in the freedom to access to an uncensored Internet.

Freedom to enjoy sexiness is good. Freedom to access to an uncensored Internet is good. Neither rape nor access to child pornography is justified under any circumstance.

We don't presume that all men are rapists even though some are. We therefore do not pre-emptively deny all men their liberty (by chaining them to poles) even though there is a risk that some of them will rape in the presence of the temptation of sexy or vulnerable women. Likewise we should not impinge upon the liberties of all people by creating a censored Internet because some people may abuse that freedom to view child pornography.

An unconstrained man is no more free to rape a vulnerable woman than an unconstrained net surfer is to view child pornography. The lack of a restraint is not license to offend, nor should it be, in real life or online.

With my analogy I was also trying to highlight the fact that in real life we deny liberty to sanction actual abuses of the law, not potential abuses.

Let's be clear, viewing child pornography is a crime. Rape is a crime. Neither is justified under any circumstances. However, we don't chain men up because rape is possible. We chain men up if they rape.

The same should be true with the Internet and child pornography. Prosecute actual use of the stuff. Don't interfere with everyone else's access to the Internet because some people might abuse that freedom to view child porn.

> Thirdly, it would be a good thing if child pornography could be blocked by technical means, as this would remove a market for something that is infinitely cruel and harmful. It is very clear that this will not be achieved by filtering the internet and the governments idea is incredibly stupid and unhelpful. However analogies like the above are not helpful either.

If there was a drug that rendered all men incapable of rape, would it be a good thing if we forced all men to consume it? Surely it is better that we respect men who, by choice, do not rape and punish those that do.

Denying the freedom to act responsibly is denying freedom itself.

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Treat the criminals as criminals, leave the rest of us alone

What's wrong with the proposition that convicted sex offenders are forced to consume a strictly filtered feed provided by, say, the NSW education department? Any attempt to use a non-filtered feed would be a criminal offence with appropriate penalties.

This would constrain the deprivation of liberty to convicted sex offenders, would make good use of existing, 99% effective - if draconian - filtering infrastructure and would achieve the stated objective of denying the evildoers access to illegal material.

The NSW education department's highly effective filtering infrastructure already exists. The incremental cost of adding convicted sex offenders to its client base would be minimal.

Some might think that such totalitarian control over the Internet consumption of convicted sex offenders is a bit harsh for a Western democracy. Perhaps it is, but if so aren't the Government's plans to impinge on the liberties of innocent Australians who have committed no crime an even greater affront to civil liberties?

As it stands, the Government's current proposal treats the entire Australian population as a band of pedophiles who are so morally irresponsible that they cannot be trusted to stay away from illegal material on their own accord or even with threat of legal sanction. The Government apparently believes that Australians must be physically restrained from consuming illegal material - this can be the only justification for not relying on moral and legal sanctions.

Just how depraved does the Australian Government think we are?

How does the Government think it can maintain such a low opinion of us and stay in office?

Sunday, November 2, 2008

A summary of recent articles about the filtering proposal

This Wiki on Overclockers provides a good summary of recent articles about the abomination which is Conroy's filtering proposal.