Thursday, December 4, 2008

A Letter To My Local Member

Here is a letter I wrote to my local member, Tanya Plibersek. I included the text of my recent SToC post.

If you also agree with my line of argument, I encourage you to also draft a similar message to your local MPs and Senators be they Liberal, Labor or Green.


Thank you for your reply to an e-mail I wrote you regarding my concerns with the Government's ill-conceived plan to introduce mandatory ISP level filtering.

Your statement that the government has no intention to stop adults viewing material that is currently legal would appear to contradict the following facts:

  • Senator Conroy has stated that the filter would block inappropriate and unwanted material and has thus far refused to clarify the meaning of these terms
  • Senator Conroy has stated that the filter would be based on the ACMA black list
  • the ACMA blacklist already contains material which is legal for adults to possess and view (e.g. X-rated videos, nudity)

Having been mystified as to why the Government was proposing a solution that is guaranteed to be technically ineffective, I think I now understand why. The objective can't be to block access to extreme and illegal pornography because that aim is easily defeated. No, it is clear that the objective of this filter is to moderate the porn consumption habits of middle Australia. This objective may even be somewhat effectively achieved as the experience of the Chinese firewall shows.

I explain why this thesis is more reasonable than the explanation being proffered by the Government in a piece that I have included below.

I think the Australian public will easily identify with this argument, in which case the Government's policy will fast become toxic to the political interests of the Australian Labor Party. If, having read my thesis, you agree, I encourage you to lobby your colleagues so that you may rescue the political fortunes of the ALP before it is too late. If you don't, I am sure the Greens and the Liberal Party of Australia will gladly assist.

Sincerely, ...


Anonymous said...

You might find this interesting:

These Digital Liberty Coalition guys are the ones who delivered on the 1st of November when everyone backed out of the flash protest and seem to have had some epic win.

I'm running around spruiking their rally on all interested peoples blogs and the like by pointing it out to them, I don't mean to spam, but I feel that as I can't attend the rally its only right I do my part as a concerned internet user to pimp out the national coalition that's using direct action.

This will hopefully yield a publicity blitz.

KlausGermany said...

Why would anyone want to ban extreme pornography? Does not Australia recognize civil liberties that not all people are interested in same things?

What is considered illegal pornography in Australia? If there are only adults in material and all consent, then things can't and shouldn't be illegal.

Dan Buzzard said...

You should mention the foundation it lays for people who seek to abuse it.

e.g every donkey wanting their personal grievance blacklisted.

Daniel said...

I have also just sent a letter to the minister's office. I work online teaching English in a "virtual classroom". My company based in the US, will not hire teachers living in countries, such as China, where mandatory internet filtering of any kind is enforced, due to inevitable fact that filters slow down and degrade the internet. After speaking to my manager, I and two other Aussie colleagues have been informed that we will lose our jobs if this scheme is implemented in Australia, as the company demands its teachers have a totally unfiltered connection and refuses to take risks with teachers working out of countries where the WWW is filtered due to the connection problems packet filtering causes in our classrooms. Apart from all the other technical and free-speech concerns, I think it is totally disgusting that people like me could start losing their jobs because if this stupid proposed filter.

Jon Seymour said...

Here is a response I received from Tanya Plibersek, my MP.

Dear Jon,

Thank you for your further emails clarifying your concerns about the ISP filtering proposal. I agree with you - freedom of speech is fundamentally important in a democratic society. For many years however, our society has accepted that there is some material which is not acceptable, particularly for children.

This is why we have the National Classification Scheme which sets guidelines for classifying films, computer games, publications and online content. Material that is deemed Refused Classification (RC) for example is illegal to distribute, sell or make available for hire.

With this in mind, as with all other media, the internet is already subject to regulation which prevents ISP’s from hosting prohibited content as defined under the Broadcasting Services Act 1992, within Australia. If content is found to be prohibited and is hosted in Australia (i.e. located on a computer or server in Australia), the Australian Communications and Media Authority will direct the host to remove or prevent access to the content. If content is found to be prohibited and is hosted overseas, ACMA must add the material to its blacklist of prohibited sites. The ACMA blacklist was established in 2000 and currently contains around 1,300 URLs.

Online content is assessed in accordance with the National Classification Scheme, which was established by the Classification (Publications, Films and Computer Games) Act 1995.

Very importantly, the definition of prohibited content in legislation cannot be expanded without changes to legislation being passed by Parliament.

I have taken your feedback on board, and I trust this information will be of assistance.

Jon Seymour said...


Thank you for your replies. I really appreciate that you are taking the time to consider my arguments.

