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.


Stuart Anderson said...

That would be Godwin's Law:

Jon Seymour said...

Not sure I agree: Godwin's law is the statement that the longer a flame war proceeds, the probability that there will be a reference to the Nazis or Hitler tends towards 1.
The Hitler Rule is specifically a statement of what happens when there is such an utterance.

Stuart Anderson said...

Reductio ad Hitlerum isn't specifically related to USENET, so whilst it (and Godwin's Law) applies, it describes the situation rather than the outcome.

I'd never heard of "The Hitler Rule" before, only a variation of Godwin's encompassing the same. So I suppose they are concurrent yet independent rules.

As for Conroy, he's a politician. Mentioning child porn in a negative context is just sheer laziness on his part - it really is low hanging fruit. Unfortunately, the reason that politicians continue to use the same old lines is that they work - people are dumb.

The sad fact is that most people don't understand the implications of this policy - all they hear is: blah, blah, blah, stop child porn, blah, blah, blah. It's a straw man and Conroy knows it.

Bob Bain said...

"Note that we will be operating on the newly coined 'Conroy rule', a variant of the ancient and practical 'Hitler' rule on UseNet: the first person to equate free speech and child porn loses the floor, and all points. This restriction on free speech will hopefully deter flame wars, so we can consider the technical and legal issues for the day more rigorously."

( from an email received this afternoon.... )

Jon Seymour said...

Thanks Bob!

It would be nice to say that my blog is so insanely well read that this was an inevitable consequence, but there is a more prosaic explanation which I will expand upon in person since you will undoubtedly be in a similar place between 10:00 and 14:40 on this very Thursday - the e-mail tells me that!



Jon Seymour said...


I am sure they are very much related. Godwin's law is surely the more general principle. However, I only knew it in it's more vulgar form - Hitler's rule. As I wrote in another place:

"For all his insightful qualities,
Godwin is not one I would immediately associate with Stephen Conroy. Hitler on the other hand..."

Jon Seymour said...

Greg Taylor> wrote:
> On Thu, 27 Nov 2008 01:26:44 +1100, Jon Seymour wrote:
>> Greg, my inspiration was Hitler, not Godwin!
>> I need say no more!
> But the irony is that by bringing up Hitler in the first place you actually invoked Godwin ;-)

I was wondering how long it was going to take before someone brought that up. Thanks, Greg. Really. :-P

Dan Buzzard said...

Conroy's arguments suggest that anyone in opposition of repressive censorship must be in support of child pornography.

Humans are stupid by nature and simply suggesting a link between anti-censorship and child pornography causes the uneducated majority to really behind the censorship scheme. However if you ask those same people whether they think they should have free speech, the general response is the exact opposite.

This highlights a drastic shortage of intelligence in today's society.

~Dan Buzzard

Jon Seymour said...

There is nothing quite like an incestuous link in a debate about child porn, so I thought I would return the compliment by including a link to James' post because I think his slogan sums it up nicely.

"I’d suggest the Clean Feed should have the following tag-line. “The Clean Feed – Forcing pedophiles to use stronger encryption”.

Dan Buzzard said...

They say that it is better to block some child porn, than non at all.

I have to wonder, if they have ever heard of "supply and demand".

I wont be surprised if this increases the demand for production.

Jon Seymour said...


You could be right that it stimulates demand and hence supply in some channels. Whether the stimulation in demand in those channels would outweigh the reduction in supply via the blocked channels is, of course, almost impossible to answer.

The way to stop the river of child porn flowing is to vapourise the source. One can put obstacles in the river like MILF, but the river will just start flowing via encrypted tunnels that are harder to observe.

As Donna A. said on Thursday it is the difference between ships on the sea and submarines below it. Good work, Hamilton. Good work, Conroy.

Stuart Anderson said...

Stopping child porn has little to do with technology but a lot to do with traditional detective work.

To catch paedophiles, you need to infiltrate their (real life) networks. When you find one, your surveillance will catch all the others they know. Simply repeat the procedure on the new targets. Keep doing this until you run out of targets. It's no different to mapping and destroying any covert network. It's not brain surgery.

I would argue that increasing the difficulty of accessing child porn on the internet is a mistake. Leave the supply lines open, but monitor them. If a person is so stupid as to download or send files unencrypted, well that will make catching them that much easier. Let them incriminate themselves.

Dan Buzzard said...

Not only will this filter be pushing child pornography further underground, but it will also open up many more supply channels for underground content. While many of these channels will be opened by law-abiding people the paedophiles will still be able to utilise them.

It will also help spearhead developments in technology, such as anonymous proxies and VPN services. (A good thing from my point of view, but bad for the government)

Jon Seymour said...

Saw this on twitter from squozen:

if you don't lock your child in a cage, you must be in favour of child abduction