Thursday, April 1, 2010

Senator Conroy Says the Internet Isn't Special

Senator Conroy's latest comment regarding the internet is to say that it is a communication platform like any other. According to the Sydney Morning Herald article:
"Why is the internet special?"* he asked, saying the net was "just a communication and distribution platform"
He goes on to say that the Internet should be censored just like books, films and so forth.

This only goes to show how ignorant Stephen Conroy is about the medium he is trying to create legislation for.

The internet is not a book, it is not a film, it's dynamic and constantly changing. Any particular site's content is likely to change on a regular basis, unlike a book, where the content of any particular edition will not change and is precisely known.

Senator Conroy also mentions that his filter is 100% accurate and that it will not underblock or overblock or have any impact on speeds.

Given that the internet has over a trillion pages and the filter as currently proposed will have pages listed only in the thousands, I would say it's a pretty safe bet that it will be underblocking. And we know from the leaked blacklist that it overblocks, since an australian dentist's website was found to be on the list. Note that the dentist was not told so he could do anything about it.

The idea that the filter will have no impact on speeds is shown to be a lie, since Senator Conroy has assured Australians that high-traffic sites will not be filtered. Sites like YouTube, Facebook and Wikipedia will be exempt. If there was no impact on speed and performance, there would be no reason not to include sites, no matter how high the traffic.

Senator Conroy then mentions that the filter is necessary to protect children from child pornography. In his own words: "If we know there are 355 websites today that have child pornographic images on it, should we say well we're not going to do anything about it?"

There are a few reasons this is a particularly strange (I'm a polite monkey) thing to say. The main one is the fact that if the pictures are up on the web, this means the children actually in the photos have already been abused. How about instead of filtering these pictures, we try our hardest to make sure they never get taken in the first place?

Take note that in criminal law, knowing about a crime and covering up the evidence is known as being an accessory. If Senator Conroy is not careful, he could be taken to court. (355 is a very specific number, I wonder how Senator Conroy came up with it?)

Second, even if we should do something about the images up on the web, to protect other children or adults from accidentally seeing them, that does not mean that the mandatory ISP filter is the solution. To present it as a choice between being for (or at least apathetic towards) child pornography on the web and being for the mandatory filter, is to present a false dichotomy.

As we move further down the article, Conroy points out that Google already censors much more than the proposed filter plan will. First of all, Google can do what it likes, it's not a government agency. Second, Google has already decided it's tired of censoring websites for China and is pulling out, which shows that just because a company is doing something now, doesn't mean it's happy about it or will continue to do it in the future. Thirdly, just because Google (or anyone else) censors free expresssion, that doesn't make it a valid course of action.

What I am happy about is the way the SMH article closes with a statement from Senator Ludlam, which, quite frankly, I don't think I can improve on very much, so I'll just post it here:
"For $44 million, we're buying ourselves an initiative which will have no measurable impact whatsoever," Senator Ludlam said.

"In exchange, we establish the architecture for future governments to abuse the loose and undefined 'RC' category to add a creeping range of material to the list. Once this architecture is established, the idea that its scope won't be expanded by future governments is a gamble we don't believe we should take."

* You may not think the Internet is special, Mr Conroy, but I think you are, in the mentally deficient way**.
** I apologise for comparing actually developmentally challenged people to Senator Conroy, it's unfair to them.

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