The definition of "prohibited online content" is defined by Parliament, but it is a definition that is already very broad. If the Government really intends to filter out all material that meets this criteria, it will have to block:

* any commercial MA15+ material that is not subject to a age verification test
* any R18+ material that is not subject to a age verification test
* any X-rated material
* any RC game

This is an an extraordinarily broad range of material to block, even more so if the intention is to do so with the mandatory part of the filter. Such a filter, if effective, will be extraordinarily obtrusive and remind every Australian that the Government is watching what they are doing. If it isn't obtrusive, it won't be effective at protecting the children, so what's the point in filtering?

In addition, the current ratings system is implemented by the careful human deliberations of the National Classification Board. Such processes will not scale to the volume of material on the web. This either means that the blacklist will contain an arbitrary and small sample of material in these categories [ in which case, what is the point ? ] or it will have rely on lists prepared by foreign corporations and agencies [ do Australians really want what they can see determined by a commercial entity that services religious fundamentalists ? ] or it will have to rely on dynamic filtering [ which will slow the net down and is nothing like the operation of the National Classification Board ].

Unlike the deliberations of the existing classification system, the contents of the ACMA blacklist are secret. This lack of transparency means that there is no effective way for the public to be feel assured that the guidelines set by Parliament are being respected. Blind trust that the Government and its bureaucracy are doing the right thing is absolutely no way to run a democracy. It doesn't work for anything else, why should it work in this case?

The definition of prohibited content is already very broad. The contents of the ACMA blacklist are opaque and not subject to effective review. The definition can easily be expanded on a whim by a Government that controls both Houses. Our only effective protection against future Government meddling is that there is no mechanism available to meddle with.

This is why we strongly oppose the mechanism. As I pointed out - this mechanism is not about fighting crime - it couldn't possibly be, because it will be ineffective for that task. Yesterday's news makes that point very well: the pornography ring used p2p techniques to exchange illegal content - not the web. The mechanism only makes sense if viewed as a mechanism to moderate the (non-criminal) pornography consumption habits of middle Australia.

We are adults, Ms Plibersek. We don't need a nanny state moderating our media consumption. If we transgress and view material that is illegal offline, then lock us up. But please don't persist with the fiction that the Internet can be made safe for 15 year-olds by the imposition of a flawed ISP-level filter. It can't be, it won't be.

Any idea that you are protecting the children is, frankly, either deeply deceitful or deluded.

jon seymour.

Jon Seymour said...

Tanya Plibersek has responded:

I appreciate your feedback on the issue of ISP filtering, and acknowledge that you have continuing concerns about the effectiveness of the classification scheme underpinning the proposal.

The Australian Communications and Media Authority administers a co-regulatory scheme for online content. The scheme is established under Schedule 5 and Schedule 7 of the Broadcasting Services Act 1992 (the Act) and aims to address community concerns about illegal and offensive content online. The basis for co-regulation is that Government, industry and the community all have roles to play in managing online safety issues.

The list of restrictions you mention are clearly codified in the Act, and are based on legitimate community concerns about offensive online content.

I have taken your comments about the effectiveness of the filtering proposal on board. Enex TestLabs has been tasked with conducting the trial technical assessments on the ‘live’ pilot, including drafting a number of reports on the results of these assessments. Enex TestLabs will work closely with ISPs to administer this trial, and the Government is committed to working closely with the internet industry to address any concerns. These concerns will be carefully considered during the pilot and will further inform the Government’s cyber-safety policy.

Thanks again for your email.

Best wishes,


Jon Seymour said...


It's not just the effectiveness. I have real concerns about the scope of material that is potentially blocked.

The existing laws are effectively only applied to Australian content providers because the ACMA blacklist was not meaningfully enforced for material hosted overseas. As a result, they were ineffective and hence did not inspire much popular resistance because they did not affect the average Internet user.

The Government's now plans to make the ACMA blacklist the backbone of a technical means of enforcement.

This is a very draconian step.

I do not accept that the Government has the right to deny me access to R18 or X-rated material in an online form by way of an opaque censorship mechanism. I am an adult and I expect my choice to consume or not consume such material be a free one that is not coerced by the Government.

I personally don't consume much online pornography - it frankly bores me - however, I think adults should be free to make this choice for themselves. Letting the Government do it for them undermines the
entire notion of "freedom of choice".

The scope of the mandatory filter is already very broad. There is no guarantee your Government can give that future Governments won't increase the scope of the filter by a future Act of Parliament.

I believe that this Government does have a responsibility to preserve the foundations of democracy so that future generations can enjoy the freedoms we presently take for granted. By advocating a mandatory ISP-level filtering regime, the Government is actively laying the foundations for a mechanism which can be exploited by future tyrants. It will never block information completely. Even the Chinese Firewall doesn't do that. But it will allow Governments present and future to frustrate political discourse by making people feel uncomfortable about seeking dissident sources of information.

I urge again to resist this proposal. Please make a stand for the responsible adults of Australia or stand condemned as considering us all of having the moral qualities of a pimply, sex-obsessed 15-year old.

jon seymour.

Dan Buzzard said...
This comment has been removed by the author.